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Let's talk: Oyster Mushrooms

On Madeline Island, these are the first edible mushrooms to surface. Typically the last week in May into June. It is a true test of patience waiting for these, specifically because of the time of the year, marking a noticeable transition in temperature and weather patterns.



Weather. When I talk about patience, this is most challenging because this far north it can seem like spring may never come. When it comes to oyster mushrooms there is a very specific type of weather pattern to look for. Now, when I write, I write in regards to my specific location. Living on an island in Lake Superior our weather is VERY different from those around us, often times delayed, extended, or just outright different. Please keep that in mind, while things may be plentiful just a few miles away, our weather system changes our season drastically so this writing is specific to Madeline Island.


The type of weather we wait for is the warm rains that come at the end of May into June. Typically 65 degrees and above, with ground temperatures holding above 50 degrees. These mushrooms, like many others need a specific temperature, humidity, and amount of rain and sunshine to produce. I typically wander out after the first warm rain as soon as the sun starts to come out.


Habitat. Oyster mushrooms on Madeline Island, I have found, prefer popple, but are not limited to them. Often times when looking for oysters find dead "snags" of popple stands. Popples are very top heavy trees and are often toppled over from high winds. Oysters thrive in these "blow down" sections of the forest and we have many on the island. One of the best and most accessible examples is Capser Trail in the Madeline Island Wilderness Preserve. Oysters grow on the tree, often times well out of arms reach. My biggest tip is to carry duct tape or rope to attach your knife to a stick so you can reach those way up high mushroom clusters.


How to pick. I promote ethical and sustainable harvesting for the long-term health of the forest. What that means is only picking what you need, in season, and only leaving footprints, leaving minimal impact to the area. When harvesting only a few items are needed for your mushroom kit.

  • A basket or satchel: preferably breathable so spores can be released and spread as you plod through the woods. Avoid plastic.

  • A knife: any type, but I prefer a longer blade for a cleaner cut

  • Duct tape

  • An old toothbrush or mushroom brush: to clean off dirt and bugs in the field

  • Patience and observation skills

When harvesting, cut the mushroom away from its source rather than pulling. Clean any dirt or bugs off immediately. Don't pick everything, there is more than just you out there looking for mushrooms and it's a kind gesture to leave some for others and although not necessary for regeneration, I believe it to be good practice to leave some of the source behind for future growth.


Storing & Preserving. This goes for all mushrooms. They are best stored in a damp paper towel, inside a paper bag. Mushrooms are mostly water and they need moisture and the ability to breathe. In keeping your mushrooms this way, they can keep for a week or more depending on how diligent you are in keeping them at the right moisture level.


If harvesting for the long-term, mushrooms can be dehydrated either using a screen and the sun over a few sunny, warm days or in a dehydrator at the lowest temperature over 12+ hours or drying time. Many will say using a dehydrator leeches the mushroom of viable nutrients, so sun is best, but I find it difficult to solar dry on Madeline Island as our weather typically isn't sunny long enough to dry them completely. You can also dehydrate in your oven if your oven is able to reach a low temperature of around 115 degrees. Leave the oven door partially open and dry until tender but not crispy. Mushrooms will keep dehydrated in a glass jar for 1-2 years. To re-hydrate soak overnight. Use the water in cooking that the mushrooms soaked in as it contains loads of flavor and nutrients!


How to Cook. Simple recipes to build off.


Pan Fried: simple, delicious, and versatile

Total Time: 20 minutes Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 12 ounces (little less than a pound) oyster mushrooms cut into evenly sized pieces

  • 3 garlic cloves smashed

  • 5 sprigs of thyme or your favorite herbs

  • 2 tablespoons grass-fed butter or ghee

  • sea salt and black pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat.

  • Spread the mushrooms out in a single layer in the pan. Cook, undisturbed for 3-5 minutes until they start to brown.

  • Stir the mushrooms and cook for another 3-5 minutes until browned all over.

  • Add the ghee/butter, garlic, and thyme to the skillet and reduce the heat to low. Cook for another 5-6 minutes, spooning the ghee/butter over the mushrooms until they are dark brown and slightly crispy.

  • Remove the thyme springs and season the mushrooms with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!


Simple Balsamic Pasta

Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • Pasta, any kind but wide noodles like pappardelle work best.

  • 2-4 Tbsp butter-half to cook the mushrooms and half for the sauce.

  • 2 lbs oyster mushrooms

  • 3-8 cloves garlic

  • Balsamic vinegar- to taste

  • Dry White wine- to taste

  • Lemon- halved

  • 1 cup veggie stock

  • Rosemary

  • Crushed red pepper flakes

  • Parmesan

  • Optional: pine nuts

Directions

  • Cook the pasta.  Cook until al dente, in salted water. Then drain the pasta,  reserving 1 cup of pasta water for sauce.

  • Make the sauce.  Sauté the mushrooms in half of the butter until they are lightly browned and tender.  (To get them nice and golden, be sure that your heat is high enough, and resist the urge to stir them too often.)  Add the garlic and sauté for an extra minute.  Then add the butter, wine, veggie stock, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, crushed red pepper flakes, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper, and stir to combine.  Bring the sauce to a simmer, then let it cook until the liquid has reduced by about half.  Remove and discard the rosemary sprigs (or you’re welcome to just leave them in there).

  • Combine everything.  Then once the pasta and sauce are both ready to go, combine them with the Parmesan cheese and pine nuts, and toss the entire mixture until combined.

  • Season.  Don’t forget to give the pasta a quick taste here, and season with extra salt, pepper and/or crushed red chili flakes if needed.  Also, if you would like a saucier pasta, just add in some of that reserved starchy pasta water.

  • Serve warm.  Garnished with the extra pine nuts, and lots and lots of Parmesan cheese. 


Insta-Pot Risotto

Total Time: 45 minutes Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 lb. oyster mushrooms, trimmed, sliced

  • Salt and pepper

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 2 cups carnaroli or arborio rice

  • 1/2 cup white wine

  • 4 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

  • Optional: choose any- lemon, rosemary, sage, garlic

  • Chopped parsley and finely grated Parmesan (for serving)

Directions

  • Set Instant Pot on medium heat or "Sauté" and pour oil into cooker insert. Add mushrooms and cook until any moisture they've released is evaporated and they start to brown, about 10 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Add onion, stir to combine, and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add rice and stir until chalky white, about 3 minutes. Add wine and cook until mostly evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in stock. Add any choice herbs. Lock on lid, making sure steam-release valve is in the proper sealed position. Select “Manual” and program for 5 minutes at high pressure (it will take about 10 minutes for the pressure to build before cooking automatically begins).

  • As soon as the time has elapsed, turn off cooker, “Quick Release” the steam, and unlock lid. Stir with a wooden spoon; season with salt and pepper.

  • Divide risotto among bowls. Top with parsley and Parmesan and serve.


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