Patti Bess: De-mystifying mushrooms | TheUnion.com

Patti Bess: De-mystifying mushrooms

Are you looking for an excuse to spend a day in a forest studying nature and science?

The 21st annual Fungus Foray and Mushroom Exposition may be your answer. It will take place on Dec. 8-9.

A couple of years ago I attended this event and was fascinated. Walking through a misty, moist forest; small spaceship-like bulges I'd never noticed emerged among the leaves — mysterious mushrooms. I always thought of them in the same vein as snakes. They piqued my curiosity, but the fear they conjured up was of mythic proportions.

For centuries mushroom hunting was, and still is, widely practiced in Italy, Germany, France and other European countries. It is a culinary art as highly prized as olive oil processing, cheesemaking or wine production. Except for some Native American tribes, mushroom hunting is largely a forgotten part of our own culture.

"Over time people can learn to eat safe, delicious wild mushroom species, but one should always get expert advice when doing so," stated Daniel Nicholson. He is the founder of this event and has been organizing it every year since its beginning. Nicholson grew up in Nevada County and has been a plant and mushroom nerd since before he can remember. He comes from a long line of naturalists. His grandmother, Virginia Hammond, was one of the first members of the Chicago Park Garden Club.

The Yuba Watershed Institute (YWI) hosts the event, and it is their main fundraiser. This year they will meet at the Shady Creek Outdoor School and Event Center. Afternoon classes will be held there also. It is located at 1861 Pathfinder Way which is just off of Tyler Foote Road.

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The first morning participants will be walking and exploring in land managed by the Yuba Watershed Institute. The YWI is a nonprofit organization involved in a cooperative management agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Timber Framers Guild of North America of nearly 2,000 acres of forested land on 10 parcels in Nevada County.

The Mushroom Exposition on Sunday will feature a cooking class with Bay Area chef Chad Hyatt. A longtime mushroom enthusiast, he has become a popular teacher at various mushroom events around Northern California and Oregon. From his recently published book, "The Mushroom Hunter's Kitchen," he will present cooking techniques and recipes that challenge people to think a little differently about mushrooms. Website; http://www.mushroomhunter'skitchen.com.

The Exposition on Sunday will provide presentations, interactive displays, and workshops based on our seasonal Sierra mushrooms and their attributes. Longtime herbalist, Christopher Hobbs, PhD., will speak on the medicinal qualities of mushrooms. Mycologist Christian Schwarz will discuss the Santa Cruz Fungi and their Myco flora project as well as a presentation on the fungi of Mexico.

This year, for the first time, pre-registration is required. Purchase tickets at http://www.YubaWatershedInstitute.org/register. Saturday – $30 general; $25 for YWI members; $15 for children and full-time students. Sunday – $15 general; $10 for YWI members, children, and full-time students. For more information or volunteer opportunities call Chris at 530 955-1822.

Peruvian style ceviche from Chad Hyatt

This is a classic ceviche recipe using mushrooms instead of fish. Raw mushrooms of any species will work. In traditional ceviche, the lime juice (or other acidic liquid) "cooks" the fish by denaturing the proteins the same way as heat would. Most of the structure of mushrooms, however, is made up of chitin, not proteins. Acid will not "cook" them, and thus will not change the texture of raw mushrooms. Whatever mushrooms you use, cut them up and boil them first for at least three minutes; to make sure you get a comparable transformation. The end result will not be nearly as good if you assemble the ceviche using them raw.

One pound Coccora (Amanita calyptroderma) cleaned and sliced in ¼-inch thick strips (or substitute any favorite mushrooms)

Three limes, juiced

One serrano chile, diced small (do not remove the membranes or seeds)

(You may choose to use less serrano for less heat)

One quarter small red onion, diced fine

Five or six cilantro sprigs, leaves removed and diced fine (about 25 leaves)

One sweet potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice

One teaspoon salt or to taste

1. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil, and add the prepared mushrooms. Let the water return to a boil, then cook for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse the mushrooms in cold water, then refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Place diced sweet potato in a small pot, cover with water, and add a generous pinch of salt. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer. As soon as the sweet potatoes are cooked (only a few minutes), drain and cool down. They should hold their shape and not fall apart when handled. Place in refrigerator until cooled.

3. Slice red onion as thinly as possible into ½ inch long strips. Place these in a small container and cover with ice water. Store in fridge.

Note: Soaking the onions in ice water helps remove the harshness from the flavor, and also crisps them up, so every bite will have that crunch.

4. About 30 minutes before serving, mix the mushrooms with the lime juice, serrano and a generous pinch of salt. Store in the fridge.

5. When ready to serve, stack up the cilantro leaves neatly in piles of 4 or 5 leaves, and slice in paper-thin ribbons. Drain the red onions well; add them and the cilantro to the marinating mushroom mixture. Check the seasoning, and add more salt if necessary.

6. To serve, arrange some of the cooled sweet potatoes on the plate and neatly spoon the mushroom ceviche on top. Divide up any remaining liquid over each of the portions.

Note: Peruvians lovingly call the used marinating liquid "leche de tigre" (tiger's milk), and you will often see diners picking up their dishes to drink down all of the spicy, sour leche when the ceviche is gone. The leche from this mushroom ceviche is as delicious as the leche from the traditional fish version.

Patti Bess is a freelance writer and cookbook author. She can be reached at bess.pattia@gmail.com.

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