Thursday, June 10, 2010

Oyster Mushrooms

On Tuesday morning, my father and I went for a hike through Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver when only a short while into our fun my eyes caught a glimpse of something white and shiny by a rock wall not far from the path. After a rather glee filled gasp, I slipped through the underbrush, across a rather big log, through a stream and crouched down to the most beautiful patch of oyster mushrooms I've seen in a really long time. 

Oyster mushrooms grow in cool damp climates so this rather dreary spring has been the perfect for them. Growing on dead alder trees year after year, one patch can be harvested many times so be sure to leave some for the slugs, other mushroomers as well as yourself if you hope to see them again next year. As the mushrooms age they become increasingly gray through exposure to the sun so the younger white oysters are the ones to harvest as they keep the best flavor.

Having embarked on our morning not expecting to come across such a find, my father and I were entirely unprepared; no knife, rucksack, Tupperware or anything. Thankfully though my dad had been chatting with friendly dog walker (explaining what his strange daughter was doing in the brush) and the man pitched in his  extra biodegradable doggy bags to the cause. The rain had stopped at this point and after begrudgingly looking at three bags of mushrooms I realized that I could MacGiver a satchel out of my windbreaker (Thank you drawstring waistbands!). After not more than 5 minutes after stopping we were once again on our way.

Preparing wild mushrooms is about the same as for any of the store bought variety. First, trim away the tips (if you pulled them off the log) along with any tips that slugs have nibbled at. 

Second, rinse batches in a big bowl of cool water, draining and refilling after each set, to get rid of any pine needles or dirt. 
Lastly, drain off excess water and place on clean tea towels to air dry for about 15 minutes. 
Once dry they are ready to cook with right away or you can put them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days. My favorite recipes for the mushrooms involve pasta sauces but given the size of some of the larger ones, marinading them before BBQ'ing could lead to very tasty mushroom burgers. 

For more information on mushrooming in the lower mainland you may find the Vancouver Mycological Society a great resource.