CA Mushrooms

MycoChef in a Blue Mussel Stew

Copyright © by Patrick Hamilton, Mycochef

Feeling once again like he had the proverbial Albatrellus tied around his neck, the Ancient Mariner (as in being 50 in Marin) set forth bound to be evermore on another arduous morning jog along beautiful Tomales Bay.

This too often agonizing ordeal takes place for the sole purpose of not allowing the intake of assorted microbrews to add their caloric presents to his presence.

Along the way he does see mushrooms--and not just because the run is so slow. . . .

It is because there can be so many of them here! But the ones seen today I can mostly do without. Amanita phalloides were emerging in their pearly green deadliness from drip lines under California live oaks. Glistening under the morning dew these guys mean mean business. I can understand why they are "the poisonous mushroom of choice" for the "ignorami" of this region. They are the most striking and profuse of all fungi seen so far this year! Jeez.

If this was a comical column, an essay to be taken lightly and not a serious cooking section of a thoughtful magazine, then I might offer a recipe for this most deadly of all mushrooms. But no, I don't mess around with even kidding about feeding people mushrooms of ill repute. Seriously.

I drove out to spot where candy caps and Russula xerampelina fruit later and where oyster mushrooms usually begin to be seen now but today only death caps were there and they were everywhere. I stopped counting at around 50 buttons and 50 more fully flowered venomous things.

What a waste of fungal flesh.

Zounds! Pounds of poison were presented looking perhaps to unfortunate fools like fine bounty. Kinda like black widows--in-heat-booty waiting to be enjoyed only to make victims of those hungry fatefulls wondering how come something looking so good could end up being so bad.

Sort of.

Because of early rains here in Marin County we have had a glimpse of just what might be later on. Kathy (my lovely and well loved fungal friend) and I last month picked maybe 20 pounds of chanterelles along the coast, one bolete and some sulfur shelf.

The summer chanterelles grow as almost unseen shrumps beneath the pines along the Sonoma coast. Finding them is quite difficult and if it weren't for Kathy's eagle eye for mushrooms (and she has a great eye for men) I probably would not have too many so far. But since she does better with me alongside (a true partner) together we find usually more than others do and that is priceless.

But price is not to us what it is to the commercial circuit pickers like up in Ft. Bragg, Mendocino County.

The currency paid to them (as reported by Connie Green of Wine Forest, Napa, Ca., a purveyor of the finest to the finest restaurants in San Francisco) is but $.75 per pound. Yes, 75 cents for a pound of those golden lovelies.

(If so inclined one can get a lot more for the death caps when sold to certain scientific companies. The toxins are used in a process unrelated to ingesting them, duh. If anyone desires more information on this topic simply contact me via e-mail).

So, chanterelles and death caps, where do we go from here?

How about far away from the phalloides and closer to stuff that we like to eat.

I'm was thinkin' of just a simple dish for this column (thinking simply is, well, easy for me) until this past weekend's little trip up into Mendocino county.

We took off after work on Friday and drove north on Highway 101 traveling through the just harvested vineyards of Sonoma county into Cloverdale for the night. Saturday about 8:00 we went west through Anderson Valley past the vines of Roderer, Handley, Navarro, Greenwood Ridge, and other, smaller, wineries and I wondered how I would talk Kathy into doing a little early wine tasting.

"At 8:45 a.m.?" She spoke it rather loudly, I thought, and somewhat rudely too. "Sure," I defended and then feinted with a, "What, it's too late. . . ?"

At least we both agreed on taking this remote winding road over the coastal mountains toward a particularly productive and secret stand of Pinus contorta (coastal lodgepoles). Twenty five urpy miles later we were so happy to come out right across the highway from "our" spot. Sneakily we slithered into the forest, each going a little different way.

Kathy squeaks (squeals?) when she finds great mushrooms and within a few minutes I heard one of her calls--but this one a bit different. Not a, "Hey, over here, I've found mushroom to pick!" More of a, "Hey, over here, I've found a mushroom picker!"

Indeed it was David Campbell of the MSSF and a great friend of both of ours standing there with a shiitake eating grin three hours from home in a "secret spot."

Ah, those "secret spots" can be so much not so.

So we exchanged "guffaws" and "hellos" and "what have you founds?"

The list of different mushrooms that we were to gather later that day was astounding in its eminent edibility. Agaricus augustus, A. arvensis, Russula xerampelina, Macrolepiota rachodes, golden chanterelles, Lactarius deliciosus" and of course, biggo boletes. Actually not that large in size this early in the season, but in their amazing ability to tickle our fungal fancies they are always "biggo boletes" to me.

So what do we do with all this neat stuff?

A house with a great kitchen at Sea Ranch near Gualala was available to us and we brought our goodies. A nearby store had some fine looking bivalves. . . . Hmm, what to do what to do?

How 'bout "Mixed Mushrooms and Blue Mussel Stew?" Yes.

Mixed Mushrooms and Blue Mussel Stew

To illustrate how really easy a dish can be this recipe won't be in a regular format. You know how some little kids' toys are absolutely simple so that their imaginations can be developed instead of just following a pedantically didactic put tab "A" into slot "A". Well this will be up to your creativity as to how it will ultimately taste.

There is another thought though that my silly mind is entertaining. What if I made a "connect the dots" game but without numbers to follow? I had intended a giraffe but you drew an elephant. Let's see how this stew comes out for you.

Should serve 6 (. . . "people"--just checking, I want to start you off correctly. . .).

Take whatever kinds of mushrooms that you want to use and that might go well with shellfish. I used the princes, the chanterelles, the shrimps and the boletes. For a stew base I sautéed the mushrooms and some shallots with red bell pepper, onions and fennel root and a bit of garlic. I used a 1/2 can of Swanson's veggie stock, a 1/2 cup of dry white wine, about a 1/2 cup of water and 2 1/2 cups of whole milk. I put in the mussels to poach with some Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and a little thyme we can have it going on. Gobs of sweet butter to finish the stew was good for me and should do you, too.

For a salad we roasted some red bell peppers, peeled them and put them into a hot oven atop bolete and chanterelle slices with some garlic and a drizzle of good olive oil. (This is one of David Campbell's most excellent ideas.)

I hope that it was good for you.