Category Archives: porcini

Wild Mushroom Strudel

strudel4A couple weekends ago, while attending the Sunshine Coast Mushroom Festival in British Columbia, I got a bite of a Wild Mushroom Strudel and immediately vowed to make it at home.

First, though, I had to find the mushrooms. So I visited a regular patch on my way to Yakima to speak to the Yakima Valley Mushroom Society. It’s a patch frequented by Eastern Europeans, especially Ukrainians, who pick a variety of different Leccinums including what they call “redcaps” (possibly Leccinum aurantiecum, though we’re likely to see taxonomic changes in North America with further DNA testing). They leave all the matsutake, which happily went into my bucket, along with several gypsy mushrooms and a fat porcino of more than a pound that remarkably perched in the duff unscathed. When I got home, the gypsies and king bolete went into the strudel.

I’ve never made a strudel before. For this reason I kept things simple and bought frozen puff pastry from the store. You’re welcome to make your own. A couple notes: braiding the puff pastry makes for an attractive presentation and allows air to escape through the vents so that the strudel doesn’t blow up into a monstrosity. Dried porcini, though not mandatory, gives the strudel a deep mushroomy flavor. You need less of the mushroom mixture than you think. My next strudel will have a bit less than the one pictured here.

3 cups diced wild mushrooms
1 oz dried porcini (optional)
1 large shallot, diced
2 tbsp butter
olive oil
2 – 3 springs fresh thyme, de-stemmed
1/4 cup white wine
1 handful parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

1. If using dried porcini, pulverize in a food processor and rehydrate with 1 cup warm water. Set aside for 20 minutes.

2. Saute diced shallot in butter over medium heat until soft. Add diced mushrooms. Cook mushrooms and shallot together for several minutes. The mushrooms will soak up all the butter; add olive oil if necessary. When mushrooms begin to brown, deglaze pan with a splash of wine. Add mushroom stock and reduce until the mixture is moist but not wet. Stir in thyme and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

3. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out puff pastry into a rectangle about  12 inches by 8 inches. Place pastry on a piece of baking parchment atop a cookie sheet. With a knife, make diagonal cuts to the edges of the two long sides, so that the pastry can be folded up in a braided pattern. Spoon mushroom mixture down the middle. Fold up the strudel and pinch the ends. Brush with eggwash and place in oven. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.

Halibut with Porcini and Nettle-Mint Sauce

king4The king bolete (aka porcino) is one of the few wild mushrooms that can be served raw, in limited quantities. Fresh porcini, both spring and fall, have a strong floral aroma. Make use of this arresting feature by thinly slicing or even shaving the mushroom over foods. Firm #1 buttons are best.

king6This recipe was inspired by a dish I had earlier this spring at the Willows Inn, where chef Blaine Wetzel  is earning plaudits for good reason. At the Willows I had a course of spring porcini stewed with asparagus and woodruff. My server shaved mounds of fresh porcini over the plate to the point of obscuring everything else underneath. The cooked mushrooms were contrasted by the snappy texture and floral sharpness of the fresh.

For my take, I oven-roasted halibut fillets and plated them with sautéed spring porcini mushrooms and a nettle-mint sauce. The sauce was quick and easy because I already had cubes of nettle pesto in the freezer. To make the sauce I sweated diced shallot in butter, added three cubes of defrosted nettle pesto, and stirred together with a generous splash of chicken stock and a tablespoon of chopped mint from the garden. The sauce was finished with heavy cream.

Once plated, I shaved a nice spring porcini button over the top.

Given the sort of spring mushroom season we’re having in the Pacific Northwest (worst in memory), this might be my last dance with the king until fall.

Super Bowl Chili

chili1On days like today, it pays to have a deep bench. I dropped back and went long for…dried pulverized chanterelles and frozen porcini.

First, I had to make a morning run to the market for some last minute provisions. The place was a mob scene at 9 a.m. Even little old ladies were decked out in Seahawks jerseys, pushing carts full of beer. This town is pumped up. The cashier had a big cutout picture of Richard Sherman on a stick that he was waving around when the line got disorderly

But this is still Seattle, and my job today is to bring a vegetarian dish to the neighborhood Super Bowl party. Everyone loves chili. Mine will be a little different from the norm.

First, the chanterelles. If you dried your excess last fall and buzzed in the food processor like I did, then you have a very nice stash of magic mushroom powder that adds a layer of depth to soups, stews, gravies, and rubs. It’s a little sweet yet still earthy. I think of this chanterelle powder as my special teams outfit.

Next, the porcini. I’m guessing the one-pound bag I pulled out of the freezer was about two pounds fresh. Back in the fall, during an epic king bolete pop, I chopped up pounds and pounds of the stuff, sautéed in butter, and vacuum-sealed in single meal sizes. Today the porcini is my meat substitute. Think of it as that now-legendary decision against the ‘Niners to scratch the field-goal attempt and go for seven.

Here’s the play-by-play:

2 cups dried black beans
2 medium yellow onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 15 oz can pinto beans
1 15 oz can red kidney beans
1 28 oz can diced tomato
2 heaping tbsp chanterelle dust, reconstituted in 2 cups warm water
2+ cups prepared porcini *
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeño pepper, thinly sliced
olive oil
4 tsp chili powder
4 tsp cumin
2 tsp paprika
cayenne pepper to taste
oregano to taste

* As noted above, the porcini should be fresh or frozen, about 2 cups cooked.

1. Rinse black beans, cover with water in a heavy pot, and bring to boil. Reduce heat, add half the onions and garlic plus a bay leaf and simmer until soft, about an hour. As the water reduces, stir in chanterelle stock.

2. Add pinto beans, kidney beans, and diced tomato to black bean mixture. Continue to simmer.

3. Saute remaining onion and garlic in a couple tablespoons of olive oil until soft. Add porcini and cook together a few minutes before adding all the peppers. Continue to sauté mixture until peppers are soft. Stir in spices, cook a couple minutes until vegetables are thoroughly coated, and add to beans.

Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped onion, cilantro, and copious quantities of beer.


The Wild Table


One of the perks of being a writer (besides the endless hours of self-doubt and boatloads of cash) is the chance to hit the road and meet up with likeminded folks—and call it work. Likeminded in my case means those who enjoy spending time both outdoors in nature and indoors in the kitchen.

This past weekend I traveled down to Eugene, Oregon, for the Mt. Pisgah Mushroom Festival. Along the way I stopped near the funky coastal hamlet of Yachats to visit with a friend who I knew only from Facebook. David is an ace cook, mushroom forager, and photographer. His food photography graces the web site Earthy Delights. His wife Anna is of Russian descent, which makes her genetically predisposed to sleuthing out fungi.

Together the three of us hunted some of their favorite spots and came away with a cooler filled with beautiful #1 matsutake buttons, plump porcini, and a variety of other edible boletes. Back at their home, we celebrated our bounty in Russian fashion—Za vashe zdorovie!—with a shot of yellowfoot-infused vodka (and then another) and got down to the business of snapping a few pics of that evening’s wild table.

Unlike me, David is an organized and well prepared food photographer. He had a light box and tripod in his office along with various deflectors and gizmos. We set up some of that evening’s goodies, starting in the upper right corner and moving clockwise: yellowfoot-infused vodka, salt-cured saffron milkcaps, matsutake, golden chanterelles, king boletes, shots of yellowfoot vodka, wild scaber-stalk bread, dried chanterelle spice rub, and smoked salmon spread.

After a first course of homemade ravioli with a pork and chestnut filling and a salad course of romaine hearts with fresh-shaved porcini and a Meyer lemon dressing, we proceeded out front into the cool evening air to grill: matsutake caps with a ponzu marinade and dipping sauce of soy and key lime; traditional olive oil and garlic marinated porcini; a fillet of wild Chinook salmon with chanterelle spice rub and rock crab butter; and a dessert of pears with spruce bud syrup. As the decanter’s waterline of yellowfoot vodka ebbed, multiple bottles of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir appeared. It was a feast to savor, capping off a fruitful day of foraging with new friends on a miraculously sunny fall day on the Oregon Coast.

The next morning, after a rise-n-shine bowl of Matsutake Wonton Soup, I drove the pretty little Alsea River through the Coast Range, spying salmon fishermen along the way, to Eugene for the mushroom festival. It was a huge success, with a big crowd of fungal fanciers, more than 400 species identified, and a bluegrass band playing outside. Volunteers whooped it up at the After Party and I made the wise decision to spend one more night. I also had the opportunity to put a few faces to names, including the elusive Chicken-of-the-woods (aka Laetiporus Sulphureus) and Dimitar Bojantchev, moderator of the Mushroom Talk listserv. As a nightcap, my hosts in Eugene, Bruce and Peg, plied me with their delicious (and powerful) homemade blackberry brandy.

The next day I bid adieu to Madame Muscaria and the rest of the characters that make Eugene and the Oregon Coast such a pleasure to visit, with plans to make it back down there again as soon as possible.

Porcini Lasagna per Marcella

porcini_lasagnaMy first cookbook was Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which collects into a single volume two of her earlier books, The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking. (Actually, it was owned by my girlfriend Martha, who would later become my wife, and even back then it was dog-eared and flecked with red sauce.) We refer to the book simply as Marcella, and it remains our go-to reference for Italian cuisine.

For many of us, making Italian at home means a night of romance: wine, maybe too much of it; endless antipasti of olives, roasted peppers, prosciutto; some candlelight. It’s an occasion. Having a signature Italian ingredient on hand such as fresh porcini mushrooms (translated as the evocative “little pigs”) seals the deal.  

 When we heard that Marcella Hazan had passed away at the end of September, we took a nanosecond to decide on dinner. It would be a night to celebrate the whiskey-drinking, chain-smoking woman who introduced so many Americans to Italian culinary traditions. We cracked open a bottle of Chianti and started slicing up the last of our hard-won little piggies, which we had gathered in the North Cascades Mountains of Washington State for just such a meal. Next we flipped open Marcella to remember her very particular rules about making a béchamel sauce. A Porcini Lasagna would mark the occasion.

This recipe is adapted from both Marcella and a recent edition of Health magazine (a publication she would surely object to). While conventional, store-bought mushrooms such as cremini and portobello will suffice, it’s the sweet, nutty flavor of fresh wild porcini that truly makes this dish.

piglet12 lasagna noodles, boiled and drained
4 cups milk
8 tbsp butter (1 stick)
6 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 tbsp thyme, chopped
1 tbsp sage, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 lbs mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Parmesan
1 cup Asiago cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Make the béchamel white sauce by simmering milk in a saucepan and setting aside. In a separate pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour to melted butter while stirring until a paste forms; the paste should darken ever so slightly without becoming too colored. Slowly whisk hot milk into flour. Continue to whisk until the sauce is smooth. It should be thick enough to coat a spoon. Stir in minced garlic, most of chopped parsley (reserving 1 tablespoon for garnish), salt, white pepper, and nutmeg. Set aside and cover.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan over medium heat. Sauté diced onions until soft and translucent. Remove to a bowl.

3. In same pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat and sauté sliced mushrooms until tender (porcini mushrooms should be lightly golden on outside). Season with salt and pepper. Return onions to pan and add chopped thyme and sage. Cook together, stirring, another minute. Remove from heat.

4. Mix cheeses together in a bowl.

5. In a greased 13 X 9 inch baking dish, assemble the lasagna. Spread a few spoonfuls of béchamel over bottom. Place three noodles lengthwise in dish, then spread about a 1/2 cup of sauce over, followed by a third of the mushroom-onion mixture, and 1/3 cup of cheese. Repeat layers twice more. Top with final layer of noodles, remaining sauce, and cheese.

 6. Bake uncovered, about 45 minutes. It should be lightly browned on top and edges. Garnish with remaining parsley and allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Wild Mushroom Show

This year marks the 50th year of the Puget Sound Mycological Society’s annual mushroom show in Seattle, and what a silver anniversary it will be! Join the fungal fun this weekend in Seattle.

Unless you’ve been living under a mossy rock, you probably know this has been a extraordinary fall for fungi in the Pacific Northwest. The cool, wet weather is bringing out a diversity of wild mushrooms, including some of the mycophagist’s favorites: king boletesmatsutakebear’s head, and many more. The woods are so full of chanterelles right now that commercial pickers are earning a dollar or less per pound!

Rarities will also be on display. Seems like everyone is finding blue chanterelles this year, in a addition to many unusual varieties of inedible, colorful, and poisonous fungi.

If you’re new to mushrooms or looking to improve your knowledge, the annual show is a great way to bone up. Real mushrooms, identified by common and scientific names (and edibility), will be on display. Expert identifiers can ID your catch with their microscopes. There will be cooking demos, lectures, slide presentations, and more mushroom-themed kitsch than you can shake a morel-handled walking stick at.

I’ll be at the show on Saturday from 3pm until close, selling and signing copies of The Mushroom Hunters, and on Sunday I’ll be giving a slide talk, “Adventures on the Mushroom Trail,” at 1pm and signing books afterward.

PSMS Annual Show

Saturday, October 12, 2013 – 12pm – 7pm
Sunday, October 13, 2013 – 10am – 5pm

The Mountaineers
Magnuson Park
7700 Sandpoint Way NE,
Seattle, WA 98115

Fungi on Tap

Ask commercial mushroom pickers in the greater Pacific Northwest how the season’s going and they’ll probably shrug. The central Oregon matsutake pick is weak, chanterelles on the coast—though abundant—are at rock-bottom prices, and Cascade lobsters are turning fishy fast.

Now ask a recreational picker and you’re likely to hear that this is the best fall in recent memory. How can these two viewpoints coexist?

It’s just a function of the different perspectives. Commercial pickers are trying to earn a living while recreational pickers are stocking their larders. The fact is, it has been a boon season for rec hunters—and not just for edibles. All kinds of unusual species are fruiting this year, for reasons that are not readily apparent. It’s a reflection on how little we know about fungi.

Initially many of us figured this fall would be another bust, similar to previous falls of the last couple years. Oregon’s morel patches dried up fast, and an unusually parched July and early August suggested a dearth of fall fungi. Then we got hit with some heavy August downpours, and September has been noticeably cool and wet. Mushrooms that are especially sensitive to rainfall—hello kings!—have exploded. The chanterelles are always there, rain or shine, and earlier than most rec pickers think. But mountain kings, those persnickety royals, are harder to pin down, and this year they’ve popped in a big way. I’ve been picking them since mid-August, first on my huckleberry outings and now whenever and wherever I happen to be outside, it seems. They’re showing in places where I’ve never seen them before, among tree species that I wouldn’t expect.

The other day I stumbled on a riparian patch below 3,000 feet in a grove of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and red-cedar—not exactly fall king habitat. Enormous #2 boletes with perfect white sponges and caps the size of cantaloupes ringed a guerrilla campsite like fenceposts, all of them miraculously worm-free. Hunters are also finding blue chanterelles (pictured above right) coming out of the woodwork. This is a rarely encountered species that is generally local to a few very specific areas, yet I’m hearing from hikers who are finding them right on the trail in some odd places.

If you’re a fan of Suillus, well have at it. Matsies are now carpeting the slopes. And Hericium is general. One species I haven’t seen much of—yet—is Sparassis, the cauliflower mushroom. Give it time.

This is a good year for recreational mushroom hunters to learn new patches. Many of these patches won’t produce on an annual basis, but if you remember them you can always check. The more patches, the better, especially if those patches are in diverse habitats.

This is also a good year to put up quantities of mushrooms. I’ve been drying and freezing porcini, not to mention lobster duxelles and chanterelles. Pizza bianca with sliced porcini buttons, sun-dried tomatoes, feta, and basil was a winner, as was the porcini-wine reduction sauce that gussied up my New York strip the other night. It’s fat times for mushroom hunters.

Full buckets, everyone!

The Art of Wild Mushroom Cookery

Bill Jones, an award-winning cookbook author, chef, and consultant, calls the bountiful Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island home. There he’s restored an old farmhouse—Deerholme—to use as his base of operations. Lucky for Bill, prodigious mushroom fruitings occur in the nearby mountains, valleys, and coastal forests. I caught up with Bill recently to talk about his new cookbook, The Deerholme Mushroom Book, and his thoughts on wild mushroom foraging and cooking.

FOTL: Tell us a little bit about your neck of the woods in British Columbia. Are there specialties in your region or certain species you’re known for?

Bill Jones: The south Vancouver Island region is generally a maritime Mediterranean climate, and the Cowichan Valley is one of the sunnier places in Canada. This allows species like the white Oregon truffle to thrive. The tree type is dominantly Douglas fir with a mixture of western hemlock, grand fir, white pine, and cedar, which makes for a nice variety of terrain for many of the choice edible varieties. Fall is a pretty special place here for mushroom foraging.

One of our claims to fame is for giant versions of mushroom specimens. We have a nice combination of rainfall and heat that produces massive growth in some mushrooms. There are huge cauliflower fungi, giant Pacific golden chanterelles, and porcini that have weighed over three pounds. One of my most exciting finds was a white morel that weighed in at over two pounds.

What’s your favorite mushroom to forage?

That’s a hard question. They’re like children—hard to pick a favorite. I would say the pine mushroom [matsutake] would be at the top of the list. The aroma of a fresh pine is intoxicating. I like to stand there and breathe in the heady scent when I find one. It always makes me happy.

What sort of habitat and forest conditions do they prefer?

Locally we look on slopes with southern exposure and a mix of Douglas fir and hemlock. Nearer the coast we find them in thickets of wild huckleberry. The pine seems to like a lot of rain and the fruiting really kicks off in late October and early November.

How do you like to cook pines? 

I like to make a bowl of nice chicken stock, greens from the garden, udon noodles, and thiny sliced pine mushrooms. It is a satisfying and rewarding bowl of soup.

Why should home cooks be excited to cook with wild mushrooms?

Mushrooms are nature’s flavor booster; they make any dish a little more appealing to the taste buds. Some are dense and meaty, others are soft and supple. They all contain some degree of natural sugars which caramelize when cooked. This adds to their delicious taste and makes some mushrooms, like porcini, absolutely incredible. There are also significant medicinal benefits. Many have immune system boosting properties that can play a healthy and vibrant role in your diet. Shiitake mushrooms have been used as a medicine in China for the last thousand years.

What would you say to the beginning mushroom hunter?

It would probably be wise to say a few words about fear. The phobia of mushrooms stops a lot of people from enjoying the vast world of fungi. Much of this fear is misplaced, but some of it is warranted. I tell new foragers to educate themselves on a few easy targets like chanterelles and porcini and to have a healthy respect for all the rest. You should never consume a mushroom when you are not 100 percent sure of the identification. A good guidebook is very helpful, but nothing beats the experience of seeing the mushroom in the field. A guided forage is a good way to start, either with the local mycological society, naturalist tours, or through workshops like those we give here at Deerholme Farm.

What species and cooking techniques would you recommend for beginners?

I would recommend you start with chanterelles. Make sure they are relatively dry—spread them out on paper towel for several hours to wick away moisture. Clean off any dirt, debris, or browned edges. Heat a skillet very hot and add a mixture of butter and oil (I use grapeseed oil). Add the mushrooms and sauté until they release moisture and start to brown around the edges. Add a clove of chopped garlic and salt and pepper. This is the best way to eat chanterelles. Try on top of a grilled piece of bread, cooked pasta, or rice. Simple and delicious.

Have the mushrooms taught you anything over the years?

Mushroom hunting in our region forces you to become an environmentalist. You quickly realize that mushrooms require prime habitat to flourish. Trees are a precious resource that have deeply ingrained relationships with the local fungi population. We must protect our forests from over-harvesting and abuse if we want to see the mushrooms flourish for future generations. I try to pass this message on to all our students here on the farm. We all have a place in protecting our forests and a duty to stand up for those who cannot.

Lastly, tell us about a recipe in the book that every wild mushroom enthusiast and/or home cook should try. 

I love to play around with classic flavors and simple preparations. In the book there is a recipe for a warm bacon and potato salad that I use with many variations. You have to source good ingredients to make it really shine: local potatoes, thick-cut slab bacon, fresh herbs, and of course fresh mushrooms. Any mushroom will also work in this recipe; you could blend morels or even brown button mushrooms into the mix with excellent results.

Warm Bacon, Chanterelle, and Potato Salad

A variation on a classic German potato salad made with chanterelles. It is best to add the dressing to warm potatoes so they soak up all the dressing. Serve at room temperature.

2 lb (1 kg) potatoes, peeled
1/4 lb (115 g) thick-cut bacon, cut in thin strips
1 lb (450 g) chanterelles, cleaned and sliced salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp (30 ml) apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
2 tbsp (30 ml) grainy mustard
1 tsp (5 ml) chopped capers
3 tbsp (45 ml) chopped sweet onion, fresh chives, or green onions, minced, for garnish

1. Add potatoes to a large pot of salted cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender.

2.  Meanwhile, warm a skillet over medium-high heat, add the bacon, and heat until the bacon is browned and has rendered its fat. Add the chanterelles and sauté until the mushrooms give off moisture and it has completely evaporated. Season with salt and pepper. When the mushrooms just begin to brown on the edges, remove from heat and set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine vinegar, oil, mustard, capers, and onion. Stir until mixed.

4. Drain potatoes and add while still warm to the dressing. Add the bacon and toss to coat. Serve warm, garnished with fresh chives or green onions.

Serves 6-8

Spring Kings: Another Season, Another Lesson

It’s getting a little late in the season to talk about spring kings, but it seems that every year I learn a little bit more about these tantalizing members of the bolete family that are so emblematic of the Kingdom of Fungi in general. For instance, even though it only received species designation in 2008, Boletus rex-veris has been picked and eaten by Italian-Americans for a hundred years. You can read the many spring porcini posts on this blog—from my first post to my experiments with freezing buttons to taxonomic clarity—as a record of my own progress.

Much of my understanding about how to cook and care for the the “little pigs” has been won through trial and error. There just isn’t an operating manuel. As you might recall, I started “field dressing” my porcini a couple years ago in an effort to keep them clean and to combat the bugs that are as boletivoracious as us. Boletus rex-veris, in contrast to B. edulis, does much of its growing underground, so it can be quite a dirty mushroom. Dirt and duff-covered mushrooms piled together in a basket or bucket will share their dirt like STDs, making for a difficult cleaning proposition at home, particularly with the pores under the cap. Wherever I happen to find them, I clean them up and check for insect infestations, taking precautions to cover up the scene of the capture when I’m finished.

Field dressing consists of trimming the stem of any dirt, cleaning the cap as thoroughly as possible, and finally slicing the mushroom in half to check for worms. Even seemingly pristine #1 buttons can have fly larvae in them that will make a mess in no time. If I see any bug activity (as in the image at right and a closeup below, showing the culprit), I slice it out with my knife. This often takes care of localized infestations and saves a mushroom that would otherwise be ruined before dinnertime.

And don’t be fooled. Bolete fly larvae can riddle a mushroom with their hungry tunneling in the time that it takes to drive your haul home from the mountains. As they warm up, the larvae become more active. Unless you crank your air conditioner, the temperature in your car will cause the bugs to stir. This isn’t too much of a problem provided you don’t dilly-dally along the way—and you get the mushrooms in the refrigerator asap.

Sometimes I’ll camp in the woods and spread my mushroom hunting over a couple days or more. Usually, when multiple species are fruiting at the height of the spring season, I’ll try to do my morel hunting at the beginning and save my porcini hunting for last. A load of porcini hanging around camp unrefrigerated is an invitation to disaster. A couple weeks ago I came home with several pounds of #1 and #2 buttons. It was cold and drizzly in Seattle and I was exhausted, so I left my basket of mushrooms on the front stoop overnight. Bad call. Even temps in the low-40’s aren’t cool enough. Plus, humidity is a killer. About half the load was beyond repair by the next day. Even a cold fridge doesn’t completely stop the worms in their tracks; it just slows them down (though I suspect a really cold fridge can prevent additional larvae from hatching).

I’ve been paying close attention to a recent batch. A few mushrooms that got field dressed and looked absolutely spotless before the drive home ended up having some noticeable tunneling within three hours of picking. Others that still looked perfect got sliced in half again (i.e. quartered) in my kitchen. This revealed minor bug activity that required immediate action. Finally, even mushrooms that passed with flying colors required checking after a day or two in the fridge, and some of these showed minor infestation. The point is, if you want to pick and eat porcini and not cook up a panful of maggots, you need to be vigilant.

The bolete below has the appearance of a #1 button. It was firm and didn’t show any signs of infestation when I trimmed the stem. I decided to keep it whole. After a week in the fridge, this is what it looked like. Look closely and you’ll see that the worms attacked via the cap, not the stem. If I had cut the mushroom in half when I picked it, I might have been able to isolate the infestation and save it.

If this is all too much for some folks, who don’t even want to think about extra protein in their food…well, mushroom hunting probably isn’t your cup of beef.

P.S. If you’re in British Columbia, I’d like to know whether you find B. rex-veris, and if so, how far north.

Porcini Bap

In 1998 I spent six months working in the UK. Martha and I lived in a flat in the dingy London suburb Slough (rhymes with cow) made famous by The Office (and, before that, by the poet laureate John Betjeman). Friends pitied us for our diet of English food, imagining slabs of gray, overcooked meat, soggy fish ‘n’ chips, and vegetables boiled into limp submission.

But those in the know, such as my colleague Rebecca (now jam goddess at Deluxe), told us not to worry, that the UK was in the midst of a major gastronomic overhaul. She was right. We arrived to find food-crazed Brits long before Top Chef landed on American soil.

We watched—along with everyone else—TV episodes of Delia Cooks, Ready Steady Cook, Two Fat Ladies, Nigel Slater, and the beautiful, tragic Nigella Lawson. We ate extraordinary Indian food (acknowledged as the national cuisine) on trips to London, and on Sundays I would ride my bike through the countryside, pulling over for a pint every so often and eventually stopping to sup on afternoon roast before wobbling back home.

We amassed a collection of contemporary English cookbooks. One of our favorites was Nigel Slater’s Real Food, the title appropriated long before Michael Pollan and the New World locavore movement. Real food meant both English standards (e.g. Toad in the Hole) as well as the many ethnic influences bubbling up across the country, all of it made with fresh ingredients and updated preparations. Twice we blew up our little English oven while mistakenly cooking one of our mainstays, Nigel’s 40 Garlic Chicken, on gas 9.

One of our favorite quick meals was called a bap. It was a hot vegetarian sandwich recipe that Nigel attributes to Nigella. I confess that I still don’t know exactly what a bap is (a type of bread?), but I like the sound of it. Nigel roasts the caps of large field mushrooms with garlic butter and parsley. This simple sandwich is excellent—and with a haul of spring porcini mushrooms foraged the other day here in the USA, I decided I’d give it a new spin.

Spring kings, as they’re sometimes known, are fruiting in my patches right now. I’ve written about the “little pigs” before. You can read more about them here, here, and here. They’re fun to forage and a joy to cook.

To make the sandwich, pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Chop together some garlic and parsley and mix into a large dollop of softened butter with a generous sprinkling of salt. Slather each mushroom cap with the garlic butter and roast for about 20 minutes. When the mushrooms are cooked and starting to brown a little at the edges, you can melt some cheese such as provolone or mozzarella as a finishing touch.

Choose good bread. I picked up a ciabatta from the Columbia City Bakery. When it’s time to assemble the sandwich, make sure you rub the cut ends of the bread in the pan juices.

You want to use large porcini buttons if possible, buttons with caps that haven’t fully opened yet. Placed upside-down on a roasting pan, the concave caps will hold the garlic butter. Nigel says a good bap should drip down your hands and arms when you eat it. I concur.