[Enjoy New Pi Customer Service Coordinator Genie Maybanks's guest post on our beautiful local mushrooms, which you'll see more of - and a presentation of this recipe - in your May/June Catalyst! --Allison]
I was doing researching for a story about morel mushrooms for a piece we did in the Catalyst a few years back, and I learned that someone claimed they had figured out how to domesticate the wild morel. There is, apparently, such a thing as a morel mushroom growing kit! For a mushroom lover like me, that is amazing news.
My dad loves to garden, he loves to cook, and he too loves morels. He also has a big aversion to special gizmos and prefers to stick to the basics—a sharp knife, a cutting board, a small shovel… Really, he already has just about everything garden-kitchen-gizmo that he wants. So, birthday gifts can be a real challenge.
I set out to buy him one of these new-fangled morel kits. It seemed to me to be the perfect fit of gift, but it turns out that most of these morel mushroom kits are not actually guaranteed to produce. It can take years for them to mature, and even more daunting, they are very complicated to site. In learning about these morel kits, I learned that the world is full of other edible mushroom varieties, and there are numerous, much more fool-proof kits available!
I found kits that were so kid-friendly, that you were supposed to be able to take a toilet paper roll, dip it in water, sprinkle it with spores, and leave it on your table for a week or two before, voila, mushrooms! (That didn’t seem appetizing to me.) Other kits required tree stumps be drilled with 1 inch holes, the spores needed to be inserted and the plugs replaced. (Pretty complicated.) There was absolutely every level of difficulty out there. But, one variety, one kit, really caught my eye. It was something called a “lion’s mane” or “hedgehog” mushroom, so named for the tooth-like, hair-like fringes that cascade out of the mushroom ball. I sent my dad a kit.
I’ll be darned if these beautiful white balls didn’t quickly begin to spring from the pre-inoculated sawdust-filled logs. They were soft, like a funny spongy ball covered in silky hairs. There really weren’t many recipes online, and no one I knew had ever seen one at that point, let alone cooked one. So, we rolled with the tried-and-true morel-handling recipe: Lots of butter! We sliced it thinly, dredged it in flour, and browned the slices on each side. They are very delicate little creatures, so stirring was a no-no. Simple!
It does taste reminiscent of lobster or crab. A taste all its own! Vegetarian crab meat, golden brown, dripping in butter…
Turns out, lion’s mane mushrooms are being studied for their rumored abilities to boost the immune system, ease arthritis, lessen inflammation, improve digestion, and even increase memory potential by stimulating nerve growth in the brain! Some studies even demonstrate positive signs for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients who consume the mushroom.
So, whether you’re brave enough to dive in and try growing your own or not, give this unique fungus a try. Your Co-op now carries them in our produce department, from Todd Mills of Mushroom Mills, who harvests them at his farm in Columbus Junction. He brings them to us fresh weekly, and will also have a stand at the Downtown Iowa City and Cedar Rapids Farmer’s Markets, where he’ll have kits available!
Delicate, refined, and addictive! – Allison
Recipe from Jacques Pepin’s Essential Pepin
“These will keep for a couple of weeks in a jar in the refrigerator. In fact, the flavor improves after a few days.” – Jacques Pepin
serves 8 as an hors d’oeuvre
1 ½ lbs. mixed unusual mushrooms (wiped with a damp cloth if needed – do not wash)
3 med. onions (about 12 oz.), quartered, layers separated
3 bay leaves
½ t. crushed thyme leaves (fresh preferred)
1 t. salt
2 t. black peppercorns
½ t. coriander seeds, crushed
1 c. dry white wine
1/3 c. olive oil
3 T. fresh lemon juice
serve on toasts or in small lettuce, endive, or radicchio leaves
Quarter large mushrooms and halve medium mushrooms (easy bite size). Combine with all the ingredients in a stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, and boil, covered, 6-8 min. Transfer to an earthenware or glass container and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate.