When I was a kid growing up in rural Minnesota in the 1950s, mushrooms came in a can—except for the brief period in the summer when one could pick morels in wooded areas. As the self-proclaimed expert on which mushrooms were safe for human consumption, my dad always led these mushroom-gathering expeditions.
I still don’t know how he acquired this expertise, but we always trusted him in Minnesota. When he picked mushrooms in my sister’s back yard in Southern California, we weren’t as trusting. We let him eat the mushrooms, but the rest of us did not partake.
Today it would be called foraging for mushrooms, but in the 1950s we just “picked” them. These trips usually involved wood ticks, mosquito bites and occasionally a case of poison ivy. But it was well worth all of the potential itching later on to taste handpicked morels sautéed in butter.
It was always a competition to see who could find the most. Funny, I don’t remember who usually won. Probably that means it wasn’t me.
Today I purchase fresh mushrooms at Far West Fungi at the Napa Farmers Market. The Garrone family has been growing mushrooms in a 60,000-square- foot facility in the heart of Monterrey Bay in Moss Landing for more than 30 years.
The farm is a quarter-mile from the Pacific Ocean. The steady ocean breeze and coastal fog make it a perfect location for mushrooms. The mushrooms are grown on bran and red oak sawdust from a local wood-fibers company.
Berry Nelson, who mans the Far West Fungi booth at the farmers market, attempts to have eight to 10 different species of mushrooms at each market. If you are interested in the medicinal properties of mushrooms, stop by the stall and talk to Berry.
A mushroom is the fleshy fruiting body of a fungal organism. Although technically mushrooms are not vegetables, they are often cooked and served that way. One cup of raw mushrooms contains only 15 calories and 2.3 grams of carbohydrate, making it a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate food choice.
Mushrooms are also a good source of fiber, particularly the soluble fiber beta-glucan. And mushrooms are high in vitamins and minerals. They are a good source of copper, niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), potassium and iron. Like all fruits and vegetables, mushrooms are naturally gluten free and make a delicious and nutritious addition to a gluten-free diet.
There are many different species of edible mushrooms (some estimates say as many as 3,000), each with distinctive flavor and texture. My favorite way to cook mushrooms is to sauté them in butter or olive oil with a touch of salt. Add some fresh herbs from the farmers’ market, like chopped parsley or chives, for an herbal note.
Berry Nelson also has a great suggestion. To compare different types of mushrooms, cook each type the same way, as suggested above, and serve on a baguette slice. I’ll be trying this soon as I have a tendency to buy the same types every time. I am often at the information booth at the market, so stop by and let me know your favorite species or share your favorite mushroom recipe with me.
Chef demo at the market: On Saturday, May 13, chef Greg Cole will demonstrate a recipe for clafouti, a simple French custard dessert made with the season’s first cherries. Please join chef Greg Cole at 11 a.m. for this free cooking demonstration.
Adapted from the “Complete Cooking Light Cookbook” compiled and edited by Cathy A. Wesler (Oxmoor House).
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 1/2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
1 cup sliced button mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 garlic clove, halved
8 (1/2-inch-thick) slices Italian bread, toasted
Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the cremini and button mushrooms and salt. Cover and cook without stirring for 5 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high; add the thyme, flour and pepper. Cook uncovered for 1 minute, stirring occasionally.
Rub one side of each toasted bread slice with a cut clove of garlic. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the mushroom mixture onto each bread slice.
Makes 8 crostini.