Just like everything else this summer in SE AK, mushrooms are in early! And man, oh man, they are banging!
I’ve been out of town for most of July and had visitors for a large chunk of June, so when I got an email from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) asking if I might be interested in taking a group of chefs and food writers out foraging, I was a bit hesitant to say yes. Late July is normally kind of a weird in-between time around here, and even this year, with the berries mostly finished, I wasn’t sure we’d find anything.
To put my mind at ease, I went on a scouting trip the day before. It was clear from the moment we stepped on the trail, the mushrooms are in! After walking the path I’d be taking the guests on, I went farther afield and came home with a great haul: Two pounds of Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), one pound of Hedgehogs (Hydnum repandum), and one pound of Winter Chanterelles (Cantharellus tubaeformis).
While I’ve seen Chicken of the Woods plenty of times, I’ve never found a nice fresh patch that was prime for harvest. You can tell when Chicken of the Woods is fresh by how spongey the edges feel and by how yellow the underside of the shelf is, the more yellow and orangey, the better. Once the flesh starts to pale, it becomes more woody. This is also why you only cut off the outer edge, two-to-three inches, which is the newer growth. While I know that some people are crazy about this mushroom, I know others who often pass it up, so I’m very curious to play around with it. The texture is somewhat similar to tofu and unlike just about every other mushroom I collect in Southeast Alaska’s rainforest, this mushroom is fairly dry.
I met up with ASMI’s group at a coffee shop downtown and on the van ride out to the trail, it was clear they were all very very excited to get into the woods. Outfitted in Xtra Tuffs, Anita Lo, Mary Attea, Elizabeth Falkner, Katherine Alford, and Jim Romanoff instantly went to work looking for anything and everything we might pick.
We started out with a bang finding a huge patch of super super fresh Chicken of the Woods and proceeded to find a pound of Winter Chanterelles, a couple of hedgehogs, and a couple of very exciting Admirable Boletes (Boletus mirabilis)! We rounded out our collection with a bit of Labrador Tea (Ledum palustre) and a bit of Lovage (Ligusticum scoicum).
It was a great trip. There’s something extra wonderful about getting to show off the bounty of your hometown to a group of people who are enthusiastic, amazed, and excited about each new treasure.
Now that it’s clear mushroom time has arrived, I’m hoping to post a couple of experiments in the next couple of weeks. Some things I’ve been dying to try all winter long include Hedgehogs Escabeche, Pickled Blueberries and Golden Chanterelles, Chicken of the Woods Satay, and of course re-stocking my supply of dried Winter Chanterelles.