It is with some trepidation that I tell you this. I fear I might be
labeled a sacrilegious blasphemer who deals in heresy.
But I must tell you: Some--perhaps all--of those fungi you see
in the larger grocery stores are just as good . . . just as tasty . . .
as their wild brethren, including shaggymanes, hickory jacks, puffballs,
and yes (gasp) our beloved spring morels.
There! I have said it! And I am glad! I know it will be a bitter pill
for you dyed-in-the-wool morel aficionados to swallow, but I speak the
truth. . . I know of which I write . . . I have been pigging
out on them.
True, at least some--perhaps many--of the store-dwelling fungi are organically
produced. But you can't hold that against them. Shucks! Dying of health
may be no more painful that succumbing to a gravel truck (after it has
pocked a few windshields with errant, high-bouncing stones).
I don't know anyone who holds the aforementioned wild mushrooms more
highly than I do (and have throughout my three-score-and-10-plus). I must
also admit that for many years I have looked with jaundiced eye on grocery-store
mushroom bins . . . while dipping into my larder of frozen and dried wild
But several things occurred last year and into the early months of this
First, last spring was pretty much of a bust for me in the morel category.
I didn't come even close to my usual find of 18 to 20 pounds from my favorite
woods. Then the drought in the fall hurt production of shaggymanes, hickory
jacks and hen-of-the-woods.
As my supply of wildish shrank (shrunk, if you prefer) in my freezer
and the airtight pantry jars, a phalanx of fungi at the neighborhood Marsh
made goo-goo eyes while I sifted through the green onions, the sugar peas,
turnips and other produce delectibles.
All of this led to an encounter with a beautiful portabella (sautéed
in a beef broth with a smack of garlic, orzo pasta and caper buds) at a
local hash house. It was instant infatuation.
Thereafter, the wails and wiles of the sirens of the grocery-store fungi
bins grew stronger, more seductive. Like the ancient mariners, I relented.
At first the name of one, "Oyster Mushroom," caught my eye. On closer
examination, I could see that this mushroom looked and smelled just like
my favored hickory jacks. It had/has a stem, not present in my wild ones,
but otherwise I could but wonder if it would pass the taste test.
Pass it did!
Cut into strips (like I handle the wild hickory jack), dipped in a mix
of egg and milk, rolled in a mix of finely rolled crackers and flour, and
sautéed (in olive oil) to a golden brown, it suggested (even smelled)
like I was consuming morels or wild jacks. Moreover, it was just as good
in stews and soups.
That led to small purchases of shiitake, buttons, and others that appeared
to have culinary potentials.
Store-bought mushrooms can be prepared (cooked) in many ways. This column
has offered such information on many occasions, and many of my procedures
for preparing wild mushrooms for the table. My recipes (procedures) also
will be found on the "Wild Recipes" page
of this website.
And in case winter ever leaves Hoosierland, our wild mushroom season
(especially for morels) is nigh. A "mushroom" search
of this website offers many stories from the past. There will be a
new supply coming as jacks (of pulpit fame) corkscrew their way to life
through the humus of the forest floor.
|The oyster mushroom (foreground)
and two views of the shiitake (background) . . . The oyster was about four
inches long. The shiitake about two inches in cap diameter.
WELCOME BACK, CLARENCE!
While wondering on a recent ornery March day if spring would ever come,
my eye caught movement in a little redbud tree outside my double glass
doors (six or eight feet from the monitor of my computer).
The male of the species, without a doubt. His head was coal black (almost
shiny) and the wide "V" bib of the same color was accentuated by it collision
with the snow-white belly. The streaks of white in wings and tail semaphored
his identity with every move he made. But if there had been doubts, the
rich orange sides would have dispelled them.
"Welcome back, Clarence Towhee," I said. "Spring be with you."
End of story? Certainly not! Clarence and his mate have been coming
to my front-yard jungle for several years. I am presuming that they are
the same birds, but it could be (bird mortality rates being as they are)
that they are children--or even grandchildren--of the original Clarence.
However that scenario may be, Clarence always comes a week or 10 days
before his mate--apparently to start the search for a nest site in some
I have never been able to find the nest of Clarence and his drab little
mate, but they are present throughout the spring and summer. Nor have I
noticed them with young.
But Dr. Harmon P. Weeks, the Purdue University professor of wildlife
related studies and probably the best informed bird-nest authority of the
state, says they nest in brushy tangles on the ground or slightly elevated.
Once (a few years back) while investigating the possible presence of
big cats in the hardwood hills county of Southern Indiana with Dr. Weeks
and Woody Fleming, a former director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife,
the Purdue prof took off like Snider's hound, explaining on the run that
he had seen a towhee flit out of some bushes ahead and he wanted to find
Dr. Weeks said he would bet there would be cowbird eggs in the towhee
nest. He found the nest and his prediction proved correct--three towhee
eggs and two cowbird.
The cowbird, as you probably know, is notorious for not building a nest,
instead parasitizing the nests of other birds, many of their young being
raised to adulthood by the foster parents.
Oh, Yes! One more thing. To many old-time nature lovers, the bird in
question is the eastern towhee (Pipilo erythophthalmus). Somewhere
along the line some hoity-toity folks decided it should be the rufous-sided
towhee. Towhee works well for me.