Monday, August 22, 2016

The Hunt For Wild Mushrooms

This article first appeared in the East End Food Cooperator in August, 2012. I've added the pictures below.

The Hunt for Wild Mushrooms
by Melissa Sokulski
Morels, early spring

Mushrooms are an interesting entity: neither plant nor animal, fungi are their own kingdom and upon close examination actually have more in common with animals than plants. Their cell walls contain chitin, found in shells of crabs and exoskeletons of insects but absent from plants. Plants make their own food but like animals fungi digest their food with enzymes they produce. Fungi also take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide like animals, while plants do just the reverse.

Nevertheless, as a vegetarian I am comfortable eating mushrooms and wild mushrooms are a true culinary delight - a feast for the forager - if you know what you are looking for.
When my husband and I first decided to learn about wild mushrooms, we were extremely fortunate to stumble upon the amazing and generous Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club. We decided to go on one of their free weekly walks, open to members and guests. They meet at parks all over Allegheny County and beyond, there are now chapters of the club in Indiana county and Washington/Greene counties. Usually led by club mycologists and attended by experts as well as amateurs, this is a great way to learn about the fungus among us (I just had to!)
Chicken Mushroom
On our way to Deer Lake to meet the club one Saturday in August, my husband Dave and I promised each other that no matter what they said we would not eat any wild mushrooms. Wild mushrooms are dangerous, I proclaimed, mimicking the warnings of my herbal mentor who told me, “Native Americans didn't even eat wild mushrooms,” (untrue) and “The number one cause of death among mycologists is mushroom poisoning!” (also not true.) But apparently a promise made is a promise broken in our household because before long we were filling our basket with golden yolk-colored chanterelles, a prized culinary mushroom.
A member of the Western PA Mushroom
Group with his basket of chanterelles.

One mushroom expert pointed out the false gills of the mushroom, and further explained that chanterelles grow singly from the ground unlike the poisonous (but rarely deadly) Jack O'Lantern, a common look-alike which often grows in clusters on wood. “But sometimes the wood is buried,” he warned, “like an underground root, so you have to be careful.” Another distinction is that Jack O'Lanterns are bio-luminescent, they glow in the dark. I was beginning to learn that edible or not, mushrooms are endlessly beautiful and fascinating.
We got the mushrooms home and prepared them, slicing them and noticing the apricot smell. We sauteed them (most edible wild mushrooms need to be cooked or can make you sick) and were hooked.
Filling out the application to join the club, one question asked, “How many wild mushrooms can you confidently identify?” I confidently filled in the blank with a zero. The thought of being able to identify wild mushrooms daunted me. Now I can identify over thirty, from delicious morels to the deadly Destroying Angel, both of which do indeed grow in this area.

Giant Puffballs
The late summer into the fall is a great time to learn about wild mushrooms. There are a lot of beginner-friendly edible mushrooms to identify all throughout the city parks including the chicken mushroom or sulfur shelf (one of my favorites), chanterelles, giant puffball, black trumpets, lions mane or bear tooth, and the hen of the woods. The best way to learn to identify these mushrooms is by walking with experts like those in the mushroom club and attending their monthly meetings at Beechwood Farm Nature Reserve, which are also free and open to guests. Their annual foray is in September. There are walks and talks by experts, as well as a mushroom feast: dozens of dishes made with wild mushrooms by members of the mushroom club.

You can also find identification information and wild mushroom recipes on our website, Food Under Foot. Adding mushrooms to your foraging basket is as fun as it is delicious, and can be safe with care and knowledge. As I've heard many times from many people in the mushroom club, “There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old bold mushroom hunters.”

This article and all pictures copyright Melissa Sokulski

Friday, August 19, 2016

Lemon Thyme and Garlic Chanterelles


Those most gourmet of edible mushrooms. The bright yellow find in the woods, smelling deliciously of apricot. So good.

So they say.

I have never been a fan of chanterelles. But it turns out it was me, not them.

I should have known 65 million French people couldn't be wrong.

I simply didn't know how to prepare them. The past few years the woods of Western PA have been flooded with chanterelles. A whole group of mushroom hunters couldn't harvest enough to put a dent in what was out there.

Lemon Thyme and Garlic Chanterelles

vegan, gluten-free
adapted from this recipe on No Recipe Required
  • 2 cups Chanterelles, washed and cut into equal sized pieces
  • 1 - 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme or lemon thyme
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • sea salt, pepper
  • squeeze of lemon
Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a heavy pan, turn heat to medium high.

Place chanterelles in pan in single layer. Add salt and let them cook until side on pan is browned, about 8 minutes.

Flip chanterelles and cook another 4 or 5 minutes. If pan dries out add more oil.

Add in thyme, then add in garlic, stir.

Turn off heat and grind in pepper and squeeze on lemon, stir again.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

You can use this as a side dish or serve over rice. Very very good.


~ Melissa

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Purslane Is Up! Gandhi's Kachumber Salad

Purslane is coming up! This healthy "weed" is delicious and versatile. It's high in Omega 3 fatty acids (unusual for a green plant) and is wonderful simply tossed into salad or eaten right out of the garden (where it's likely growing as a weed) or off the trail. Another great thing about purslane - it's here until fall. Enjoy the following information and recipe saved from the old blog!

One of Gandhi's favorite foods was a weed: purslane! He urged his followers to learn about wild plants and eat the weeds that grow around them as a way of empowering the people. In honor of Gandhi and purslane, I created this delicious Indian spice inspired salad: Purslane Kachumber Salad. I've used a spice blend called "Chaat Masala," which is available in Indian grocery stores and is largely dried mango, salt, cumin and other spices. If you don't have access to this spice, you can substitute cumin, coriander and cardamon (amounts below) or leave the spices out entirely. This salad is delicious with just salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil.

Purslane Kachumber Salad

  • Purslane, leaves pulled off and stem chopped (we are using both the leaves and chopped stems in this recipe)
  • 1 - 2 Tbsp red onion, chopped (as much or little as you like, to taste)
  • 1 cucumber, chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp chaat masala (optional, see above note. can substitute 1/4 tsp cumin, 1/8 tsp coriander, 1/8 tsp cardamon or omit spices entirely.)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Whisk lemon juice and spices (if using) together, and add olive oil. Whisk until mixed well.
In separate bowl, mix purslane leaves and stems, tomatoes, cucumber and onion.
Top with dressing, add salt and pepper to taste.
Mix well and enjoy!

~ Melissa Sokulski

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Camping and Foraging

We love camping at Food Under Foot, and we know we have lots of readers who enjoy camping and foraging. Camping is a fantastic time to find and use wild edibles.

There are some things to be aware of: not all parks want you to pick plants, so find out the rules at each park. Some parks do not mind if you pick invasive weeds like garlic mustard, burdock, Japanese Knotweed and will even spray or pull these themselves, so it's worthwhile to ask. We've come across parks where they don't want you to pick any plants (although mushrooms are usually ok), to others who will say weeds such as the ones mentioned above are ok to pick.

We also never pick endangered or protected plants like Trillium, Ferns, or Goldenseal.

When we do harvest plants to eat we only pick what we will eat immediately, so as not to overpick or waste anything. When we are harvesting something like garlic mustard or burdock root from places where they tell you it's ok (sometimes they'll be thrilled!) we sometimes do pick more to dry or use later.
garlic mustard and violet salad

Lately we have found the best wild edibles camping! Chickweed, violets, lambs quarters and garlic mustard make wonderful salads. We usually bring a bottle of salad dressing, but really these wild edibles are so fresh and delicious you could eat them plain! Above you will see one of my favorite simple camping salads for this time of year: garlic mustard green and flowers and violet greens and flowers.

These flavorful edibles also make a good trailside nibble if you get hungry on a hike.

Wild berries will be in season soon...those are always fun to nibble while camping!

wild wineberries

Other wild edibles such as morel mushrooms (below) and other edible mushrooms and nettles are excellent sauteed, and can be eaten over rice or pasta.

morel mushrooms

Burdock roots are excellent cooked into soups or with rice, giving a rich earthy flavor, and the burdock leaf stem is excellent steamed or boiled.

Some wild edibles you can find while camping are great as medicines, too. If you get stung by a bee look for plantain (some call it fairy bandaid) to chew and place on the sting.

If you get stung by nettles, you'll likely find burdock or yellow dock leaves nearby...chew those and apply to the nettle sting.

Poison Ivy? Look for jewelweed, crush and apply this plant to your itchy rash. Plantain will also work to take the itch away.

Wild edibles are full of nutrition and medicinal properties and are excellent to use while camping!

We'll be sure to bring you more camping adventures as the season progresses. Make sure you let us know about your camping wild culinary adventures as well!

Melissa cooking morels over a camp stove

~ Melissa Sokulski

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Garlic Mustard Pesto

Garlic Mustard is an invasive plant, brought to America as a culinary herb in the 1860's. Many local and state parks have volunteer days spent pulling this invasive herb out. By all means pull it up from your garden...but don't be so quick to throw it in the compost! This is a delicious plant and early spring is when its flavor is at its best.

The leaves become bitter as the weather gets hot, so they are best collected in early spring and summer. Leaves can be collected either from the ground rosettes (pictured above) or from the stalk. Garlic Mustard leaves become more triangular when the plant bolts, and the leaves come up the flower stalk of this small four-petaled flower (unlike dandelion, whose leaves stay on the ground as the flower stalk is sent up).

Notice the 4-petaled white flowers blooming at the top of the plant. The leaves climb up the flower stalk and become more triangular once the plant flowers. 

You can eat garlic-mustard leaves both before and after it flowers. The leaves, flowers, and root are edible (the root tastes like horseradish!)

Flowers and chopped leaves can be added to salads for a nice pungent garlic flavor.

One of my favorite ways of eating garlic mustard is making pesto. Use your favorite pesto recipe and swap garlic mustard for fresh basil. If you don't have a recipe on hand, try this one. Pesto can be enjoyed on pasta, spread on crackers or tomatoes, on sandwiches, pizza..any way you can think of!

Garlic Mustard Pesto

* 2 cups garlic mustard leaves, washed and patted dry
* 1 small garlic clove, peeled
* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 2 Tbsp pine nuts, lightly roasted on stove top (can roast walnuts in place of pine nuts)
* 3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
* 1 Tbsp lemon juice
* sea salt to taste

In a food processor, blend garlic and garlic mustard while drizzling in olive oil.

Add pine nuts, cheese, lemon juice and a little salt and blend.

Taste and add salt if necessary.

I mixed some into gluten-free pasta with more roasted pine nut and a chopped tomato. It was excellent!

Here's to wild foods!

Melissa Sokulski
Food Under Foot

Monday, May 2, 2016

Wild Mushroom Soup

This is a great time of year: Morel Mushrooms! And while you are out looking for morels, you may find some gorgeous dryad saddles, growing on dead wood. Here is a delicious, vegan "creamy" wild mushroom soup that incorporates both (but you can really use ANY mushrooms in this soup!)

This  amazing vegan "cream" of mushroom soup...and the mushrooms are MORELS and DRYAD'S SADDLES! It doesn't get better than this!

Vegan Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup

vegan, gluten-free, soy-free

In a pot with water, boil:
  • 3 potatoes, peeled, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 5 button mushrooms (optional)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • paprika
Boil until POTATOES and CARROTS are tender. Remove from heat.
Add 1/4 cup raw CASHEWS or cashew pieces and blend well. (We used our vitamix, but any blender should be fine.)

In a pan with olive oil:

saute chopped MORELS with salt.

In another pan with olive oil:

saute chopped DRYAD'S SADDLE with salt.

(I sauteed in them in two separate pans because later in the season dryad's can become bitter, and in case this had happened, I didn't want to ruin the batch of morels!!! But they were just fine.)

Return now creamy broth to pot and adjust seasonings: SALT, PEPPER, PAPRIKA  to taste.
Add sauteed mushrooms and enjoy.

~ Melissa
Food Under Foot

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Let's Make Dandelion Tea Cake

Originally called "Dandelion Bread," I changed the name of the recipe to Dandelion Tea Cake, because this is much more cake-like than bread-like (think Zucchini Bread.)

The original recipe is from the Food Storage and Survival Blog.

I altered it a bit to make it gluten-free, dairy-free and practically oil-free.

First you'll need to gather a lot of dandelion flowers, which shouldn't be too hard this time of year! Then pinch off the green underpart and toss the yellow petals into a bowl. It's ok if there is a bit of green here and there, but the greens are bitter, so the more you can remove the better.

  • 2 cups buckwheat flour (I ground buckwheat grouts in a coffee grinder)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups dandelion petals
  • 1 mashed banana with drizzle olive oil (I used in place of 1/4 c veg oil)
  • 1/2 c maple syrup
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 1/3 cup cashew milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 400 Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix dry ingredients, including dandelion petals, into bowl.
  3. Mix wet ingredients in another bowl, then combine with dry ingredients.
  4. Pour into oiled loaf pan.
  5. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes, then turn down heat to 350 and bake 20 more minutes.
Delicious served warm with tea. I boiled the extra dandelion flowers (greens and all) into a tea, to which I added a little honey.
I ate it plain, but it is also good topped with honey or butter.

Tea Time!!!
Happy Foraging!
~ Melissa Sokulski
Food Under Foot