Monday, December 15, 2014

Honey mushroom-mageddon

As I was driving home from Nick's preschool today, I noticed that one of our neighbor's huge elm trees had died and was being cut down.

"Huh," I thought, "A dead tree. I wonder of oak root fungus got it."

Then I looked into her front yard, and saw this:

Oh hai. We is honey mushrooms. We is in your yard killing your trees.
Yeah, I'd say oak root fungus got it. In fact, it's probably the same organism that's been killing my trees (we live three houses down and across the street). Armillaria mellea can get really large. There's one covering 2200 acres somewhere in Oregon.

I narrowly avoided a car accident as I was staring at the mushrooms, dug out my phone, and called my neighbor.

"Hi Julie, I was driving by your house and you have all these mushrooms in your yard."

"Yes, it's the *&#^% oak root fungus, it's been killing my trees."

"I know, I'm sorry about that, I've lost some trees too. Can I have your mushrooms?"

"Ummm... Yeah.... Why?"

"I am going to eat them. They are very tasty. Hello? Julie? Are you there?"

.... silence on the line ....

Telling an American that you are planning to pick and eat wild mushrooms is akin to saying that you've decided that today is a good day to poison yourself. As much as I love this country, one thing they do not do here is eat wild mushrooms. Which is a continuous source of confusion to the many Russian, Polish, Italian, and other immigrants, who just don't understand why not? 

I patiently explained to my neighbor that oak root fungus produces a fruiting body called "honey mushroom", which is delicious sautéed or preserved in salt brine. I explained that honey mushrooms are a relative of shiitake, the harmless fungi you buy at the grocery store. I invited her for an evening of drinking and eating salted honey mushrooms (a classic Russian past-time). 

In the end, I convinced her enough that she let me have the mushrooms. I did not convince her to come for dinner at my house though. I think she's waiting to see if I am still around in the morning.

Good enough.

Armed with a knife and several large containers, I trekked over to the house. The mushrooms looked even more awesome close up.

Honey mushrooms growing along a tree root, probably the one from the tree
in the background. That tree is still alive, but things are not looking good.
Some were over-ripe, but I still ended up with an enormous amount.
The haul.

I haven't had my hands on so many honey mushrooms since we left Russia when I was a teenager. I vaguely remembered horror stories of "we picked all these mushrooms and then we had to clean them". Ah. Yes. That. 

Thankfully, a friend came over just as I was about to start cleaning, and I pressed her into service. I kept her here for over an hour, until all the mushrooms were done. I don't think she's coming by ever again. At least not during mushroom season.

Mushrooms cleaning. Perfect social activity.
Better than Facebook.
The cleaned mushrooms took over every large container I had at the house. That's another childhood memory: looking for pots and bowls to hold honey mushrooms because everything is overflowing.
Ready for processing
Some of the largest caps I put in the dehydrator. I made another liter of salted mushrooms. Even though I already have about four liters in the fridge, I just couldn't stop myself. There will be lots of vodka drinking soon.

The rest I boiled, put in plastic bags, and froze. They will be good in soups, sauces, and just plain defrosted and sautéed later.

And of course, we saved some for dinner. I tried a new recipe tonight. Cooked with garlic, white wine, and some balsamic vinegar.

The mushroom consumer is happy!
We now have enough mushrooms stored up to last us for months. And yet, I cannot stop myself from scanning the ground in my neighborhood looking for more. It's an addiction, I tell you!

And if you want to come over and drink vodka and eat salted mushrooms, come by in about a week, when the salted ones are ready. We'll be waiting.


  1. You are invited to visit the Peninsula Mycological Circle in Redwood City!

  2. I'll wait 8 days. To make sure you'll still alive.