by ROSS BALLARD
It seems spring is finally here, and for all of us Fungi Lovers it will soon be time to dust off our baskets and head out into the forest once more, guidebook in hand and knife at the ready.
As a huge mushroom enthusiast, I love the difference between spring and fall picking. Springtime brings the annual hunt for the delicate and elusive Black Morel, which is prized around the world for its wonderful rich flavour. Another species I absolutely love is the Spring Oyster Mushroom, which has a much more delicate flavour and a beautiful creamy white colour, and a meatier texture than the Morel.
As the heat of summer rolls over the valley, most of the mushrooms dry up and I am left to impatiently wait until the first frost of fall brings a whole new explosion of fungi to dot the forest floor.
One family of mushroom I often hunt for is the Bolete, which has more than 10 different species known in B.C. most of which are edible. Prized in Eastern Europe for its large size and meaty texture, finding a flush of fresh Boletes is a sure way to fill your basket to bursting.
There are over a dozen different species of prized edible mushrooms In my guidebook, all of which I have yet to find. One species most do know about is the puffball mushroom, which grows in fields and lawns and resembles a snowball when fresh and has a greenish slime inside when old.
There are at least three species of puffball that grow in the Robson Valley.
The one most people see is called the Gem Puffball, which has tiny white studs all over its surface. The one most people never see is called the Giant Puffball, and until last fall I had only heard legend of this behemoth species.
I was working at Stewart Farm preparing chickens and turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner. I told the owner about my passion for harvesting mushrooms and he told me there were some huge ones out in the cow pasture.
During lunch I went for a short wander, and within a minute I found a flush of huge umbrella shaped mushrooms about six inches wide and eight-10 inches tall. They were Shaggy White Parasols, and I sorted through the twenty or so that were there selecting the freshest and most delicate ones for harvest, leaving the rest just as I found them so they would continue to flourish.
What I came upon next absolutely blew my mind.
I was walking through a field of thigh high Grass when I stumbled upon a family of Giant Puffball Mushrooms, not one smaller than an Ostrich egg!
“If you love mushrooms, I hope this gets you as excited as I am to start wandering in the trees,” — Ross Ballard, contributor
I was excitedly looking at these stunning marvels of nature when I spotted a huge white ball hidden in the grass. This mushroom was twice the size of a basketball and it must have weighed at lest 10 pounds. I carried it back to the house and could not believe the heat coming off of it.
When I got it home that afternoon, I cut the giant in half and discovered that the outer few inches were white and edible while the centre was starting to get little green dots on it. I happily carved off some slabs of the outer flesh quickly filling my dehydrator. The rest of the mushroom I cut into small pieces; half of them I spread on my lawn in hopes that one or two may pop up this fall. The rest I blended into my greenhouse soil for great compost and a rich nutrient burst for this year’s tomatoes, nothing going to waste.
During the winter I hoard my dried mushrooms like a miner hoards his gold, and my friends have come to love it whenever I bring a jar of dried something to dinner. My favourite meal to make with a fresh puffball is a breakfast scramble. Fry up a couple strips of crispy bacon, remove the bacon leaving most of the drippings in the pan and add some chopped onions and pepper of your choice. Once your veggies have softened add your puffball cut into one-inch cubes and fry for a few minutes until they soak up a little flavour. Add a couple scrambled eggs, and chop your bacon into bits and shred some cheddar into a bowl while they cook.
Add the bacon and cheddar and let it melt on top. Delicious.
With Oyster Mushrooms I prefer a lighter tasting dish that won’t overpower the delicate flavour of this species. Miso soup is my go to standard when I find some fresh oysters or pull some dried off the shelf. Whether you make it yourself or buy the packets at the store Miso soup with green onion, tofu and Oyster Mushrooms is a beautiful thing.
The Morel has such a strong rich flavour, so I have always loved it in a thick gravy or a hearty mushroom soup. To make a super easy Morel gravy start with a packet or two of green peppercorn gravy. Finely chop half an onion and fry in a small saucepan. Chop up a couple dried morels and add them to the mix with a pinch of rosemary and a touch of salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes until your Morels are soft and then add your gravy mix allowing it to simmer for at least 15 minutes to make sure your Morels are fully cooked through. I love this poured over a fried pork chop or veal cutlets.
If you love mushrooms, I hope this gets you as excited as I am to start wandering in the trees.
Remember to always carry your bear spray and an extra large basket. You never know what you may find.