Sunday, August 8, 2010

Gone Shroomin'

A couple of weeks ago I made a trip up north to hang out in the Adirondack Mountains for a little bit. It was beautiful but a little bit remote, so I didn't know how easy the shopping would be.
I'm not gonna lie, it was a little bit tricky. As much as I try to deny it, I'm a little spoiled by the farmers market here in New York, so it was dicey putting together some quality meals day after day. Until we took a hike that is.
We set out to conquer a small mountain, I was in a little over my head with what the guidebook labeled a "moderate" hike. Which turned out to include rock climbing, steep inclines, profuse sweating and, mush to my surprise, mushroom hunting.
It had rained a day or two before, so the forest floor was littered with a wide variety of amazing mushrooms. It hadn't even crossed my mind until we hit the trails that there might be some foraging to do. It is summer after all, the season for the tasty little fungi known as chantarelles.
So I kept my eyes on the sides of the trail. Huffing and puffing, me heart jumping a little bit everytime I saw a mushroom cap peeking through a pile of leaves, or standing out from a moss bed at the base of a tree, but no chatarelles.

Let me say here, I have never foraged for chantarelle mushrooms, but my time served in kitchens has seen me through cases of the mushroom. So I was 95% confident that I would eat what I deemed to be the right mushroom if I found it? The real questions was: would I risk the rest of my vacation on that 5% of doubt? Probably, but I wouldn't ask anyone to take the dive with me . . . which essentially translated to more mushrooms for me.

We climbed and scrambled up the mountain, rustling leaves and overturning stumps in search of a side dish.

Then, finally, there it was, hanging out all by itself, a lone chantarelle (as best as I could tell) to symbolize hope for a fruitful hike, and cast a little more doubt as to whether or not I had the right mushroom.

Then there was another, and another. I don't now why they appeared all of the sudden. Maybe from the altitude, maybe from the moisture levels. Who knows, I was on a role zigzagging off the trail, plucking mushrooms and frustrating my fellow hikers with the holdup.

The elusive Chantarelle Mushroom

When we finally got back to the car I had harvested quite of few of the mushrooms that I had deemed to be chantarelles and so safe for consumption. And at around 60 bucks a pound in the market, I considered myself a little richer for the efforts. Still the more I stared at my stash the more doubt loomed. Would I be my own guinea pig?
We got home and I stored them wrapped in paper towels pending further approval, but where would that come from. There was no internet there; no google to lay our thoughts, fears, and scattagories disputes to rest.

So I waited.

Then we took another hike. And again we were collecting little yellow nuggets. In midst of a small minefield of mushrooms, my excitement was overcome by the reality that I wasn't going to actually endeavor to eat these without some acknowledgment that I had the right thing.
I just couldn't. . . and you shouldn't either. As we've all heard: consuming the wrong mushroom cap can literally do you in.

Then, marching towards us down the trail, an older couple carrying plastic grocery sacks full of mushrooms, humored me for a moment.
YES! What I had been picking was, in fact, chantarelle mushrooms. Apparently characterized by their unique yellow "school bus" color and the larger ridges situated under the cap. Where other, less delicious, mushrooms house their superfine gills.

Ecstatic, I inquired as to any fabulous cooking ideas a true mushroom hunter might have . . . . "We saute them."
I stopped, disappointed for precisely .2 seconds. Sauteing them was exactly what I had planned to do, and what I would've done regardless of any revelations they'd laid upon me.

The menu was set, Chantarelles for dinner.

I just peeled them apart with my fingers and cooked them in the fashion of a super simple pasta sauce. They were exceptional.
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