All the Mushrooms fit to Eat

Golden Chanterelles take center stage
It's mushroom time where we live. Actually, it's been mushroom time since mid-July when I found my first chanterelles out at my favorite spot in some woods somewhere near the cabin.  Does that sound cryptic and confusing?  It's supposed to be.  You see, some mushrooms, like chanterelles and black trumpets, come up in the same place year after year.  If you advertise broadly the location of your favorite mushroom picking spot, chances are that it will become someone else's favorite mushroom picking spot, and really, that just isn't good for anybody.

Unless, that is, you are on a more general trip in a more general place with a friend or group of friends and the goal is to socialize and share the mushrooms - which is grand too, and really, where this whole mushroom addiction of mine began.

Beautiful, Peaceful:  Finnish Nature
It's Rio's fault.  More accurately, I have Rio to thank that I discovered the mycological wealth of the Finnish forests in the first place.  She invited a group of us out to Nuuksio, a large national park not too far from the city of Espoo, Finland.  We all relaxed at the picnic table overlooking the lake while Rio got to work:  Mixing and stirring and chopping for a while, and then we were told to get our plates ready and dig in!  Boiled potatoes with a dollop of butter topped by several gorgeous scoopfuls of chanterelles, sauteed with butter and onion, finished with a bit of cream, they were golden brown, soft, creamy:  simple food, and absolutely perfect.

When I asked where she got these culinary gems, Rio grinned and told me that her sister's kids picked them in the woods behind their house.

Aha!  My curiousity was piqued.  I may have been drooling just a little.  I know I asked a lot of questions.  I am sure I had that little gleam in my eye that people get when they are excited that something very cool is about to come their way.  I was on a quest to find some mushrooms of my own.

The first and most important piece of advice I have received regarding this new hobby of mine speaks volumes:

Elusive Black Trumpets
"There are smart mushroom hunters and there are dead mushroom hunters.  And even some of the smart ones are dead."

Hmmm.  So I bought a book.  OK, I bought three books.  With pictures of whole mushrooms in their habitat and pictures of the mushrooms cut in half, descriptions of spore color and stem type and all the itty bitty details meant to ensure that I live to see another year.

Possible hallucinogens!
Fast forward to 3 years later and one of the best mushroom years Finland has ever seen.  It is been wet and warm and sunny and warm and sunny and wet and the mushrooms are loving it.  So am I.  I went from picking liters of chanterelles to buckets of mixed mushrooms - whatever I could find - to a bucket full of the gorgeous black trumpets (called horn of death by the French - I find that name a little mean as the flavor carried in these gems is about as good as it gets - delicious!).  I dried the black trumpets, sauteed and froze the chanterelles, and marched back out to the woods for more.  But I didn't eat the purple mushrooms, as beautiful as they were.

Porcini: beautiful, delicious
Finland really delivered this year, my friends!  Last weekend's yield consisted of half a bucket of yellow foot mushrooms, a bucket of the birch red boletuswith their beautiful red cap and white stem and a whole pile of the prized mushroom the Italians call Porcini and the Finns call Herkkutatti.

I have made meatballs with mushrooms.  I have made mushroom risotto with Johanna and missed mushroom soup with Rio.  I have dried them and frozen them and am considering applying a marinade.  Ilpo's mushroom pie will follow soon.  These things are so GOOD! And you can probably get them where you are.  I know now what I wish I had known then - when I was still living in Seattle:  many of the mushrooms I love to pick in Finland... grow right up in those Cascade hills I love to climb!  Go get 'em. And enjoy.  And if you don't feel like pulling your boots on for a trek of your own, visit your local market for wild mushrooms in season.  You owe it to yourself.

Italian Style Chicken Wild Mushroom Meatballs, adapted from Joy of Cooking
Preheat oven to 375°F / 190° C.

In a food processor combine:
  2 garlic cloves, peeled
  1 cup of fresh parsley (it's ok to include the stems)
  4 oz/115 g Parmesan or Asiago cheese, shredded are cut into course chunks
  2 onions, peeled and cut into chunks
Process until finely grated.  Put into a large bowl and add:
  2 pounds/800 g ground chicken (can use beef if you prefer)
  2 cups / 5 dl wild mushrooms, chopped small 
     (chanterelles, yellow foot or black trumpet are best)  
Oven fresh
  2 eggs
  1 cup / 2.5 dl fast-cook oatmeal or bread crumbs
  4 tablespoons ketchup
  1 teaspoon salt
  1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Using your hands, mix all ingredients until well combined.  Shape into 25-30 meatballs and place onto a baking pan covered with parchment paper (this isn't a must, but it makes clean up a lot easier).  Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until nicely browned on the outside and completely cooked on the inside.

While the meatballs are baking, make the sauce.  In a large pot combine:
Fresh pasta, drying
  3 - 16 oz cans of tomatoes/ 3 - 500g purkkia
  4 Tablespoons of butter
  4 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
  2 whole onions, chopped into large pieces
  1/2 cup / 1.5 dl of basil leaves, loosely packed
  2 teaspoons salt
  1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium high, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until onions are very tender.  Using an immersion blender 
(easiest) or regular blender (be careful - this is hot and messy), puree the sauce until smooth.  Return mixture to the pot and add the cooked meatballs.  Cook for 10 minutes. Serve over hot spaghetti or tagliatelle.

Serves 6 generously, freezes well.


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