October 22, 2010

Short pause

I am having a short pause on posting as I get through some of the more intense parts of my school term. Sorry if a week goes by with no new posts.


October 11, 2010

Visit to Avena Botanicals

Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Avena Botanicals with my professor Nishi's Edible Botany class. Avena Botanicals is located in Rockport, Maine and was founded by Deb Soule whom I described a bit in an earlier post. She is a wonderful, generous, and amazing herbalist. Check out the Avena Botanicals website.

Here are some photos from the visit.

Deb Soule on the right
Deb showing us Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)

Drinking delicious fresh nettle tea back inside.

Nishi and Deb

Juliette de Bairacli Levy--one of Deb's (and my) great inspirations towards herbalism. She is known as the grandmother of herbal medicine. Search her name for a vast collection of valuable books on the topic, including some of the first ever published on veterinary herbalism.

October 6, 2010

Mushroom Tasting

Disclaimer: Do not rely on the following photographs for accurate identification of edible mushrooms. Although these are correctly identified, the photos provided are insufficient to be used for identification.

...Later that evening,

Instead of mixing them all together to make a grand mushroom medley, I decided to do a proper taste test of the various mushrooms I brought back. Here are some pictures with the results. I sautéed a bit of each in normal salted butter until cooked. I cleaned the pan between uses and my mouth with a small piece of bread between tastes.

#1 Honey Mushroom (Armillaria mellea):
Color: Shades of an earthy brown, slightly translucent color.
Smell: Subtle earthy-butter smell.
Taste: A Full, bold mushroom flavor, but without any bitterness and a distinct sweetness reminiscent of sweet teriyaki glazed chicken leg. I see it going well with a meat side. Perhaps a bit too sweet for pasta as the starches in pasta already provide a certain sweetness. I bet it would also be a good compliment to some bitter greens such as kale. But it would be good to cut the kale into fine pieces so not to lose the small mushrooms among large leaves. The flavor intensified as the mushrooms cooled a bit. Overall VERY delicious.
Texture: Relatively easy to chew. The outside layers of the mushroom are a bit chewier, but overall quite tender.
Other: The subtle earthy aromas linger a bit after swallowing, but they are subtle and mostly overpowered by the sweetness.

#2 King Bolete (Boletus edulis):
Note that the spore tube layer under the cap has been removed

I peeled back and removed the spore tubes as instructed since they were already yellowing and become slimy after cooking according to Greg.

Color: Stem remained mostly white through cooking; only browning a bit where in direct contact with the pan. The cap became a strong yellow and likewise a bit brown where in direct contact with the pan.
Smell: Just like molten, slightly burned swiss cheese. Almost identical to the smell of the original grilled cheese (just a hunk o’ cheese grilled in a pan).
Taste: It is also a bit sweet, but not as much as the honey mushrooms. There is also very subtle vinegary flavor. The stem flavor is a little less intense. One piece of the cap tasted distinctly like a Cheez-it cracker. There is also a slight egg yolky and cauliflower flavor. Finally there is a subtle cow-barn aroma to it—not enough to bother me, only enough to instill a slight nostalgia…
Texture: The cap has a texture very similar to hot, molten cheese. I can definitely imagine this as a substitute for cheese in sandwiches. The stem texture is a bit more fibery than the cap, but still soft. When it cools it doesn’t harden the way cheese does, so if you want a molten cheese substitute that you can eat cool, then this is it. It doesn’t stretch like cheese though. The slightly slimy texture is perhaps its only downside, but I don’t really mind at all.
Other: This cap shrunk a lot more than the Honey Mushroom caps did when cooked.

#3 Painted Bolete (Suillus pictus):

Color: The slices of mushroom have shrunk a bit and turned a dark brown color and are reminiscent of small fish such as anchovies.
Taste: Similar to the King Bolete, but less cheesy and bit more spice to it too. There is a bit more of the classic mushroom aroma that the previous two don’t have as much. The flavor definitely hits more on the backsides of the tongue with a slight acidity. Imagine the flavor of a fresh baked piece of hot sourdough bread. Almost tastes a bit salty too. Like in the King Bolete the stem is less flavorful, almost a bit watered down tasting. There is also a slight bitterness similar to brown rice. The after taste is similar to the King Bolete, but almost none of the cow-barn aroma. Again I see this going well in a sandwich, but not a sourdough sandwich. I think the bread should be a bit more neutral in order to appreciate the full flavor.
Texture: Similar texture to the King Bolete but a bit chewier and not as molten feeling. The stem is comparable in texture to the King Bolete.
Other: Seems like these were the fastest to cook.

Last but not least… This one was not collected in the field that day. It was a gift from Greg to Nishi and Nishi gave me a piece to try.

#4 Hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa):

Color: Darkening bit through cooking, but nothing distinctive.
Smell: A very herby, fatty aroma. Very much like the strong smell of duck or goose as my friend Kaija suggested. She said the smell of this mushroom reminded her of the winter holidays since her family always cooks a goose.
Taste: The flavor is different from the smell. Very much like a baked potato. Much less sweet and distinctly more savory than the other three mushrooms. It would probably go well with a pasta and some kind of gravy that complemented it with a bit of sweet and spiciness. It is also a tiny bit bitter with a slight nutty flavor. It also has a subtle Swiss cheese flavor. These might go really well in a sweet and sour oriental dish.
Texture: The texture is more consistent than the previous two mushrooms. As it cooked, the edges dried a bit providing a very interesting texture that I enjoyed very much.

After tasting each mushroom on its own I mixed them to make a delicious leek coconut mushroom curry.

October 5, 2010

More Fungi

Ok, ok, I know… Mushrooms are not plants. Leave the site if you can’t stand the conondrum. 

That said, yesterday I was very fortunate to tag along with the Edible Botany class taught by Nishi Rajakaruna at COA. It was an especially good day because we were joined by two wonderful and very knowledgeable people--Deb Soule, herbalist and founder of Avena Botanicals, and Greg Marley, an amateur mycologist that has been teaching and pursuing his passion for fungi for the last 35 years. 

Greg pointed out various species of mushrooms, along with carefully describing their edible and medicinal uses. Greg is also the author of Mushrooms For Health: Medicinal Secrets of Northeastern Fungi. I quickly gathered up a few of the edible mushrooms he showed us and stashed them away for dinner...