I’m delighted to finally flip my calendar to September! Even though it typically gets hotter over Labor Day weekend before the mountains give it up to the autumn chill (and this year was no exception), I welcome September with open arms. Here in the high country, we run late getting around to spring and summer, but are rather punctual when it comes to autumn, and even early on winter – thank goodness! That’s definitely why I feel my summers are crammed full of activities, because true summer is short in the mountains and it’s when everything seems to happen.
neva is more cuddly when she gets lots of exercise
a field of pearly everlasting as the sun drops
A few weeks ago I took a mountain biking class in Boulder, because I wanted to reduce my chances of crashing into things. Something the instructors said over and over was, “…with intention – as in life, as with everything.” They wanted our actions on the bike to be intentional – to ride the bike instead of letting the bike take us for a ride. But I really liked the non-bike part of that, too: WITH INTENTION. It really does apply to everything. Take mushrooms for example.
I’m not the type of person who feels a compulsion to put every single mushroom I find in my mouth. You may laugh, but so many new people on mycological forums seem hellbent on not doing their homework and getting themselves into the hospital or even the grave. I’m selective about the mushrooms I forage and I’m careful about the ones I drop in my bag. Jeremy and I have established a rule that unless you are 100% certain of the mushroom you are inspecting, it does not go into the bag (and potentially into someone’s gut). Just about every variety I forage has an imposter that could make you sick or kill you. I first learned to hunt porcini with an incredibly knowledgeable and careful forager. From there, I have happily stumbled across chanterelles and morels and oyster mushrooms on my many hours spent hiking the mountain forests. But for the first time ever, I set out to find a mushroom I had never seen before, did my homework, went straight to a place that seemed like the ideal environment, and found that mushroom. We found a lot of them. Right place. Right time. Right on. With intention.
hello, you shy beautiful mushroom
behold the matsutake
The name matsutake means pine mushroom (matsu = pine, take = mushroom) and yeah, the name is Japanese. This underground wonder smells strongly of spicy cinnamon (red hots candies, to be specific), with a helping of pine resin and funk, and is highly coveted in Japan. Theirs is a brown matsutake which grows in Asia. Ours is a white matsutake, also called American matsutake. They are delicious cousins. Matsutake differ from all of the other mushrooms I forage because they grow underground, only popping above the forest floor when they are relatively mature. But looking for subtle mounds in the forest duff (we call them shrumps = shroom + humps) can reveal matsutake or a whole host of other mushroom species, some toxic. You have to look at the identifying characteristics and give it a good whiff. Erin and I pulled an itty bitty mushroom that looked just like a matsutake, but had no odor. NOT a matsutake and hence, does not go into the bag. Rules.
it’s a party!
a girl gets her matsutake
as they get bigger, the veil breaks, revealing the gills
There’s a lot that happens in my brain the moment I find a new edible mushroom. There is pure joy over the “proof of existence” and that huge adrenaline rush at having found it. Then I start to wonder if there are more or if this was a sort of fluke single occurrence. You always want to find more, not simply because cooking a lonely single mushroom is a bit of a sad thing, but to see the different stages and forms that this specific mushroom takes as well as the varying environments it can inhabit. If there are a lot of them, you learn which ones are more desirable (clean and worm-free are desirable to me) and which ones to leave alone to do their mushroom jobs. And then there is the question of how to cook the mushrooms. Most of the others are no-brainers: mushroom meet butter and skillet. But the matsutake is not like most other mushrooms. The last thing you want to do is mask the delicate cinnamony-piney flavor. So I went with the other no-brainer for mushrooms: tempura. Japanese cooking technique with a Japanese mushroom? Sounds about right.
matsutake, ice water, flour, mirin, soy sauce, hondashi granules, baking soda, egg, sugar
wipe the tops clean with a damp cloth
gently peel the outer layer of the stipe
**Jump for more butter**