Sunday, October 19, 2014

October Bounty

October brings all sorts of goodies. Apples, pumpkins, glorious foliage, and mushrooms. Lots of mushrooms, in fact. Local foragers have been out in the woods, bringing back treasures like the chicken of the woods mushrooms I purchased today at the Market Square Farmer’s Market. Mossy Creek Mushrooms was the vendor.  I received helpful suggestions on preparing the mushrooms, and an invitation to a mushroom log cultivation workshop offered by Mossy Creek Mushrooms on Sunday, October 26, beginning at 2:00 at Panther Creek State Park near Morristown. Find more information on the Mossy Creek Mushrooms Facebook Page.

Chicken-of-the-woods, Laetiporus sulphureus, typically appears on trees in October. Recent mycological research indicates that this fungus only occurs east of the Rocky Mountains. Several similar-appearing species constitute a group once thought to contain only a single species. The “true” species lives on hardwood trees, often oaks, and the fruiting body appears some distance off the ground. Related species growing on conifers or near the ground should be avoided, despite the superficially similar appearance. In fact, unless you are an experienced mushroom forager, you should rely on the pros to find local edible mushrooms.

Chicken-of-the-woods should not be consumed raw. Clean them of any surface debris, and place in a saucepan. Cover with water, add a big pinch of salt and a dribble of vinegar. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse, and use as you would a cooked chicken breast.

Vegan “Chicken” Noodle Soup

2 ounces chicken-of-the-woods mushroom
1/3 cup EACH chopped onion, celery and carrot
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
3 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons extra-thin egg noodles
salt and freshly ground black pepper
minced fresh parsley

Prepare the mushroom as described. Chop into bite-size pieces. Reserve. Place the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onion, and heat gently, covered, until the onion is softened. Add the celery, carrots, bay leaf, thyme, stock, and the reserved mushrooms. Adjust the heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the noodles, salt as you prefer, and a few grinds of black pepper. Cover the pan and continue to cook until the noodles are done, about 5 more minutes. Serve garnished with minced parsley.

The farmer’s market was also brimming with late summer produce. Plenty of tomatoes, squash and eggplants are still available. Hot peppers are really at peak season now, and cool season greens and brassicas are back. I saw beautiful kohlrabi and cauliflower. Greens, from arugula to tatsoi, seemed to be everywhere. Seeing the bounty at the market today, all from regional farms, reminded me that Knoxville used to be known as the “asparagus patch of the East Tennessee garden spot.” Our soils and climate are ideal for a wide variety of vegetables, and the forested mountains to our east and west support a mind-boggling diversity of edible wild plants, including chicken-of-the-woods.

Speaking of wild plants, now is a good time to go looking for elderberries. The juice makes great jelly and if you have enough you may want to try making wine. Sumac, an important spice in Middle Eastern cooking, as well as in the cuisine of Native Americans, is showing off its bright red, pointed seedheads as if they were flaming torches. Cut the entire head and allow to dry at room temperature. Sumac adds a lemony flavor. Persimmons will be ripening, but you should wait until after a frost to gather them. Wild grapes are ripening, and several cultivated varieties derived from them are available at the farmer’s market.

Now is also a great time to stock up on vegetables that store well without much fuss. Turnips and kohlrabi should go in the crisper or in a root cellar. Sweet potatoes, pumpkins and winter squashes all keep best in warm, dry conditions, such as a dark closet or pantry. Many varieties of apples keep well if cold and dry. Check with the farmer for advice on storing any of the late season produce you see at the farmer’s market.

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