Autumn Soup Ingredients: chestnuts, wild mushrooms, winter squash
I took this picture to run with the recipe – not yet written – because I was about to roast the squash and chestnuts, making them less photogenic.
But then I realized the picture itself is a massive seasonal alert. So:
Bill’s detailed hen of the woods hunting advice is here.
The post where I roll all over in delight about the squash, after a timely reminder that the window of specialty squashes is both small and right now, is here.
And really a lot about roasting and peeling chestnuts is here.
This is the first Queen of Smyrna I’ve had this year, and I tasted it with considerable apprehension. Last year’s song of praise was so effusive the possibility of embarrassing disappointment seemed larger than the possibility of confirmatory delight. No worries! It was amazing.
Right now, Queen of Smyrna is being grown only on the farm in Northern Maine where it originated. I got it at Fresh off the Farm, in midcoast Rockport. But that just makes it the poster squash for “eat local.” Wherever you live it’s likely there’s something equally rare and fabulous at a farm stand or farmers market near you.
I bought them a couple of weeks ago at the Poughkeepsie, NY farmers market, from a vendor who warmed my heart by clearly being not a professional farmer but just some guy who happened to have a (Chinese, not American) chestnut tree in his yard. Also a couple of apple and pear trees, from the looks of his stand. There was not a lot of anything – a few small boxes of apples and pears, I think maybe three pints of chestnuts.
It was the end of the day, but he couldn’t have started out with a whole lot more.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m profoundly grateful to and admiring of the professional farmers who day in, day out make local food a reality. But I’m also glad this kind of neighborly exchange is not yet dead (and not yet priced out of a place in the marketplace).
The chestnuts themselves, I regret to say, were only so-so compared to those grown by the pros. But being very fresh they were quite wonderfully easy to peel.
The hen of the woods is amply covered in the article linked up top.
The L. thyinos isn’t exactly uncommon but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it offered for sale. Some experts rate them uninteresting or even unpleasant. A mystery, that, except for being another reminder that taste is in the mouth of the taster and that mushrooms can vary a lot depending on where they grow.
We have a few reliable spots and the thyinos we harvest there rate quite highly with us. Although the taste is on the delicate side, sort of mushroomy and sort of floral; the texture is outstanding: delightfully firm, not tough but crisp, and it remains so even after thorough cooking.
Thyinos is hard to miss because when cut it exudes quantities of orange milk. The closely related L. deliciosus group has the same milk but turns green when handled. It too is edible, although “deliciosus” is pushing it.
Not in the picture and not in the soup, but this very Sunday is Great Maine Apple Day and I wanted to give all within driving distance a heads up.