We’re both fans of wild mushrooms. Ever since reading the scenes of mushroom gathering in Anna Karenina while writing The Book Club Cookbook, we’ve been intrigued by the idea of mushroom hunting – with a guide.
Ten years later, we set out with Erhard Wendt, master chef and culinary instructor of the Williamsville Inn in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, for his mushroom hunting and cooking class. Wendt has been picking mushrooms since he was a child in his native Germany; in Massachusetts, where he hunts daily from July to November, he’s had to learn the American fungi varieties. On a beautiful early fall day we joined a group of fifteen for Wendt’s hearty breakfast (including eggs from the henhouse with fresh chanterelle mushrooms).
We were then off to a favorite mushroom picking spot of Wendt’s nearby (we can’t disclose the location), where we spread out. Our guide offered a few hints as to where to look (“look up, find oak trees”). We were novices, but others with some experience knew their chanterelles from morels (they all seemed determined to find the elusive hen-of-the-woods.) Soon, our baskets were filling with honey mushrooms and hedgehogs — and we quickly learned to avoid the poisonous puffball. When we regrouped, we had a gorgeous array of fungi in oranges, reds, browns and yellows.
Back at the Inn, Wendt sorted our finds. Many were either poisonous or chewed by animals. None of us had found the prized chicken- or hen-of-the-woods, but Wendt’s daughter retreated to a secret spot near the inn and surprised us with several hens.
In the kitchen we watched Wendt wash and chop mushrooms, and we joined in to prepare wild mushroom soup (with onions, leeks, garlic, potatoes, thyme, parsley, cream, and kale, and homemade stock ) and a wild mushroom salad (see recipe).
While we began the meal, Wendt prepared wild mushroom sauce to serve over pork tenderloin (for us over spaetzle). We savored the afternoon meal and earthy flavors of our freshly picked mushrooms, nuttier and richer than usual.
Wendt’s recipe for wild mushroom salad was particularly impressive and we’re delighted to share it (thank you Jeanette!) While we don’t have quantities as this was prepared for a large group, it’s easy to improvise with the ingredients and directions.
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Variety of wild mushrooms (including Hen of Woods, Hedgehog, Chicken of Woods, Porcini, Chanterelles)
Grape seed oil
Garlic paste (see note)
Salt and pepper
Herbes de Provence
Salad greens, washed
Favorite vinaigrette (see note)
Balsamic Glaze (balsamic vinegar reduced by bringing to low boil, then a steady simmer)
- Clean and rinse mushrooms (see note). Roughly chop mushrooms.
- Heat grape seed oil in pan until hot. Add butter. Add mushrooms and sauté, stirring. Add garlic paste, salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence.
- Dress salad greens and place on plate. Spoon mushroom mixture over lettuce. Drizzle with balsamic glaze.
For the vinaigrette, Wendt combines olive oil, champagne vinegar, balsamic vinegar, shallots, and mustard.
For the garlic paste, Wendt combines garlic cloves, salt, and olive oil in a blender. He stores a container of paste in the fridge for use in various recipes.
To clean the mushrooms, Wendt soaks them in a large bowl of water and scrubs them thoroughly. After scooping out the mushrooms, he dumps the cleaning water in the garden so the spores can regenerate.
Happy to participate with this post in the Novel Food event!