In Pursuit of Mushrooms

From Latvia to Cape Cod, edible mushrooms grow wild on the forest floor, coveted by savvy cooks, who scoop them up for dishes like Yulia’s mushroom casserole (below). Chanterelles and boletus mushrooms may be delicious, but collecting them is half the fun, as Lynne Christy Anderson, author of Breaking Bread, shows in this guest post.
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Our neighbors mentioned they’d found chanterelles the other day. We spend summers in Vermont in a small cabin off the grid, tucked in a forest of pine and maple and dotted with beaver ponds and streams, a perfect place for fungi. Larry, who lives next door, is a hay former and when he’s not haying or tending his vegetable garden, he loves to cook. It was generous of him and his wife, Gwen, to mention the mushrooms: they like them as much as we do. It is, however, up to us to find them, something we all understand without ever having discussed it. Foragers never reveal the sites that yield great riches.

Yulia taught me this well. I’d never been mushroom hunting until the day I accompanied her family into a wooded area on Cape Cod. It was the orange-cap boletus we were after, a rather large and perfectly domed mushroom that she spent her childhood pursuing in the coastal forests of Latvia. Before she brought me to the woods that day, Yulia made me promise I wouldn’t tell other foragers about the spot. Nor did the family venture deep into the woods to their more coveted sites as was their custom. Instead, we wandered not far from the road while Yulia talked about something she sees as a distinctly Russian tradition, one she wants her children, both born here, to relish as much as she does. Vladimir Nabokov, too, attests to the challenges and joy of the pursuit in Speak, Memory and I remember thinking what a shame it was that more Americans weren’t in tune to the plethora of edible foods surrounding us when I first read the book.  “You just get lost and go crazy,” Yulia once told me and it wasn’t until I began looking for chanterelles in the woods surrounding our cabin that I really understood this.

I came upon one unexpectedly the other morning, not setting out to forage at all, rather, to call my son and daughter up from the pond. But once I spotted the small, pale ocher dome rising tentatively above the carpet of moss and leaves by the side of the path, there was no turning back. I knew there must be more. Besides, Larry said so.

I’m not sure if it was a half hour―perhaps longer―when I heard the call in the distance: “Mom, where are you?” and I reluctantly shifted my gaze upwards, realizing I was indeed far from the cabin. And then I remembered I had said I was going to help them get started with their summer reading projects, that I had wanted to weed the garden, and I needed to think about lunch. Yes, you can certainly get lost looking for mushrooms.

But I had five chanterelles in my hands, their delicate, whimsically shaped domes reflecting the morning sun, and that’s all that mattered.

Yulia’s Mushroom Casserole
Serves 2 to 3 for dinner or 4 to 6 as an appetizer

½ plus 2 ½ tablespoons butter, divided
1 pound edible wild mushrooms
½ cup onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup milk
4 large eggs, beaten
1 to 2 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme, marjoram, oregano, or parsley
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Adjust oven rack to center and preheat the oven to 350°F.  Brush the insides of a small casserole or a 9-by-9-inch baking dish with ½ tablespoon of the butter.

Clean mushrooms by gently brushing any dirt from the caps, undersides, and stems. Chop caps and stems into ½-inch pieces.

Heat the remaining 2 ½ tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan until melted. Add the onions and garlic and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they begin to get soft but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms and onions are soft, about 5 minutes. (The time will vary depending upon the kinds of mushrooms you are using.)  Transfer the mushrooms and onions to the casserole and spread evenly.

In a small bowl, combine milk, eggs, herbs, and salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the mushrooms and bake, uncovered, until golden, about 20 minutes.

Can be served hot or at room temperature.

2 thoughts on “In Pursuit of Mushrooms

  1. This casserole looks lovely. I love using mushrooms – have a great mushroom mac & cheese that I make. I will give this a try. I haven’t actually collected my own mushrooms – would want to go with someone knowledgeable. And, truffle hunting has been on my list of things to try.

  2. I have never had the opportunity to forage for mushrooms, but would love how to hunt for my favorite fungi. This recipe looks like an easy, lovely way to enjoy them.

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