A few months ago, Bob and I joined Feral Kevin of ForageSF for one of his wild food walks in Golden Gate Park. We had a great time, learning all about the wild edibles that are growing right outside our back door. Admittedly, we haven’t done much harvesting of stinging nettles or miner’s lettuce since but it is good fun knowing that they’re out there.
This past weekend, we followed Kevin a bit farther off the beaten path for an afternoon of wild mushroom gathering. We went north, up the coast, well past Bodega Bay to northwestern Sonoma County. We were really out in the middle of nowhere. No towns, few people and zero cell phone reception (ahhhh). We met up with Kevin and the others for a pre-forage lesson on mycology. Basically, he offered up a quick 101 on what we were looking for, what to avoid and some quick tips on the proper etiquette of mushroom foraging (no trambling, digging or mindless dumping).
We spent the next 4 hours, under Kevin’s watchful eye, carefully searching for wild mushrooms and filling our baskets with an assortment of black trumpet mushrooms, hedgehogs and chanterelles. Even with the recent lack of rain, we were able to find plenty – certainly enough to feed our household a wonderful mushroom meal or two.
It wasn’t all easy work but we loved it, learned a lot (thanks Kevin!) and came home with a pretty impressive stash. The mushrooms were delicious, rich in flavor and definitely worthy of all the hard work. An adventure that we will certainly do again.
Pass the mushrooms, please.
Although not on the official list of “super foods”, mushrooms offer up a pretty powerful punch when it comes to key vitamins and minerals. For thousands of years, mushrooms have been valued for their health-enhancing properties. They have been used to support the immune system, improve circulation and lower cholesterol. The list of health benefits is long – and growing.
So what’s in those mushrooms that make them more than just a tasty treat?
B vitamins, to start. Key for maintaining a healthy metabolism, the B vitamins in mushrooms help break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats, providing the body with the energy it needs.
Mushrooms are also one of those very rare foods that offer a natural source of Vitamin D, a nutrient that most of us don’t get enough of these days. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in helping the body absorb calcium. Without it, we run the risk of poor bone density and even osteoporosis down the road.
Mushrooms also have the added benefit of being rich in antioxidants. The high-levels of selenium are believed to protect the body’s cells from damage, reducing the risk of some forms of heart disease and cancer.
But mushrooms aren’t to be approached without caution. For the foragers among us, there are the obvious dangers of eating a toxic variety (know your shrooms well, foragers). But even the supermarket variety present potential hazards. Studies show that our run-of-the mill creminis and portobellas contain small amounts of potential carcinogens. But all is not lost, mushroom lovers. Cook them well (as you should with all mushrooms), eat them in moderation and enjoy.
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ozs assorted wild mushrooms*
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
sea salt & freshly ground pepper
* wild mushrooms are starting to appear more and more in select markets. If your market doesn’t have them or they are out of season, try dried. Although not exactly the same in flavor, dried mushrooms (once rehydrated) can have that same earthy flavor as those that were freshly-picked.
- Heat the butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat until the butter starts to foam. Add the shallots and a generous pinch of sea salt. Cook, stirring often, until the shallots have softened a bit.
- Lower the heat to medium. Add the mushrooms, garlic and thyme, stir well until the mushrooms are evenly coated with the oil & butter. Continue cooking until the mushrooms begin to soften and release their juices. About 5-8 minutes depending on the mushroom size and type.
- Add the lemon zest and juice. Add salt & pepper to taste. Continue cooking for another 1-2 minutes until the flavors are well combined.
- Serve immediately. Try them over pasta, polenta or roasted root vegetables. A hearty, whole wheat toast also works well.