Why did the mushroom go to the party?

Because he's a fungi, of course!

All right, let's dispense with the kindergarten humor and get on to the real business of what I'd like to share with you today. Mushrooms, and lots of them!

Wild ones, to be exact. Here in the Pacific Northwest and in most parts of the country, mushrooms grow in the wild like, well, a fungus. They're everywhere. They're in your backyard, in your neighborhood park, and in almost any place where there are trees and dirt. See?

Of course, not all wild mushrooms make for good eats. Most varieties are edible and harmless, but just because you can eat something doesn't mean that you should. And, of course, a stern warning should be dispensed that some mushrooms can bring you serious harm and should not be consumed. Be sure about what you've harvested before you stick it in your maw (that means before you eat it!). If you're setting out to hunt for wild mushrooms for the first time, your best bet is to go with someone who already knows what's what. I would also highly recommend finding a wild mushroom guidebook (or three) particular to your region of the country with full color photos and thorough descriptions and rubrics for identification. There are also a few great internet resources, like this one for SW Washington, but do consider your source!

Now, let me tell you about our recent adventure in fungi foraging. We love mushrooms. If courtship between human and fungi were allowed, we'd surely have some sort of alternative relationship structure worked out by now. Early October is a great time to hunt for wild edibles in the Northwest and we set out recently in search of chanterelle mushrooms. They are considered "choice" edibles, which means exactly what it sounds like, and if you've ever seen them at your local grocer, you know they fetch a pretty penny. We weren't interested in harvesting mushrooms to sell, however. We just wanted to find enough for a nice dinner.

Sadly, we did not find the chanterelles that we had our hearts set on. However, we did happen upon a fine bounty of angel wings (Pleurotus porrigens, if you care). They are small, thin white mushrooms that grow on downed trees, and they are related to oyster mushrooms. We saw quite a few angel wing colonies, but we collected a mere 1/4 lb stash to take home and cook up. Here's what some of those mushrooms looked like when we found them:

When we returned home, mushroom bounty in tow, we compared them to our guidebooks and got ourselves a positive identification. We did, in fact, have (safe, edible) angel wings at hand and we were eager to prepare dinner!

Mushrooms can be cooked in any variety of ways, but my favorite method for all mushrooms is very simple and allows the natural flavors of the mushroom to really shine. The first step is always, always, always clean your mushrooms! Here's how:

  1. Using a mushroom brush or dry paper towel, brush/wipe off any visible dirt and other non-mushroom plant matter that may be on your mushroom.

  2. If you're cooking mushrooms with stems, you may choose to remove and discard the stem. This would be the step in which to do that, if that's the case. Angel wings don't have stems though!

  3. For wild-harvested mushrooms, it's advisable to take a little extra step to rid the shrooms of any bugs that may be lingering within their gills. To do this, fill a bowl with cool water (filtered is desirable) and submerge your mushrooms for about 30 seconds, swirling them around with your fingers. If there are any bugs hiding in your fungi, they'll be separated from your mushrooms in no time.

  4. Strain your mushrooms and dry them gently on a flour sack towel. If you want to slice or quarter your mushrooms, now is the time. Angel wings are small, so we opted to prepare them whole.

Now, for the cooking!

  1. In a nonstick pan, warm some olive oil on medium heat. The amount of oil depends on how much mushroom matter you're planning to cook. For our 1/4 lb haul, I used about 1 Tbsp of oil.

  2. When the oil is warmed, add your mushrooms and stir with a wooden spoon to coat.

  3. Sprinkle with sea salt (somewhere between two pinches and 1 tsp, to taste).

  4. Reduce heat to medium low and cook mushrooms, covered, for a few minutes. Different mushrooms require different cooking times, but you'll know when they're done. Angel wings and other light mushrooms do not require much cooking time, so our side dish was done in about 5 minutes.

Whatever your mushroom lust is and whether you opt to hunt your own in the wild or visit your local grocer to purchase your choice edibles, I hope my mushroom tips will inspire you to invite some fungi to your party this fall!

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