The Joys of Mushroom Hunting

It is becoming increasingly clear how important the links between food security, decreasing our carbon footprint, and eating local are. Although for decades industrial agriculture has been touted as the way to feed an increasing, and increasingly hungry, world population, it hasn’t lived up to that goal. Now a new study has found that small farms may be better for both food security and biodiversity. David Suzuki discussed the study, entitled “Food Security and Biodiversity: Can We Have Both?” recently:

Chappell and Lavalle point to research showing “that small farms using alternative agricultural techniques may be two to four times more energy efficient than large conventional farms.” Perhaps most interesting is that they also found studies demonstrating “that small farms almost always produce higher output levels per unit area than larger farms.” One of the studies they looked at concluded that “alternative methods could produce enough food on a global basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base.” Go to David Suzuki.org to read the full article.

Here in northwestern Ontario eating locally is a challenge. Recently my daughter Kate and I had the opportunity to go out looking for Morel mushrooms with an experienced wild mushroom hunter. I’ve always been quite nervous about picking wild mushrooms, as the price one pays for eating the wrong kind can be rather steep! Sara, our guide, grew up in northwestern Ontario in a mushroom-picking family and studied fish and wildlife in college. She not only knew some great mushroom-picking sites, and was willing to share them, she also could identify all of the other plants that we came across during our foraging in the bush.  What Kate and I soon realized was that hunting for wild mushrooms is much harder work than picking wild blueberries, the only other kind of produce that we are used to harvesting from the wild.  Luckily for us, Sara is a true “mushroom whisperer” and was able to find them in places that Kate and I thought we had checked already. A few things that we learned from Sara are that in spring there are morels, and also wrinkled thimble caps, which are good to eat – although apparently if you overindulge in wrinkled thimble caps you might feel unwell (Sara assured us that her family has always eaten them without any side effects). There are also “false morels” which don’t look much like morels at all, that you definitely do not want to eat.

After 2 hours of hunting, we had filled the bottom of our bags with enough mushrooms to satisfy us, although there weren’t enough to feed a hungry family of four.  We followed Sara’s cooking instructions, and rolled the mushrooms in flour before frying them in butter. Delicious!

Here are some pictures of our adventure:

Sara points out an easy-to-miss Morel Mushroom

Wrinkled Thimblecap, which has a longer stalk and a top that is more loosely attached than the Morels
Our mushroom haul
Flouring the mushrooms before frying them in butter

If you are looking for a Meatless Monday recipe, you might want to try crepes with mushroom sauce, which is what we used the leftover morels in the next day:

This is the recipe adapted from the More-With-Less Cookbook our family uses for crepes, although there are lots of other similar ones available on-line:

Grandmother’s Russian Pancakes (Pflinzen)

Whirl in blender or mix with whisk:

2 eggs, beaten

2 cups flour

2 1/2 – 3 cups milk

1/2 tsp salt

Melt and keep hot: 1/3 fat or oil

Heat 10″ skillet until medium hot. Add approx. 1 tsp oil to skillet and spread with silicone brush so that surface is covered. Pour in about 1/4 cup batter, tilting skillet with your hand to allow batter to run over entire surface. Turn in a minute or two when the underside is browned.  Remove to serving plate and keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter, adding small amount of oil each time.

For a white sauce recipe, to which you can add mushrooms and cheese, click here.

More links:

The Great Morel

How Find Ontario Wild Mushrooms

0 thoughts on “The Joys of Mushroom Hunting

  1. Interesting article, but very limited in information. What part of Northwestern Ontario are you picking in? Eating naturally (or on a 100 mile diet) in any part of Canada is only really difficult in the winter when “fresh” anything is almost entirely out of the question (fish, small game & snow are your pickin’s!)! There are numerous people in the smaller communities in NW Ontario who are filled with information regarding living off the land and maintaining an equal order with nature and harvesting.

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