Late summer and early fall are a time of plenty. The garden is giving its last burst of summer crops, and the woods are full of wild mushrooms. Sometimes there are so many mushrooms that we need to find new ways to use them.
The last few years have been flush years for Grifola frondosa, the Latin name for the mushroom more commonly known as Maiitake or Hen Of The Woods. Last year I was on a mission and harvested about 60 pounds. I cooked many great dishes with it including my Cream of Mushroom Soup, Chestnut and Wild Mushroom Stuffing, and Risotto to name a few that you can find here on Tim’s Food Obsession. I also par-cooked about half of the harvest, sauteing them in butter until they released their liquid, then chilling and vacuum packing in pouches to freeze for later. The quality is excellent, and the convenience of having wild mushrooms on hand at a moment’s notice is great.
Grifola frondosa is an easy mushroom to identify. There are no poisonous look-alikes. It has no gills, being a polypore. Tan or light brown on top and white underneath and white stalks. It grows at the base of trees, often in strikingly large groups of mushrooms. If you’d like to forage, consider joining a local mycology group and buy a couple good guide books to help identify your finds. If you are not certain of a mushroom’s identity or if a mushroom is past its prime, then do not eat it. Do not take mushrooms unless you plan to use them, and even then, harvest with care so they will return in future years.
I harvest Grifola frondosa by cutting the cluster near the base. I leave the main stalk attached to the tree, leaving behind a few fronds. The bottom of a cluster usually is dirty from splashing rain water. If the bottom of the cluster has dirty parts, I trim them off to keep as much dirt as possible out of my collection bag.
At home, I remove the large central stalk by coring it out. This part is edible, too, but i usually place these pieces, likely covered with ejected spores, at the base of a new tree for future fruiting. Once the core is removed, then the side stalks and fronds can be sliced according to how they will be used.
Today’s use is a pickled or marinated mushroom. I have done this with many types of mushrooms, but polypores seem to hold up best as they have a somewhat meaty texture. They also tend to take up the flavors of the brine very nicely. I’m thinking these mushrooms will be a good accompaniment to a homemade charcuterie tray. They will not only look good aside home-cured meats, they will also bring a complimentary earthy flavor.
I am going to water bath can these mushrooms, and my canner holds 7 jars, so I need enough to fill 7 jars. I use plastic food lugs for projects like this, and I know a lug full is just about the right amount. It took just about 10 pounds of mushrooms to fill the lug. I washed and sanitized 7 1-1/2 pint wide mouth canning jars.
Pick over the mushrooms to remove any stray bugs (lots of places for pillbugs and crickets to hide in these mushrooms) and leaves. The mushrooms are pretty clean of dirt, so I prefer not to wash them in water.
I then heated a large stockpot, large enough to hold all of the mushrooms, with 3-1/2 quarts of water, 1/2quart of lemon juice, and 2T salt. Bring to a boil, and put the mushrooms in. The pot is quite full, but the mushrooms shrink a bit in the boiling solution. Stir them periodically to make sure they cook evenly. Boil for about 7 minutes, stirring every now and then. Any grit that was on the mushrooms will sink to the bottom of the pot.
While the mushrooms are cooking, start another pot with 3 cups of good olive oil and 6 cups of good vinegar. I used 4 cups of homemade white wine vinegar and 2 cups of homemade mead vinegar. You may use commercial distilled vinegar, but I find the flavor to be sharp. Add 2T dried whole oregano and 2T sea salt. Bring to a boil, and then hold at a simmer.
Back to the mushrooms. Chop 2 sweet onions, and 4 red peppers in a small dice. I used Candy onions and Spanish Piquillo peppers from my garden. Add these to the mushrooms for the last coupe minutes just to soften a bit. Once the mushrooms have been in for 7 minutes, scoop them out ( I use a big perforated scoop made for noodles) into the cleaned lug.
Set out the 7 canning jars. In each one, put 2 cloves of fresh, peeled garlic. I lightly smash the garlic to release its flavor. Add 2 whole allspice, 1 bay leaf, 1 fresh basil top or a few leaves, and 4 black peppercorns (I used long-tailed pepper, also known as cubeb, because of the floral aroma to go with the other aromatics.)
Pack the jars with the mushrooms, peppers and onions. Press them down lightly to get more in, but not too tight. If you pack to tightly, they tend to expand in the canner and push up the lid, preventing a good seal. Ladle in the vinegar and oil mixture to fill to the bottom of the threads. Wipe the tops of the jars very well; you want to remove all traces of oil which will prevent a seal. Top with canning lids and rings. Process for 25 minutes in a boiling water bath.
A little canning trick is to place the wire rack in the canner in its elevated position. Fill to the level of the wire so when the jars are placed in the rack, they just touch the water. Heat the water on medium until all jars are in place, then turn up the heat and put the lid loosely over the top of the jars while the water comes to a boil. When the water boils, then lower the rack of jars into the water and start the timer for 25 minutes. This process prevents the thermal shock that often causes jars to break in the canner. I hate to lose all of my hard work when a jar breaks.
When the time is up, remove the jars onto a towel on the counter. Leave a few inches between the jars to they can cool down evenly. Do not touch the lids. When they are cooled, all jars can be checked for a seal. If any jars fail to seal, just put them in the refrigerator and use them first.
Resist the temptation to eat these right away. They will be much better in a few weeks, or even better in the middle of winter while thinking of next year’s harvests.