Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Oregon Truffle Festival

Now entering its 14th year, the non-profit Oregon Truffle Festival's mission is to educate the public about native-grown truffles in the Willamette Valley. With events and workshops tailored to truffle cultivators, foragers (and their dogs!), chefs, epicures, and the merely curious, the festival celebrates a burgeoning culinary industry.

Truffles have been enjoyed for centuries in Europe, but it is only in the last decade or so that North American truffles have begun to appear on the gastronomic radar, including those wild black and white truffles endemic to the Pacific Northwest as well as European varieties such as the black Périgord that are now cultivated here.

If you're intrigued by this newly emerging homegrown truffle culture, consider joining me January 25-27 for the festival's Urban Forager Package, an action-packed crash course that introduces food lovers to the fungi's ineffable pleasures. The package includes an Italian-inspired Friday evening at Marché Provisions in downtown Eugene for bites and drinks; a Saturday excursion (hosted by me) with stops at Mountain Rose Herbs, J. Scott Cellars, and the 5th Street Market (for more truffle bites and pairings), followed by the multi-course Grand Truffle Dinner that night; and a Sunday visit to the Truffle Marketplace for tastings, cooking demos, and talks.

Bottom line: You don't have to travel all the way to France or Italy to experience the charms of truffle culture.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Honey Mushrooms

It's time to tackle the honey mushroom. I haven't written about it before because it's not among my favorites in the Kingdom of Fungi, at least from an edibility standpoint, but in a season such as this, when the mushroom gods are being parsimonious with their gifts, the time is right to make use of this abundant species.

The parasitic honey fungus is famous for being the largest organism on the planet. In the Blue Mountains of Oregon, a single individual has been estimated at covering more than three square miles of Malheur National Forest and is killing the fir trees there.

Science once recognized the honey mushroom as Armillaria mellea. We now know it's a complex of similar looking species. This was another reason why I usually passed on the honey; it was rumored among mushroom hunters that not all species within the complex were choice for the table, and that some might not be edible at all. What has become clear in more recent years is that all honey mushrooms, no matter what species, should be fully cooked before serving and that some people, for reasons not entirely understood, will experience what is politely called gastric distress regardless of careful preparation.

Just the same, people all over the world eat and enjoy honey mushrooms, which are so named for their coloration, not their taste.

For more information about identification, check out this video, which contrasts the honey mushroom with a poisonous semi-lookalike, the deadly galerina. I usually find honeys in large clusters on dead or dying trees in the fall, from sea level to sub-alpine woods. They can vary significantly in appearance as they age, and will develop from small buttons into broad open caps. I look for young ones with veils covering the gills and I trim away the fibrous stems. Where I live, I don't have to go far for honeys. They grow in Seattle parks and along trails in the Cascade foothills just outside the city.

In my opinion, honey mushrooms are a lot like supermarket buttons in both taste and texture. They can be mucilaginous—another reason to cook them amply—though some recipes for soups and stews make use of this characteristic as a thickening agent.

I usually prepare them simply. The sautéed mushrooms pictured above were cooked in canola oil over medium heat for several minutes before I lowered the heat and added butter and garlic. After a few more minutes on low, I stirred in some chopped parsley and served. Kinda like garlic bread for the carb-free set.

There are plenty other ways to prepare honey mushrooms. Remember to try just a small portion the first time you eat them, in case you're one of those who can't tolerate this mushroom.