Here is a use for those pre-fried and frozen puffball slices. After thawing and separating them, I baked them on a rack in the oven at 350F while I prepared a tomato sauce and toppings. Then I dressed them and put them back in until they looked done. Served in this case with a side of borscht.
After using my Richard Simmons Steam Heat Pasteurizer a few times I could see some room for improvement. For one steam leaked out around the steam unit and heat was escaping all over. I found another bin at the Salvation Army and put the hole thing inside it and insulated with low expanding spray foam.
Substrate now heats up to 164F in about .5 of an hour with three elements on. Then after .5 hour on one burner, the temp was 180 F. At that point the unit was turned off and left the substrate temp was still over 165 F over a hour later.
Healing Fungi Thrive on Damaged Land
My Mate and I took our dog (“Questor”, named for the question mark on his forehead), for a walk in the woods across the road today. This is actually scrubby bush compared to Temagami and Muskoka, only a couple of decades since it was last clear-cut or grazed, and that is evident in the lack of fungal life there.
The only things we found turned out to be medicinal mushrooms. There are few old birches back there, and I understand they are concidered to be healing trees. Several of the mushrooms that grow on them are highly prized for their healing properties. The foremost among these is chaga (Inonotus obliquus) but we didn’t run into that. I did find the nicest freshest Birch PolyPore ( Piptoporus betulinus ), Tinder Fungus ( Fomes fomentarius ) and Turkey Tail ( Tramates versicolor ). Maybe these fungi are healing the land.
I have T. versicolor growing back at our place. But gathered a few Tinders, and the Birch polypores. A couple of the branches of birch were quite sound and portable, so we brought them back, to keep with our other inoculated logs and perhaps to use to noc up more birch in the spring.
I’m doing research into the history and uses of these fungi, but for now you could check out Ötzi The Ice Man. Apparently 5316 years ago he had two of these mushrooms in his survival kit as he struggled to escape his pursuers and perished in a blizzard:
In addition, among Ötzi’s possessions were berries, two birch bark baskets, and two species of polypore mushrooms with leather strings through them. One of these, the birch fungus, is known to have anthelmintic properties, and was probably used for medicinal purposes. The other was a type of tinder fungus, included with part of what appeared to be a complex firelighting kit. The kit featured pieces of over a dozen different plants, in addition to flint and pyrite for creating sparks.
Thanks to friend and neighbor Silas for giving us these beautiful Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea). Chef Dwayne put the idea of a French Toast style puffball in my head at the Cain Foray and as Silas brought these by in the morning I thought I’d try out a puffball brunch before getting the rest ready for preserving.
Another nice sounding recipe going around is to use the puffy slices for personal pan pizzas. I’m preparing the slices for future use as such, or for burgers, or to cut up and add to stews. Also drying some, it’s all new to me, so we shall see.
Here are some pictures.Thanks to Chef Dwayne for the French Toast idea. Dwayne, if you are out there drop me a line.
I’ll post more once I have tried some more recipes:
The maple syrupy french toasty style was a bit weird but the Personal Puffball Pizzas were great!
My Muskokan Mystery Mushroom
Here is a curious individual which escaped identification on the Cain Foray in Muskoka last weekend. Anyone out there have a theory? The experts said it was too difficult to ID because of a lack of info as it was not mature enough, and as I had not retrieved the base, it was unclear whether it was growing on the wood or debris.
It was found growing horizontally out of the side of a hollow tree gall or burl about the size of a cantaloupe on the side of a sugar maple. The 6″ diameter tree had three such large growths, only one of which had an opening. I was unable to retrieve the base, but the firmness of its attachment suggested it was growing on the wood and not on an accumulation of plant matter, or an insect, inside the hollow. It is interesting to theorize on the mushroom’s relation to the gall.
- Was the fungus the cause of the growth
- Was it parasitizing the insect or bacteria that caused the growth?
- Attacking the tree in a vulnerable location?
- Growing on debris accumulated inside the gall?
There was a drop of blood red exudate near the tip, and lots of yellow exudate around the bottom half of the stem. I don’t recall it having a distinct smell or not.
I found it late on the first the day, hence the dark pictures. The poor condition of the specimen on arrival at the ID table, and these crappy pictures taken with my iPhone and a flashlight, were not much help. My first indication that as a newbie, I had come ill-prepared for the foray.
Late Breaking Update Sept 22: Thanks to Jan Thornhill of Mycological Society of Toronto on the FaceBook Mushroom Identification Forum for solving the mystery and the correct answer above was # 3. See our discussion below:
Jan Thornhill I think it was a baby Lentils levis – it certainly yellowed as it dried on the table.
Mycognostic Thanks Jan. Looks like you got spell checked there. I’m checking out the Lentinus levis looking for “Baby Pictures”
Jan Thornhill Definitely not lentils! I’m on laptop and spellcheck is still on.
Mycognostic Well it definitely was tenacious and it sure meets a lot of Lentinus levis’ characteristics in terms of habit and location, but no mention of secretions.
But if it was basically still in primordial form (as it was still in the low light/high CO2 environment of the burl), it was in its pre-cap stage and sweating exudate which isn’t mentioned when describing the mature mushroom. That’s something I’ve seen in cultivated mushroom of various species.
Scientific name: Lentinus levis (Berk. & M.A. Curtis) MurrillDerivation of name: Lentus means “pliable” and “tenacious” as in chewy. Levis means polished or smooth. Synonyms: Pleurotus levis (Berk. & M.A. Curtis) Singer; Panus strigosus Berk. & M.A. Curtis; Panuslevis Berk. & M.A. Curtis Common na…
Mycognostic Thanks again Jan. I haven’t found any pics of primordial L. levis but that’s not surprising. I have attached a picture of a G. lucidum primordium secreting a fluid that is usually not mentioned in describing the mature fruit body.
Jan Thornhill Guttation/exudiate is hardly ever mentioned, even when it is diagnostic, i.e. for Inonotus glomeratus that bleeds pretty spectacular black tarry drops.
It was very exciting to be the least knowledgeable of 40 or so mushroom lovers on the 39th Annual Cain Foray. Apparently, between us we collected and identified over 250 different fungi. Thank you to the Mycological Society of Toronto for being so welcoming and generous with your knowledge.
It was amazing to watch the many amateur and professional mycologists Identifying the mushrooms as they came in. The special guest was Walter Sturgeon, the author of Mushrooms of the Northeast: A Simple Guide to Common Mushrooms and many articles on mycology. I won a signed copy of his book!
On Saturday night Chefs Dwayne and Garrett and their team cooked up a tasting table with Chicken of the Woods, Chanterelles, Boletes, and Tempura battered Aborted Entoloma (more appetizingly known as the Shrimp of the Woods). Absolutely delicious, thanks guys.
I will return to the Cain Foray next year for sure, and I will have to up my game.
a) I need to bring a proper basket. The knapsack full of LCBO bags doesn’t cut it and marked me as a total nube. Plus many of my more delicate finds (including Destroying Angel, Amanita bisporigera!) were destroyed. Well, I guess it serves her right.
b) I can’t rely on the iPhone to take decent pictures and sometimes information from those pics can be crucial to identifying a specimen. Plus they will be much nicer for the blog. Next time I’ll bring the Canon and some flat panel LED lights.
c) It’s time to brush up on my Latin and start learning the scientific names of fungi other than the ones I cultivate. These cats are dead serious about identification of all fungi. The most daunting thing about the learning curve is that the experts say the Latin names are constantly changing now (partially due to DNA testing I assume). Hopefully I’ll learn the right ones first. I’ve ordered Mushrooms Demystified on Weird and Wonderful Wild Jan Thornhill’s suggestion, I hope the newest edition is up to date.
Below is a gallery of pics from the Foray. I’ll just throw them up for now and hopefully get around to labeling them someday.
Finding wild mushrooms, then cloning and domesticating them is one of the most fun and challenging mycological exercises for me. I have been successful cloning wild Turkey Tail, as well as King Oysters from the store, today I’m trying to tame a wild Chicken of the Woods. This one appears every year about this time. It seems to be higher up the tree each year. This year it was too high to get with the ladder so I brought an arborists’ pole saw.
A fresh part of the growing edge was put into Hydrogen Peroxide. (H2O2) to clean the outside, and then transferred to the prepped glove box. Because I’m cloning to nutrifed agar I must use sterile techniques. Gloves and Tyvek sleeves misted with isopropyl alcohol keep your germs out of the clean space. The blade is flame sterilized (careful with the alcohol around). The mushroom is torn open to prevent the blade transferring contaminants from the surface. A small piece is deftly transferred to the plate. The plate is sealed with ParaFilm or a homemade equivalent. Plates are labeled and incubated. After you are finished clonong, seal the petri dishes. Instead of ParaFilm I make my own sealing tape with short widths cut from a roll of cellophane.
Five days later, after returning from the Cain Foray (where we ate the Chicken, along with many other fungal delights cooked up by Chefs Dwayne and Garrett) to find a pretty good results. All of the plates show growth in all directions (if perhaps a bit thin), and there doesn’t seem to be any contamination.
Stay tuned for more…
I won’t be able to continue this experiment until next year as it will involve growing corn and inoculating it with spores of the Ustilago maydis I was given by my neighbor Justine. For now I’ll put up some pictures of the original infected corn cob and of the process of collecting and storing the spores.
In the mean time I can study this paper: Production of huitlacoche, Ustilago maydis: timing inoculation and controlling pollination to get ready for growing season.
Here are some pics for now. Here is Part 2 of the experiment.
This is the time of year you might find Ustilago maydisa, a biotrophic parasite fungus which takes over corn. Thanks to my friend and neighbor Justine for spotting some for me this year, which I will try to use on next year’s corn crop. More on that in another post.
I’ve learned since writing this that smut actually thrives in dry weather, and it was indeed dry here this year. But the corn farmer at the gas station swore he had not seen a cob all year, so who knows. He also confessed that if he accidentally oversprayed with Atrazine “which sometimes
happens at the ends of rows”, he was sure to get corn smut. I’m just not sure I’d want to eat it. Or his corn for that matter. Well I’ll be growing organic smutty corn myself next year.
Originally published with the title “This Smut Has Some Redeeming Qualities!” in the Toronto Star food section across from a picture of Nigella Lawson:
With this cool damp weather, our modest little vegetable garden is even more humble than it might have been. We tend it just the same though, what little morsels we can, a few beans, tomatoes, some huge cabbages. We are still pretty new to the game so there are always some surprises.
The corn has not been great, but I went looking for ripe ears the other day and discovered the dampness had fostered a real nasty growth on one big cob. Distended gray-blue kernels like ghostly babies’ fingers tangled in the silky hairs. When I touched it, a digit dropped off revealing the blackness within. Scary!
It was a fungus called “corn smut” (Ustilago maydis), probably the bane of many corn farmers in weather like this. After I regained my composure, and while I was trying to gross out the kids with the mutant cob, my lovely wife reminded me that this was probably the very same fungus we had enjoyed in fine restaurants in Mexico. There it is treasured as a delicacy known by its ancient Aztec name “Huitlacoche”(it sounds a bit like “wit la coach, eh”). You can buy it in cans at Mexican specialty shops.
A quick google of the Web confirmed this and gave the additional fact that the Aztec name translates as “raven’s excrement”. Too much information perhaps, but all of a sudden “corn smut” didn’t seem like such a bad name after all and it almost sounds like fun compared to the French “goitre du mais”.
Online recipes suggested sauté-ing with onions, garlic and chilies to fill tortillas or tamales (corn dumplings). These “Mexican truffles” have a rich subtle mushroom-y flavour and this was my first chance to taste them fresh, I thought more than a taco was in order!
I was inspired by the optimism of the rampant squashes that are making the best of a bad situation and escaping from our composter. The result was the tasty appetizer below. It was a bit labour intensive but I felt like I was turning lead into gold.
Oro del Filosofo
(Stuffed Squash Flower Fritters with Huitalcoche and Goat Cheese)
-1/2 red. Onion, chopped fine
-3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
-Several sprigs of fresh oregano
-1 small fresh hot pepper
(If your pepper is not hot enough supplement with whatever you’ve got, I used a dried, smoked pepper, soaked overnight in vinegar and oil, and then chopped)
-Approx. 1.5-2 c. huitlacoche (gently cut from cob and separated gently from silk and corn)
-(2 Tbsp.) of soft goat cheese (or cream cheese or other soft cheese)
-1/2 c. cornstarch
-1 t. baking powder
-1/2 c. flour (non-wheat if desired)
-3 t. milk (non-dairy, if desired)
-Salt, to taste
-4 large fresh squash blossoms stems attached (picked the morning of serving, when open. Store loosely in a large covered bowl in the fridge until needed)
Sufficient oil to float the stuffed blossomss
Chop onions and garlic and sauté until translucent.
Toss in peppers and oregano, as well as coarsely chopped huitlacoche (some other fungus like oyster mushroom would also work).
Let mixture cool.
In morning, pick squash blossoms.
Stir goat cheese in with huitlacoche mixture.
Carefully spoon mixture into squash blossoms.
Fold tips of blossoms over into a pear shaped package.
Scramble egg with milk.
Mix cornstarch, baking powder, salt and flour in shaking bag.
Gently roll stuffed squash blossoms in egg mixture, and then fluff them gently in flour mixture. Set on drying rack (like a cookie rack).
Let sit for 10 minutes, then repeat;
Keep cool until ready to serve, gently turning. Dust with flour again if egg soaks through.
Just before serving make sure oil is good and hot
Deep-fry one at a time until golden-brown, turning regularly.
Dry on rack or paper towel for 5-7 minutes, serve hot.