I live alone with my preschooler in an off-grid cabin on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia.
"Don't wish me happiness I don't expect to be happy all the time....It's gotten beyond that somehow. Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor. I will need them all." Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Monday, 18 May 2015
Oyster mushrooms and preserving the harvest
I was introduced to oyster mushrooms (pleurotus ostreatus) when I first came to this island by my neighbours who are mushroom experts. They brought some over along with some other mushrooms as a welcome gift. That was sixteen years ago or so and each year around this time I watch for oysters when my little girl and I are out walking in a nearby forest. Oyster mushrooms fruit on dead, sick or dying red alder trees. Sometimes I have smelled them before I actually saw them. They have a scent that to me is a blend of forest earthiness and the salty sea. I use a pocket knife to remove them and I leave part of their short stem behind. I believe that doing this encourages a continued harvest. It's typical for me to return to the same tree for several years and then after that point the tree is rotted out and they are unable to fruit. There really is no poisonous look a like's here in the Pacific Northwest. Hypsizygus ulmarius, ( which currently has not been found in B.C.) is edible but apparently it is not as tasty. It's gills stop before the stem. In contrast the gills in oysters always run at least part ways down the stem. Omphalotus nidformis which grows for the time being in Japan and Australia look very different to my eye but it is touted as a look a like. However it has a rusty brown spore print which is very different from the white to lilac spore print of the oyster mushroom. So I always make a spore print, (lay a mushroom gill side down) on black paper which takes overnight. You can never be to cautious with wild mushrooms and peace of mind is knowing 110%. The only time I have ever gotten sick from an oyster mushroom was when I ate a popsicle at the same time while slicing raw mushrooms. My hands and the popsicle never touched each other or my mouth but they came too close. Since then I never eat while handling raw mushrooms and I always wash my hands and kitchen utensils after I am finished. I store oyster's in the fridge in a glass Pyrex bowl with the lid ajar as plastic bags make them slimy. I use a dampened rag to wipe off forest debris. The idea is to get them as little as wet as possible. I always end up harvesting more than what we can eat so I preserve them. One method that I have tried is dropping them into salted boiling water for a minute or two before freezing but it destroys their delicate taste and I have never done it again. A better way is to sauté them in oil. First I slice them into the size I want which is bite sized. Then, I sauté them in an uncovered frypan with oil until the water is drawn out. After they have cooled I measure out 1 cup amounts and put them in bags and freeze. But the best method is drying. I slice them approximately 3mm thick or so and put them in a food dryer I have hanging above my wood stove. When they are done I store them in the freezer. To reconstitute I soak them in warm water or grind them into a powder. I add them into soups and stirfry's. They are a gift from the forest and they enrich our lifestyle through the simple joy of forest walks and in our diet where their earthiness adds variety.