The last time I went wild mushroom foraging I was a child. My mom and I wandered the forests of the Catskill Mountains in New York. My basket was in one hand, my mother’s hand in the other. Our eyes set even more intently on the ground than we New Yorkers do on city streets. If I remember that day correctly, we found more poisonous than edible mushrooms. Regardless, foraging foods of all kinds quickly became a favorite activity. (To learn about my love of seaweed and seaweed harvesting, click here.)
This November, while on the last stop of my fall West Coast Tour and visiting Willamette University in Salem, OR, I went back to the woods. The fog rolled into the valley and we rolled out. We wound country byways, climbed grass-seed fields, passed wide swaths of pine tree plantings, and even found ourselves too-close-for-comfort underneath freshly cut and swinging Christmas trees dangling from a helicopter. Walking encyclopedias, mycologists, geographers, and culinarians, Bon Appétit Willamette University Chef Paul Leiggi and Catering Director Chris Linn led the way on a forage – a mycological adventure, if you will – with two undergraduate students and me.
Did you know that chanterelles are amazing for even more than their melt-in-your-mouth golden velvety texture? Chanterelles are among the richest sources of vitamin D known. Perhaps this is all the more reason for Northwesterners to incorporate them into their diets. Who knew that fruity and peppery flavors would rise from rotten wood and moss? Contrary to its name, the chewy yellowfoot mushroom has a delicate and delicious flavor. Loved by vegetarians and omnivores alike, hedgehog mushrooms’ are hearty and delicious, with a texture reminiscent of meat. Rather than having gills on their lower cap surfaces like most mushrooms, hedgehogs are easily identifiable as “mushrooms with teeth,” or tooth-like projections. I find the world of mushrooms equal parts mysterious and alluring.
Thinking back to my early fascination with food and back country exploration, it makes sense that I still twinkle today at the thought of foraged wild treats. I just never guessed it would become a part of my grown-up work.
For a taste of what we ate at the Stories from the Fields Farm to Fork dinner, here’s a dish inspired by our mycological adventure:
Chef Paul’s Wild Mushroom Mac ‘n’ Cheese with Smoked Gouda
- 1 shot olive oil
- 2 lb elbow macaroni (or another kind of pasta)
- ½ lb butter
- 4 oz flour
- 1 quart half-and-half
- 3 lb shredded smoked Gouda cheese
- 2 lb of chanterelle mushrooms that have been sautéed in garlic and butter
- Salt to taste
- Ground black pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the oil and the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain well and set aside.
- In another saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, and stir in the flour.
- Add half-and-half and milk and stir often until the sauce mixture reaches 140 degrees.
- Stir in the cheese until sauce becomes smooth.
- Add macaroni and stir until fully coated with the sauce.
- Add chanterelles and stir.
- Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Bon Appetit!
To learn more, here are recommendations from Chris and Paul:
- "All That The Rain Promises And More," by David Arora
- "Mushrooms Demystified," by David Arora
- North American Mycological Association
- Fat of the Land
To order wild mushrooms and find recipes check out MycoLogical Natural Products, based in Eugene, OR