The Mushrooms of Autumn: Blewits

Much as I love Blewits, one of the greatest wild mushrooms of any season, I’ve never gotten around to doing more than throwing in a mention when talking about fall bulb planting. This omission is now remedied. Our resident wild mushroom expert explains all in


by Bill Bakaitis

In the Northeast autumn leaves start to fall shortly after the equinox. This colorful event takes over a month and a half to complete, during which time the fungi of the forest floor will become increasingly difficult to see. If you are after fall mushrooms you will want to get out now, before they are completely hidden by this new leaf fall.

Early autumn on the mushroom trail

Early autumn on the mushroom trail

In a good year, like this one, autumn will begin with a tropical storm. The organic matter from the previous fall which has lain crisp and dry under the summer’s heat will revive becoming soft, moist and fragrant. In the days after the storm the air will hang hush and humid, languid with the last hot breath of summer.

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the recipe for Wild Mushroom and Caramelized Onion “Focaccia”

Cut in quarters and slice to serve

Cut in quarters and slice to serve

Here as promised in Bill’s how to find wild porcini post, is the recipe for Wild Mushroom and Caramelized Onion “Focaccia. ” The quotes are because I’m pretty sure real-deal focaccia is always plain bread with topping and this has many chunks of wild mushroom mixed into the dough. It can also have sundried tomatoes and olives, if you don’t like – or don’t have – mushrooms. Instructions for both after the jump.

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The Mushrooms of Autumn (Porcini)

I take it back. Can’t talk too much about mushrooms when there are so many delicious all-stars popping up all over, so here’s our resident wild mushroom guru, Bill Bakaitis, on what may be the holy grail. I used the haul from Lois’ lawn to make a wild mushrom and caramelized onion focaccia, and the recipe for that will be coming soon. But first you’ve got to catch your porcini!


by Bill Bakaitis

Boletus edulis, the Porcino, cèpe de Bordeaux or Steinpilz

Boletus edulis, the Porcino, cèpe de Bordeaux or Steinpilz

PORCINI, THE WHAT: These mushrooms are best thought of as a “species complex”, a group of rather similar Boletes that have a bun-shaped cap, a stem which tends to be stout and swollen in shape and which bears a white chicken wire like reticulation at its apex. The colors of the cap run from off white through the tans and browns to reddish. The taste is usually described as ‘nutty”. Read More…

Collecting Wild Mushrooms Part 2 , Chanterelles

As the recipes – more to come! –  suggest, my job is to have a great time collecting, followed by having a great time cooking and preserving. HIS job is to know where and how to look, so here’s another guest post from mushroom expert Bill Bakaitis.

Finding  Chanterelles

by Bill Bakaitis

Mention ‘summer mushrooms’ around here and someone is sure to say “Oh yes, Chanterelles! They are the only mushroom I collect.”

And for good reason. They are delicious, they resist insect damage, clean up easily, are distinctive and easy to identify, and are found in beautiful locations. Oh, did I mention that they are delicious?

Chantarelles, cantharellus cibarius, in collecting basket Read More…

Chanterelles, and Dianna's chanterelle vodka recipe

After 2 months of solid drought followed by 2 weeks of solid rain, we finally have actual August in the produce department: potatoes, beets and basil, tomatoes, summer squash and beans…Plus way more lettuce than we can eat which must be harvested before it bolts but where to put it is a problem because the refrigerator is full of mushrooms.

I try to be disciplined and process everything we’ve picked before going out for more, but I don’t do any better with that than with taking out a plant for every new plant I acquire.

There are still some boletes left from last week, for instance, because I got sidetracked dealing with the chanterelles.

cantharellus cibarius on left, atop a pile of Cantharellus ignicolor

Bakaitis photo

The big one is the classic chanterelle of commerce, Cantharellus cibarius. The little guys (no common names)  are a mixture of C. ignicolor  – the all-yellow ones –  and fragrant, tasty C. tubaeformis, which is unusually abundant this year.  *

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The Great Porcini Taste-off

Actually, I just said that to get your attention. What we really had was a Bolete taste-off, comparing a few of the Northeast’s many edible boletes ( all from recent hauls) to the gold standard, Boletus edulis, aka porcino, cep, steinpilz and King bolete.

We know edulis is good. We crow with delight whenever we find them. But we have eaten others that came close, and now that the rains are bringing us so many others… well, how could I resist?

Leccinum chromapes ( yellow foot mushroom) in the woods

Bill took this photo of one of the contenders, Tylopilus chromapes, the day we did the test.

It wasn’t a completely fair fight, because the mushrooms weren’t all at the same stage of development. Read More…

Collecting Wild Mushrooms, part 1 (Morels)

This guest post is  by Bill Bakaitis, founder of the Mid-Hudson Mycological Association, consultant to the New York and New England Poison Control networks, wild mushroom guru for the Culinary Institute of America (and, full disclosure, my husband). Although collecting is over for this year, morel hunting is not. A big part of success next spring is learning to find their haunts now, as Bill describes in:

A Successful Strategy for Finding Morels

by Bill Bakaitis

As seasons go, 2008 was a pretty good one for Morels. I investigated only a small fraction of the potential collecting sites near my home and was able to pick a peck or so at each visit.

collecting basket, morels

A Peck of Morchella esculenta

Others had the same success. The best collector I know, Dennis Aita, wowed Coma members in May with his large flat of pristine fist to corncob sized esculenta collected only hours before the evening’s lecture.

As it happened, several digital images of collections circulated in emails and I soon received calls and questions from curious mushroomers. “Just how do you manage to find all of those Morels?” they wanted to know. “I have looked and looked and still come back empty handed.” Read More…

Wild (about wild) Strawberries

Over the years, we’ve grown at least a dozen kinds of strawberries, mostly standard garden varieties (Fragaria x ananassa) like Sparkle and Tristar, and so-called “wild” strawberries, aka fraises de bois and alpine strawberries (F. vesca),  like these Mignonettes being used as an edging in the lower garden.

mignonette strawberry edging

Cultivated strawberries are easy to grow, almost always tasty and sometimes very tasty. But none of them – yet; I keep trying – are as good as genuinely wild strawberries (F. virginiana), the intensely flavorful, amazingly aromatic gift that grows freely in woodland edges all over the northeast and beyond.

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Dandelions = Delicious

Here we go again; it never fails. On the news just yesterday morning – “asparagus is the first vegetable of spring.”

NO! dammit. Dandelions are the first vegetable of spring, or rather they are the first green vegetable. Parsnips that have overwintered (” spring dugs”) are even earlier, but by spring one has had enough roots for a while no matter how sweet they may be.

What dandelions are: delicious. Tender and fresh-tasting, with a pleasantly bitter endive edge and an earthy greenness that has no analogy. They’re low in calories, high in vitamin A , lutein and beta-carotene – look out carrots, you’ve got competition – and absolutely free.

What dandelions are not: instant. On account of the picking and cleaning. But picking is pleasant, a good chance to get outside, and a great activity to share with kids; anybody over about 3 knows what a dandelion looks like. And cleaning goes fairly quickly if you use the greens washing trick that works for anything wrinkled and sandy.
Cooking takes about 5 minutes, so once you’ve got cleaned greens you’ve got fast food.


Greens must be gathered before the flower bud starts pushing up or they will be tough and unpleasantly bitter. Greens from shady places (left) are usually wider, flatter, and milder than greens grown in full sun (right)

Mediterranean Dandelions with olive oil, garlic and lemon.

Fine hot or cold as a vegetable dish, easily expanded into Dandelions with Pasta and Prosciutto, a one-dish supper for spring. Measurements are given mostly for the form of the thing. Please for the love of heaven don’t bother to follow them to the letter.

For 4 servings:

a basketball-sized heap of cleaned dandelion greens, well drained but not dried:

¼ cup olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons lemon juice; about half a lemon if it’s a decent lemon

salt to taste

Heat the oil in a wide sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sizzle until pale gold. Add greens, standing back to avoid the spatter when water hits the hot oil. Stir, cover, turn heat to medium low. Cook about a minute, stir again, recover and cook 2 or 3 minutes more. As soon as they’re all wilted, they’re done.

Dandelions with Pasta and Prosciutto


For 4 servings:

6 ounces thick pasta ( about 2 ½ cups dry)

1/3 cup olive oil

4 or 5 large cloves garlic

about 2/3 cup prosciutto, cut into small dice. *

¼ cup currants

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 batch cleaned dandelions ( see above)

lemon wedges

Hard grating cheese to accompany **

Get the pasta cooking. When it’s about half done, heat the oil in a wide skillet, sizzle the garlic and prosciutto dice until both start to brown on the edges. Stir in the currants, cover and turn off the heat.

When the pasta is barely cooked, stir the dandelions into the pasta pot. They will wilt instantly. Drain at once and return to the pot. Stir in the prosciutto mixture , taste, add salt if necessary and serve garnished with lemon wedges. Pass the cheese and a grater at the table.

* We use “prosciutto ends,” the bit at the tip that’s too small to slice neatly, chunks our local market obligingly sells at a bargain price. Failing that, start with a single thick slab roughly 1/3 inch thick or substitute some other strong-flavored ham. It won’t taste the same, but it won’t taste bad. Or switch gears completely and use toasted pine nuts instead of the meat.

** last time I made this we used Magic Mountain, a sheep cheese from Woodcock Farm, in Vermont. Parmesan is fine, but why not experiment with alternatives made closer to home? The American Cheese Society has accomplished members in almost every state.


Now that it’s over it’s safe to say that this was not the best of morel years in the mid Hudson Valley. Early fruitings were   poor,   late ones abundant but caught by the rain. Dedicated (i.e. constant) hunters did ok, but we were able to go out only 8 or 10 times and thus ended up with only a few meal’s worth and   nothing to put by. Over and over we either found nothing or   found the ultimate frustration: carpets of riches too old and rain-ruined to be worth gathering. Fortunately,   Bill the determined never quits and on his final trip of the season came home with about 7   pounds of gigantic blondes.

Which we have of course been eating and eating in all of the usual ways, and some less usual ones too, including as a rich saucelike mélange of morels and corn. The combo   is an affront to freshness –   corn and morels are at opposite ends of abundance season – and I can’t vouch for how this would taste with supermarket corn, but frozen home-grown Silver Queen from last fall was great.

We used it to blanket pork chops and still had quite a bit left over, so the next night when it was Bill’s turn to cook he used it as stuffing for an enormous honker morel almost 8 inches long. ( He halved the thing,   egg-and-crumbed the pieces, shallow-fried   them crisp and then applied the reheated sauce mixture at the very last minute).


For 4 generous portions:

Slowly cook a diced medium onion in 2 tablespoons of butter until it is semi-caramelized, starting to get deep brown around the edges. Add about 4 loosely-packed cups of coarsely chopped mature morels (3 cups would probably be enough if they were young and less copiously juicy).   Let stew uncovered, stirring from time to time, until the morels are fully cooked and liquid is reduced to a few tablespoons. Add a slug of Madeira , simmer for a minute or two, then add 1 ½ cups of very tender cooked corn and about 1/3 cup of heavy, not-ultrapasteurized cream. As soon as these items are hot, it’s done. Taste, add salt if needed and serve.

One of Bill’s finds, with the proper cooking fat.