Wild Mushroom Blends – The good, The bad and The Gorgeous

There are so many kinds of mushrooms that the average person has never tasted, seen, or heard of. We only get exposed to a few commercialized varieties at the grocery store and the odd wild variety at a trendy restaurant. It’s time that everyone learns that the mushroom kingdom is vast…very vast. And just as carrots are different than broccoli, porcini are different than chanterelles. The texture, shape, flavour, and aroma of some species is so unique it’s really worth getting specific instead of just lumping them all as wild mushrooms.

First though, it’s  important to note that most mushrooms that are marketed as “wild” are not wild at all. Check out the blog post What is a wild mushroom? for a better explanation of that. So when you see ‘wild mushroom soup’ on a menu or a wild mushroom mix on a grocery shelf, what you are usually getting is cheap, cultivated varieties. You wouldn’t want your deluxe nut mix to have 90% peanuts would you? Let’s be very clear here: shiitake, oysters, and cremini are not wild mushrooms. They can grown in the wild but 99.9% of them are mass cultivated. We’re not cool with businesses selling farmed salmon under the label wild salmon, so why do we allow it for mushrooms?  Read your labels folks and watch for wild wannabes.

Untamed Feast Forest Blend is a mix of the best actually wild mushrooms that the Great Canadian wilderness offers each season. On our ingredients list you’ll notice the clause ‘species including but not limited to,’  that’s there because Mother Nature is full of surprises and does not always bring the same gifts to the same places. Some years she brings plenty of one kind of mushroom and none of the another. Here’s a list of our favourites:

1.Pine MushroomTricholoma magnivelare – This firm, white, and highly revered species has a complex cinnamony and musty taste. Most of Canada’s harvest is exported to Japan where they are called matsutake. There, fresh buttons (a term which refers to the cap still being adhered to the stem) can sell for 100$/lb or more. Pines have closely spaced gills, the caps are firm and the stems firmer still. They like to grow in rings and when in their prime, they just barely poke out of the ground. When you see one, get down and look for a ring of little bumps in the groundcover. They are rarely alone. In Western Canada, Appears late summer to early winter in coniferous mountains with sandy soil.

2. Lobster – Hypomyces lactifluorum – It’s fascinating that the beautiful orange/red color of this mushroom is accompanied by a mild seafood like taste and aroma. Even more interesting, is that is actually the result of a parasite that develops on the genera Lactarius and Russula. Only once they are slightly disfigured and discolored to a striking lobster color are they delectable. The cap is dented at the center and covered in bumps. The stem is thick and sturdy. Easy-to- spot and one-of-a kind. In Western Canada, this mushroom likes wet country, late summer to early winter. We often find it moist, shady slopes.

3. Morels – Morchella Conica, Morchella Esculenta –  This is the world’s most desired mushroom next to the truffle. It has a hollow honeycomb or sponge like cap that is continuously attached to its hollow stem. It is earthy and nutty in flavour, meaty in texture and absolutely superb, especially dried. Morel is one of the few spring mushrooms and likes to grow where there’s been soil disturbance (especially the year following a forest fire). If you’re a die-hard harvester you can keep going up in latitude and elevation to extend your picking season until mid Canadian summer. Once again the color can vary from blonde, brown, grey, green’ish, black’ish. For more info read Everything you ever wanted to know about morels.

4. Porcini Boletus Edulis – Also called King Bolete, Penny Bun, Cepe in French, Steinpilz in German, Borowitz in Ukrainian. (There’s even a Thai word for it which I can’t figure out how to type on the keyboard). It grows and is appreciated in so many parts of the world. It is so adored by the Italians that the name ‘Porcini’ (which means pigs) has been widely adopted in North America.  It has the quintessential chubby shape and texture that come to mind when the average person thinks ‘mushroom’. Fresh, it deteriorates extremely quickly but it can be eaten raw and when done so it is almost cremini’esque (crimini is the common store bought cultivated mushroom). Dry however, it is absolutely top tier. You get a concentrated, umami, richness that is a superb broth or gravy, adds depth to any dish, and really deserves be a potato chip flavour worldwide not just in Poland. In Western Canada we sometimes get a summer flush of primo mountain porcini, and usually get a North-Western fall crop.

5.Hedgehog- Hydnum repandum – Also called Sweet Tooth. Fun to touch in addition to being a choice edible, this mushroom is named after its spore bearing, soft-spikes under the cap that resemble the wee mammal’s quills. The spikes/teeth are soft and delicate, the stem is stubby and firm, and the cap is dented in the center. It is flat when young and matures to be bumpy like. The stem is thick, firm, and can sometimes be way off-center. Their color ranges from cream-tan-orange hegehog. It’s flavour is comparable to a chanterelle. Another fall species, appearing September / October in the Canadian NorthWest.

6. ChanterellesCantharellus cibarius, Cantharellus Subalbidus, Catharellus Lateritius –  There are several varieties of this well known genus. Deeply prized by the French, chanterelles are one of the easiest species for beginners to identify. However, they can range from whitish to bright yellow to blue AND from small & tight to fist size & fan-like. They do not have true gills but rather ridges. The caps are not a typical dome. All are delicious and all are welcome in our Forest Blend. We have sometimes have a summer crop in the coniferous parts of the prairies, and sometimes have bountiful crop on the west coast. Perhaps one of the most wonderful thing about this species is that they are to clean relative to other species and keep fresh in the refrigerator for a long time. This is one mushroom that is superior fresh as when it is dried it can be a little chewy, which is when it is best for recipes with liquid, ie: soups, sauces, stew.

 

7. Yellowfeet- Cantharellus Tubaefomis – You’ll often find yellowfeet growing right alongside other chanterelles in the same type of mossy, coniferous ground. And when you find them, it can be a jackpot type of situation. They aren’t always particularly yellow, sometimes closer to brown and they look nothing like feet 🙂 The caps are funnel or trumpet shaped (in fact it’s sometimes called a trumpet mushroom) meaning they have a dimple in the center. The stems are pliable and hollow, though not necessarily in the early stages. They tend to the slim and tiny side, under 4 inches tall, although their tops can fan out quite wide. When dried they are even tinier but they have a superb aroma and caramel like flavour.

 

8. Admiral Bolete – Boletus Mirabilis – When you meet this mushroom in person, you kind of marvel at its beauty. I think of it as the King’s glamorous cousin…an Elite Bolete, if you will. Its cap is a deep brown-purple and and has a velvety texture. The ‘stripeyness’ of the stem is a complementary color to the cap, but the spongy spore side is a contrasting tan to bright yellowey-green. It nevers seems to be particularly abundant, and seems to prefer mature forest. Yet another fall species found primarily in the NorthWest.

 

9. Red Top Scaber Stalk – Leccinum Aurantiacum – Red Tops are not always red. They can range from dull to bright and orange to brown. When you cut them, they stain blue – black. The Eastern Europeans who settled on the Canadian prairies are nuts for this mushroom. When fresh, it is pretty darn slimey, and though it would shame my Babcia to hear me say it “I don’t really like it”. Dried however, it takes on a buttery caramel deliciousness, rehydrates quickly, and adds a dark, brothy quality to any dish. The stalk is white with gray-black scabers (think irregular shingles). As with most of the boletes, the best time to pick them is when they are buttons/babies. They will be more firm, slightly sweeter, and ‘pure’ inside. As these mushrooms mature they can grow quite tall, the caps begin to fan out. By the time they are flags (meaning the bottom ridges of the cap are far from the stem) they don’t get much bigger, will start to turn to mush, and are almost guaranteed to be wormy. Found across the Canadian prairies in late summer early fall, and in the NorthWest in the fall.

 

10. Cauliflower Mushroom- Sparassis Spathulata – This mushroom is the color of cauliflower and from a distance, it is similar in appearance to the vegetable. Its structure though, is actually more similar to a dense, baby head of green leaf lettuce. Delicate, tender, and delicious. It’s very easy to identify, and once you’ve had a good look at one specimen, there’s not much that you could confuse it with. This guy can weigh up to 10kgs. Sometimes found growing in decaying wood, often in the rocky mountains in the late summer to fall.

So those are ten of Nature’s finest wild mushrooms. If you are lucky, you can meet some of them along a walk through a forest near you. It is so satisfying to practice your ancestral instincts to forage but if you strike out or if that’s just not your thing, we’ve got you covered… grab a package of Feast Forest Blend and watch a cooking video.

 

Author’s note: I am not a mycologist. The latin used here is a reference point for further research. Beware that the nomenclature and classifications of mushrooms is far from perfect. Experts often disagree and make changes. An apple by any other name would taste as sweet though, so while you may find discrepancies between one field guide and another, Untamed Feast does guarantee that the species referred to here are safe to eat when properly cooked.

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