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Time in woods may result in edible benefits

Time in woods may result in edible benefits
Time in woods may result in edible benefits
Suetta Tingler

It is what it is. The coronavirus has cast its shadow on all of us, and cabin fever is mounting daily. Perhaps, it’s time to take a break from our daily grind by escaping into the woods, where social distancing is never a problem and where peace and harmony tend to dwell.

People who claim to be versed in woodsy wisdom share about this time each year that when the gobbling sound of wild turkey can be heard along with the noise of thunder rolls and lightning strikes when May apples bloom, that the ultimate “Easter egg hunt” of the year is here. Why wait? Grab yourself an empty plastic bread bag, pull on your hiking shoes and find your way into the woods. Let the hunt begin.

The knack of “mushrooming” relies upon knowledge, patience, unwavering determination and even a code of silence. Hunting for wild mushrooms is serious business as the old adage alludes: “Every mushroom is edible, but some only once.”

The appearance, smell and even the taste of a few mushrooms don’t scream “Dangerous,” but what is known is that some poisonous ones are able to hold out from revealing serious symptoms for up to six to 24 hours after being eaten, only to reveal their toxins had destroyed a liver. The good news is that mankind has foraged the woods for centuries without the result of high fatalities. But, again, as advised, think twice before sampling any mushroom you cannot identify.

Mushrooms are unique in that they are neither vegetable nor fruit but are classified as a fungus. Most of us readily admit to liking some fungi on our pizzas. To describe the taste of a mushroom can be difficult, with some saying it’s a buttery, fruity, nutty, earthy or even a smokey flavor. Mushrooms are good sources of nutrition because they contain no fat, no cholesterol and are low in calories and carbohydrates. They’re rich in potassium, antioxidants, selenium and vitamins, including D. They also contain antiviral properties. The mighty mushroom even has been referred to as the “vegetarian’s meat” because it contains some protein, as well.

China is the world’s largest producer of cultivated mushrooms. Pennsylvania holds title as “mushroom capital of America” in our country. The diverse hardwood forests of Indiana make our part of the country especially rich hunting grounds for several different kinds of mushrooms, including the coveted, spongy cone-shaped headed morel.

I like eating mushrooms and cooking with them because they are extremely versatile in their use. I confess that I am not a forager of wild mushrooms, preferring to “pick” mine from the produce department of supermarkets and the farmers market. I did my time gathering wild blackberries and spring greens as a kid, but my downfall eventually came to be slithering snakes and poison ivy. Amen, I say; the sport of foraging was never meant for me.

The season of April showers is here, spring has sprung and there’re wild mushrooms to be found. Whether you’re an experienced veteran or one new to the chase, the true challenge is to find a “mess” to cook up for your mamma’s Mother’s Day meal.

Food bites:

• Mushrooms are versatile in their preparation; sauté, stuff, grill, stir-fry, deep fry, marinate, add to gravies, toss in a salad, stir into casseroles or use to top pizza.

• Dried mushrooms require soaking (water, broth) before using.

• Use only the caps of shitakes for general cooking; remove stalk and toss into the freezer for later use in a stew pot. Shitakes are great in stir-fries and Asian dishes.

• If you like fried mushrooms brown and crisp, then heat butter in a skillet to very hot; fry only a few at a time. Moderate heat and overloading the skillet will produce mushy, wet mushrooms.

• Dried mushrooms or mushroom powder produce a deeper flavor than fresh mushrooms.

• When using mushrooms soon after purchase, leave in original container. Otherwise, wrap loosely in paper toweling and refrigerate in a brown paper bag. Plastic traps unwanted moisture.

• Clean mushrooms using a soft toothbrush or wiping with a paper towel dipped in lemon juice. Never allow to soak in water.

• If mushrooms release water during cooking, increase heat to keep them from becoming soggy.

• Only foraged mushrooms are truly wild. Take note of restaurants advertising wild mushrooms on menus for the term “wild” most likely means nothing more than portobellos, creminis and white buttons purchased from a common vendor.

There’s a plethora of great mushroom recipes; thus, a difficult task to select so few recipes but here are a few standouts.

ELEGANT CHICKEN

(“Delicious Developments,” a Tabasco Community Cookbook winner)

4 boneless chicken breasts, halved

Seasoned salt, to taste

1/4 cup butter

14 ounces artichoke hearts, drained and halved

1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced

3 tablespoons flour

1-1/2 cups chicken broth

1/3 cup sherry

Sprinkle chicken with seasoned salt and brown in butter in large pan. Arrange chicken in single layer in shallow baking dish. Add artichokes and set aside. Sauté mushrooms in pan until tender, adding additional butter if necessary. Sprinkle flour over mushrooms and stir until blended. Gradually add broth and sherry, stirring constantly. Simmer for 5 minutes, then pour over chicken. Bake covered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

SCALLOPS AND MUSHROOMS

(Motherhood & Applepie)

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup heavy cream or half and half

1 tablespoon dry vermouth

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pound fresh bay scallops

Bread crumbs

Butter

Slice mushrooms and cook in butter until limp, about 5 minutes. Blend in flour. Add cream slowly, stirring until a thin sauce is made. Add vermouth, seasonings and scallops. Place in small lightly buttered casserole. Top with bread crumbs and dot with butter. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Serves 4.

Orzo is a variety of pasta shaped like grains of barley or rice. It should be easy to find in our local supermarkets.

MUSHROOM ORZO PILAF

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, diced

8 ounces sliced mushrooms

1 large carrot, sliced into thin rounds

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 clove garlic, minced

2/3 cup orzo

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped

14 ounces vegetable broth

1 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped

Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

Heat oil in skillet. Add onion, mushrooms and carrot; season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in garlic; continue to cook for an additional 30 seconds. Add orzo, fresh rosemary and broth. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer; cover with a lid. Continue to cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir in parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

When in the mood for mushrooms but none to be found in the kitchen, give this recipe a try.

MOCK MUSHROOM HORS D’OEUVRES

2 to 3 cups white cheddar cheese, grated

2 (5-ounce) cans black olives, drained and chopped

1 cup mayonnaise (no substitute)

1 tablespoon chopped green onions

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

16 English muffins, halves

Combine cheese, olives, mayo, green onion and curry powder. Lightly toast muffin halves and spread with mixture. Broil 3 to 5 minutes or until toasty and bubbly. Before serving, cut each muffin half into quarters. Makes 64 appetizers.

Good Food,

Good Memories

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