Archive for the ‘Preserving’ Category

The Wildest Mushrooms in Wine Country

Pile of Boletus

One of our favorite fall events is the Mendocino Wine and Mushroom Festival. This annual event is slated to occur during the height of our wild mushroom season. That is, of course, if the weather cooperates, which it manages to do about one in every three or so years. This year, early rains guaranteed a bounty of wild mushrooms, and thus, as successful festival.

White Chanterelle

My mushroom adventures started in earnest around the end of October. I took to wandering up and down our old logging roads with my shoulders slumped and my eyes on the ground, hoping for that flash of color amongst the forest duff. My first mushroom of the year was a 6” white Chanterelle, found at the side of the road just down the ravine from the house. Sliced and sautéed with butter and a little brandy, it made a wonderful topping for our Sunday pasta.

Assorted Mushrooms

The golden Chanterelles were the next to emerge. These are generally found in patches, in and around tan oak thickets. The trees are considered a weed in our largely fir and redwood forests, but provide the perfect environment for the mushrooms. While smaller and more colorful than the whites, many say that the flavor of the golden is superior. They command a hefty $17.00 per pound at our local market, so are a real treat when found in any numbers. The great thing about Chanterelles is that they seem to remain worm and grub free, even in the dampest weather.

Zeeler's Boletus

The next mushrooms to poke their heads from the ground were the Boletus, or porcini, as they are known in Italy. In our neighborhood, we see the giant King Bolete, the darker Queen Bolete, and a smaller, more colorful variety called the Zeller’s Bolete. These are the mushrooms most sought after by the commercial hunters, and often the most ridden with small worm holes unless found within hours of emergence. This year, I was lucky enough to receive a gift of a large box of gigantic King Boletus, some with caps measuring over 8” across. I was picking up my order of mushrooms for the cooking class, and my local purveyor offered them up to use as props for presentation, since they were far too large and wormy to be sold commercially. The upside of this arrangement was that, once we were finished with the class and the tasting event that followed, these could be cleaned, sliced and dried. The almost six pounds of mushrooms were reduced, the following weekend, to about twelve ounces of prime dried mushrooms and six half-pints of concentrated porcini stock for the freezer.

Frying Porcini Crusted Chicken

The Magic Mushroom cooking class we presented, and the food and wine pairing that followed, were the highlights of the week. Seven students arrived at the kitchen, ready to prepare six different mushroom appetizers. Aprons were assigned, hands were washed, and four hours later, a beautiful array of food was enjoyed, paired with a 2007 Paul Dolan Sauvignon Blanc and a 2003 McDowell Valley Vineyards Coro Mendocino.

Wild Mushroom Profiteroles

Wild Mushroom Gruyere Tart

After seeing the satisfied cooks on their way, we plated the balance of the appetizers and packed them off to The Beachcomber Motel for our ‘Shrooms and Sunset at the Beach, with Handley Cellars wines and some of the Mendocino coast’s best views. Mother Nature cooperated once again, and our guests were treated to a spectacular sunset, an amazing absence of wind, and a bounty of wonderful food and wine. Our guests were so amazed with the huge mushrooms scattered around the buffet that one of them even asked us to take his picture holding the giant boletus.

Sunset at the Beachcomber

Guest and Boletus

Back in the forest, the cooler weather continues to advance the cast of fungi making their appearances. Now we are seeing the Lactarius or “Milk Caps” named for their milky juices, the Russula, which are rosy pink on white, and an occasional white Matsutake, the famous full moon mushrooms of Japan. Later frosts will bring the Yellow Foot, also known as the Winter Chanterelle, and one of my personal favorites, the Candy Cap. The Candy Cap, when dried, smells and tastes just like maple syrup, and can be infused into milk or cream for the most decadent desserts. For grins, try the Candy Cap Ice Cream at Cowlick’s in Fort Bragg, available only during the mushroom season.

Post by Julia Conway on November 22nd, 2009

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup


Roasted Butternut Squash Soup


One of the best quick dishes this time of year is to make a soup from a roasted winter squash. The first of the new crop of squash are coming in to my local grocery store from Comanche Creek Farm, and they are also starting to appear at the last farmers markets of the season. To me, this is the ultimate fall vegetable, and is such an efficient package of nutrients to boot. I like my soup to have a savory and balanced flavor, not tasting sweet, like pumpkin pie, as so many commercial versions do.
On a chilly afternoon, I will fire up the oven to roast a squash for soup. Using the large santoku knife, I split the squash vertically, and scoop out the seeds. I roast the squash cut side down on a sheet pan lined with parchment until it is soft and deeply caramelized on the bottom. While the squash cools, I sauté half of a sweet onion in olive oil until softened and lightly browned, then add two teaspoons of curry powder. My favorite is from Juliet Mae Spices in San Francisco (, but any full flavored variety will do. Continue to sauté the mixture until the curry powder is toasted and fragrant, then deglaze with a splash of brandy and scoop the cooled squash out of the skin and into the pot with the onions and curry.
Add two to three cups of water, or just enough to cover the squash, and simmer until the onion is very soft. Puree the mixture with a stick blender until smooth, and then add one to two cups whole milk, stirring well to combine. Simmer until thickened and reduced, and taste for seasoning. I tend to like to add salt and a squirt of Sriracha hot sauce to give the soup a little zip. If the soup is still too sweet, add a dash of soy sauce to offset. The sweetness will vary with the individual squash used.
Before serving, I like to roast a generous handful of pumpkin seeds in olive oil over low heat, using a heavy bottom sauté pan. Stir to prevent burning and roast until seeds and oil are a rich golden brown. You can also do this using pumpkin seed oil if you have it handy, but olive oil works just fine. This garnish is fragrant, and provides a satisfying crunch in contrast to the velvety soup.
Serve the soup in wide rimmed bowls, and drizzle the oil and pumpkin seed mixture over the top. Season again with a little freshly ground pepper and enjoy!
1 medium to large winter squash
½ medium sweet onion, chopped
Olive oil
2 teaspoons curry powder
¼ cup brandy or wine
2-3 cups water
1-2 cups whole milk
Sriracha hot sauce (or Tabasco)
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup raw pumpkin seeds
½ cup olive oil
Post by Julia Conway on October 23rd, 2009