Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Porcini

We had excellent porcini gathering this year—we discovered a new foraging location which is apparently overlooked by others. So we were faced with the delightful problem of what to do with so many mushrooms. We dried a lot, ate a lot fresh and still had more.

My husband found a recipe for pickled porcini. I was dubious and encouraged him to make a half-batch, just in case it was no good.

The process was strange—he sliced and salted the mushrooms, patted them dry, boiled them in vinegar, partially dehydrated them, and then packed them in a jar with a flavourful marinade to age.

They looked revolting.

Yesterday we tried them.

I’m not too proud to say I was wrong—totally wrong.

They are amazing—chewy, tangy, and bursting with intense mushroom flavour.

We cut them small and sprinkled them on a potato pesto pizza where they positively sparkled. I can’t wait to try them in all sorts of dishes, or simply slapped whole onto a cracker.

My only regret is that I convinced my husband to make a half-batch.

Fungal Wonderland

A family hike on Saturday took us through a fungal wonderland on Mount Oxford. Everywhere we looked, it seemed, fruiting bodies were popping out. White, brown, blue, purple, red, black—fabulous diversity of species, form and colour.

My favourite of the day, however, were not the big, showy Amanita muscaria or the lurid purple Cortinarius porphyroideus, but these unassuming (and unidentifiable by us) little shelf fungi. They were growing out of the underside of a fallen log we had to duck under, and their gills made stunning, artistic patterns. Unremarkable though the mushrooms themselves were, the perspective of seeing them from below turned them into something truly special.

Amazing how a simple shift of perspective can turn the ordinary extraordinary.

Mushroom Season

With the arrival of rain and cooler temperatures, the mushrooms have come out. Many fungi fruit in autumn, but this year seems particularly spectacular on our property. I can only guess that, after three years of drought, the fungi are taking advantage of weather that’s finally moist.

The most visually striking ones are naturally the Amanita muscaria–their bright red caps have reached epic sizes this year, and they’ve sprung up in profusion under the birch trees. They’re accompanied this year by three other species of mushroom with large brown caps (Paxillus involutus, Leccinum scabrum and a Russula).

Puffballs dot the lawn, and an assortment of smaller mushrooms have joined them.

The best find so far has been the presence of seven Noddy’s flycaps in the vegetable garden. I blogged about this mysterious fungus several months ago when the first sporocarp popped up. To find this many all at once is quite unusual.

There is another full week of rain in the forecast, and I’m looking forward to what new gems might spring up. There is also the exciting possibility of slime moulds in this weather.

So forgive me if I walk around with my eyes on the ground this week. I’d hate to miss the show.

Noddy’s Flycap

img_2955-cropI was working in the garden this morning, and came across this stunning mushroom in the middle of the broad beans.

My first reaction was, “Oh, my! Fairies must have visited the garden.” I wondered if nature was trying to tell me I needed a little whimsy among the vegetables. I began to consider the possibilities. A few fanciful carvings on my trellises? Gargoyles atop the fence posts?

My next reaction was, “I’ve got to show this to my husband.” (He researches mycorrhizal fungi, and this looked to me a bit like an Amanita, which are usually mycorrhizal). He saw it, and said, “Oh!…Oh!…that’s a…no, wait…I won’t say anything until I’m sure…this could be important.”

He did some research and confirmed the mushroom as Noddy’s flycap–Amanita sp. 2–an unusual fungus recorded only from New Zealand, but thought to be introduced, as it is generally found among non-native vegetation. It has never been recorded this far south, and we’ve never seen it on our property before.

Geoff Ridley has written a nice blog post about this fungus and its odd distribution and mysterious origin.

And so, perhaps nature was, instead, telling me to keep my eyes open for scientific wonders, even in my own back yard.

And then, I learned that Noddy’s flycap is named for the Enid Blyton character, Noddy (and his pointy hat).

And at this point, the symbolism of this strange fungus in my garden got really weird. A whimsical-looking fungus of unknown origin, and not known to be present here, named after a character in a middle grade novel?

The message was loud and clear–this fungus has to show up in my next book. Excuse me while I go scribble down some ideas…

Orange Pore Fungus—a storybook mushroom

IMG_5266As my husband and I were hiking on Sunday, we came across a beautiful little fungus along the trail. Pebbly orange caps with a honeycomb underside. I was enchanted—they were storybook mushrooms that would have nestled neatly into any fairy tale.

But when my husband posted the sighting to NatureWatch NZ, the dirty truth came out.

These storybook fungi are Favolaschia calocera, the orange pore fungus, an invasive weed, and our sighting was the first in Hinewai Reserve.

The orange pore fungus is a curious organism. It appears to be native to Madagascar, though there is some speculation that it might also be native in parts of Asia.

It was first recorded in New Zealand in 1969, and has since spread throughout the North Island and much of the South Island. It has also recently been found in Australia, Thailand, China, Kenya, Reunion Island, and Norfolk Island. Its success probably shouldn’t be surprising—it’s a generalist, invading just about any dead wood available, unlike many other species that have specific tastes. It is also able to produce spores without mating, so it’s very quick to reproduce. It is so successful in New Zealand that mycologists are concerned that it could be displacing native fungi.

But it hasn’t stopped in New Zealand. In 1999, the orange pore fungus was first noted in Italy near the busy port of Genoa. Genetic studies of the Italian fungus indicate that it probably came from New Zealand on imported timber.

This storybook fungus is straight out of a fairy tale, all right—but the tale was written by the brothers Grimm.

Oyster Mushrooms

100_4082 smWay back in June I blogged about the mushroom growing bags I made from a repurposed tent. About a month ago, my husband and daughter started a batch of oyster mushrooms, and the bags were finally put to the test.

Today, we had our first harvest from them—mushrooms as big as my hand! And not a single fungus gnat larva in them (which was the purpose of the bags—to keep the fungus gnats from eating them before we did).

I can taste tonight’s mushroom stir-fry already!