Be still my beating Heartwood: Wild Mushroom season arrived at last
Typically at Heartwood we let Jeremy Faber, of Foraged and Found, do the dirty work. But gathering mushrooms—and other wild edibles—is a passion for Chef Varin. So, on the heels of the Puget Sound Mycological Society’s annual wild mushroom show (which Chef attended to bone up on his identification skills and to gather ideas for future dishes) he headed for mountain terrain. Here’s a dispatch from the field—and the kitchen.
“Recently, after the first good drenching of the season I loaded the truck and headed into the Pacific Northwest wilderness in search of the fall’s first flush of wild mushrooms. Pocketknives, brushes, and baskets in hand we roamed damp forest salal, tromped the mossy undergrowth, and traipsed beneath the Douglas fir of the Cascade Mountain Range. The extreme dryness of summer had definitely slowed the season and we didn’t expect to find many mushrooms, so we were ecstatic when we stumbled upon small gold mines. Here and there golden chanterelles and white chanterelles poked up from the forest floor. We found round little shrimp russula and even a few lobster mushrooms.
As a cook, and especially as someone who heads a Seattle kitchen, mushrooms and edible flora are a real treat. Chanterelles—with a texture that is somewhat akin to a barely dried apricot—beef up egg dishes, make for incredible pasta sauces, and can even be a great addition to a salad. Shrimp russula have a bit of a shrimp smell and flavor, and lobster mushrooms—so named only for their flaming orange color—are a mycological parasite that manages to turn a once inedible mushrooms into an edible treat.
That evening, back in our kitchen, we turned our treasures into a smorgasbord. There was a simple cream of forest mushroom soup, and pasta with lobster mushrooms. I also experimented, smoking some chanterelles to make a mushroom marmalade. It wasn’t a super sweet or a heavy condiment but rather a relish-like accompaniment that was packed with earthiness and smokiness. I used that marmalade to top off roasted bone marrow.
Mushrooms will absolutely be on the Heartwood menu when we open in early winter. We’ll try to feature whatever is in season. Washington food culture is spectacular in that there are a ton of growers for cultivated mushrooms here, but there’s something remarkable about the limited availability and seasonality of wild mushrooms… It’s kind of like fishing for salmon, one day they are here and the next day they have moved upriver to plant the seed for future runs.”
As with all wild mushrooms, it’s critical you know what you’re getting. To learn more, join the Puget Sound Mycological Society on a field trip or a foray. On weekends Foraged and Found sells wild edibles and mushrooms at Seattle area farmer’s markets.
View some of Chef Varin’s findings from the show, below: