The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

28 April 2014

Wild mushrooms

The wild mushrooms made me do it.

Have you noticed that one thing often leads to another?
Well, that's what happened.  I finished one library book (The Odessa file by Frederick Forsyth) and asked the helpful staff to recommend a good next book.  What they gave me was The Mushroom hunters: on the trail of an underground America by Langdon Cook. It's about (you'll never guess) mushroom hunters. And the mushrooms you hunt are wild ones. The tame ones don't need hunting, don't you know.

Oh. I see. You thought something else about wild mushrooms.  For shame!  It's almost always about a book here - unless it's about Manchester United or Depeche Mode.

Mr. Cook has a long-standing interest in foraging (and outdoorsy things in general), and hunting for your very own mushrooms is very forage-y. He made it sound so enticing - how the flavour compared to store-bought button 'shrooms is incomparable, and the varieties are vast.  How could I resist?  I became interested in foraging too.

The art of foraging is becoming mainstream, with even top restaurants getting in on the game. I'm already keen on local and 'real' food, so this seems like a natural next step.  Except.

Except that while I enjoy the out of doors, I don't know much about them.  Setting me loose to hunt and gather for supper would probably be futile - or dangerous. So back I went to the library to ask for a book on foraging in Ontario.  It has to be borrowed from another library, so while I eagerly await it, I decided I could practice foraging in my own freezer and pantry.  There's even a name for it: cooking the pantry, or, pantry cooking.  My sister partakes of this game, but she is an accomplished cook (having to feed six men on what is often a limited budget will do that.  I, however, am not an accomplished cook, as my pie disaster and stove-on-fire stories here will prove.

My usual habit is to shop for 'staples' on Friday or Saturday, which results in me having no idea what to cook during the week. So I'll often stop for specific ingredients to make the thing I'm craving that day.  Not efficient.  Plus, because I sometimes put leftovers in the freezer, as well as never get around to using the fish fillets I bought 'for quick, healthy meals' or the cans of chick peas 'to whizz up my own humus' , my shelves are full.

Cooking the pantry involves making do with what is in the house until there really is nothing left. (Well, within reason, I hope. Surely it's ok to shop before you're down to just olive oil and sea salt) Anyway. I'm not very good at keeping tabs of just what I have got, and what I could make of it.  It's good stewardship to be a responsible cook, as well as good discipline to not give in to every whim of convenience or taste, so I'm going to give this a go for two weeks.

The first step was to inventory my stores.  I now have a list on my fridge of everything in the bins in my freezer, and the main food stuffs in the fridge (not including condiments, etc.) and the larder. I will allow myself to restock the absolute essentials such as milk, but no augmenting ingredients. The game began when I didn't do my usual marketing run this weekend, and discovered a chocolate croissant in the back of the fridge I'd meant to have for Easter breakfast but forgot about.  I had that yesterday morning at 3:00 while waiting for the Canonization Mass to begin.

Day One.
I grabbed one of the freezer bags of... something to let it thaw in the fridge today, and came home expecting to find what I was sure was roasted vegetables but turned out to be chicken bits - the remnants of a roast chicken from ages ago I probably stuck in the freezer, meaning to put it out on garbage day but forgot.  I wish I was better about labelling the freezer bags!
Nevermind.  I managed to pull a few slivers of meat off the bones, fried it up with onion with a wee bit of broth, and added sour cream and herbs.  I boiled up some elbows of macaroni and peas, stirred it all together with grated cheese, put it in a casserole to bake.  Before it went in the oven I noticed a few of those little toasts left over from Friday's work lunch on the table, so I pulverized them, lightly seasoned them then sprinkled that over top.  With more cheese.  Oh, and I had a rind of double smoked bacon in the fridge, so I chopped that up fine and added it to the main part of the dish.  It baked up nicely golden, and actually tasted pretty good.  Yay me!  That will also be tomorrow and Wednesday's lunch (phew!  I like not having to think about lunches) meaning tomorrow's supper can be a quick and easy one-off like a fried egg or a tin of soup.

You're probably looking at the list of ingredients and thinking to yourself, "Well, Tess, what else would you make with that?  That's a no brainer, and in fact what we have at least once a week."  I agree.  That one was easy - once I'd shifted gears from roasted vegetables to chicken carcass.   We'll see how things go as the obvious dwindles to the 'oh no, it's down to the chick peas', a tablespoon of couscous and a tin of cranberries.

Do you cook the pantry?  Do you know exactly what is in your freezer?  Do you cook to a plan, or do you wing it day by day?


  1. I love the idea of cooking the pantry! It's a term I've never heard, and a thing I've (ahem) never done. I am shamefully wasteful, but my excuse (no, my reason) is that I am very forgetful and don't remember I've bought something and then it goes bad.

    And I love knowing why people hunt wild mushrooms rather than tame ones! Oh.

  2. This is scary weird. Just the other week I asked my wife if she knew where I could go for information or who I could ask about identifying and picking wild, edible mushrooms. I eat a lot of mushrooms and I am this close(first finger and thumb a mere fraction apart)of starting my own little mushroom colony (for lack of a better term.)

    The key word for me is 'edible'. For me to eat the first mushroom that I alone identified as edible would be the equivalent to the first person picking and eating an eggplant. Who would have done that and why? It certainly would not be for its looks.

    If you never hear from me again at least you'll know why.

  3. Oh Nancy, I know! My fridge is where good lettuce goes to wilt.

    Bobby, please be careful! Get a really good field guide with bright, colourful pictures to help you. Ask your library if they can help, and check online, too. A gov't department or local enthusiasts club probably has good information for you.
    I'm only at the beginning yet of Mushroom Hunters so I don't know very much yet, except that different species of trees bring different kinds of mushrooms. I probably need to get a book about identifying trees now.
    Eggplants are awesome!