Mushroom Hunting and Anna Karenina

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    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.

    Our group of intrepid mushroom hunters.

    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).

    Breakfast: eggs 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.

    Our first mushroom picks

    Our mushroom haul (only one made the cut!)

    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).

    The group’s mushrooms ready to sort

    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 describes the Hen-of-the-Woods

    The keepers.




    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.


    Erhard Wendt's Sauteed Wild Mushroom Salad

    Prep Time: 45 minutes

    Erhard Wendt's Sauteed Wild Mushroom Salad

    Recipe for a salad of greens with sauteed wild mushrooms as prepared by Erhard Wendt of The Williamsville Inn


    • Variety of wild mushrooms (including Hen of Woods, Hedgehog, Chicken of Woods, Porcini, Chanterelles)
    • Grape seed oil
    • Butter
    • 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)


    1. Clean and rinse mushrooms (see note). Roughly chop mushrooms.
    2. Heat grape seed oil in pan until hot. Add butter. Add mushrooms and sauté, stirring. Add garlic paste, salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence.
    3. 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!

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      2 Responses to Mushroom Hunting and Anna Karenina

      1. Simona says:

        May I join the party? I’ll gladly do my part of picking, which I used to do as a child in Italy with my family. Wild mushrooms are such a treat! And they are good in so many ways. I read Anna Karenina when I was 14 and I think it is time I read it again. Thanks for the inspiration and thank you so much for contributing to Novel Food.

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