Spring is an exciting time of year for local food fanciers on Vancouver Island. At farmers’ markets you can already find the first spears of asparagus, salad greens and hearty overwintered kales. It’s also a great time to forage for wild foods like stinging nettles and morel mushrooms. This week for Food Matters on CBC Radio’s All Points West I talked about my ‘hunting’ trip with Chef Bill Jones of Deerholme Farm near Glenora in the Cowichan Valley.
I have been lucky enough to be out with Bill several times since I moved to the Valley myself and each trip is always a little bit of an adventure. This particular trip was inspired by Bill’s latest cookbook, The Deerholme Mushroom Book, which really has captured Bill’s love of fungi along with his experience of 20 years of foraging for them and cooking them. How do you come to love things from the earth like mushrooms and truffles? For Bill, it was when he was living in France and working in a restaurant kitchen. Growing up in Canada meant his knowledge of mushrooms was generally limited to white button mushrooms, but in France the foragers kept showing up at the kitchen door with all kinds of wonderful mushrooms. He really fell in love with cepes, (sometimes known as boletes or porcinis) saying they are ‘a really sexy-looking mushroom, with a meaty, caramelized taste and texture.’
We weren’t looking for porcinis or cepes during this trip though, those are fall mushrooms. We were keeping our eyes peeled for morel mushrooms, which are out there right now. They frequently are found for a year or two in areas that have been hit by forest fires, or perhaps land that has been disturbed by plowing or tree clearing. They like to be around Douglas Fir trees, sandy river banks, and one other somewhat surprising place, abandoned fruit tree orchards.
Bill really loves morels for a couple of reasons. One, they turn up in the spring which just means the mushroom hunting season is longer, and two, the ridges and valleys of a morel really pick up the flavour of whatever you cook them in. One of his favourite recipes from the book is a Spanish tapas-style dish. He takes large morels and stuffs them with a mixture of caramelized leek, chorizo sausage, and garlic. Then he poaches them in white wine or chicken stock and serves them with a vinaigrette of olive oil, sherry vinegar, paprika and chopped parsley. I made that recipe for Jo-Ann Roberts to taste on the show and she loved it.
The best eating mushrooms in this area are easy to identify, so we’re talking the boletes, morels, chanterelles, oyster mushrooms and pine mushrooms. But you don’t have to forage for yourself, you can get wild mushrooms at farmers markets and some grocery stores, and there are a greater number of mushrooms being cultivated now, shitakes, enoki, for example and Bill says if you are a little industrious you can even try growing your own with some kits you can buy. They are mostly bags of compost that have been inoculated with oyster mushroom spores, or you can buy plugs inoculated with shitake spore, and place the plugs into holes you’ve drilled into old alder logs. I have a bunch of alder logs on my property so that could be a good way to go for me…but it’s a bit of delayed gratification, it takes about a year for the mushrooms to sprout and mature. Then you’ve got to watch out for the inevitable worms and slugs that like to eat them.
With all of Bill’s knowledge of mushrooms this is a great resource book. It blends together everything you need to know about mushroom identification, habitat, their huge potential as medicinal ingredients, with great photos and close to 150 recipes for all kinds of mushrooms, including fresh, dried and powdered, and how to pickle or freeze them as well for future use. The name of the book again is The Deerholme Mushroom Book, From Foraging to Feasting, from Touchwood Editions. Click on the above link to order directly from amazon.ca and save 37%.
To listen to my conversation about the book with Jo-Ann Roberts, look for the link on this All Points West page. But if you’d like to go on the hike that Bill and I enjoyed earlier this week, click on this link to listen to an mp3 of the audio adventure.