What is your favorite way to fix mushrooms? I was brought up loving fried mushrooms -- soaked in salt water, dipped in equal parts of milk and egg, tossed in flour with a little salt (dropped into "good 'ole grease, heated to about 375-degrees), fried until just right and drained on newspaper.
So, what changes would I consider now?
Well, maybe olive oil and whole-wheat flour or cracker crumbs. Maybe paper towels.
Not many other changes, though.
Of course, there are many delectable mushrooms recipes, and tantalizing sites online with great ideas. Spices and herbs that are good on mushrooms otherwise traditionally prepared would include (for 8-ounces of mushrooms) about one-half teaspoon oregano, basil or chili powder, one-fourth teaspoon of thyme, dill, Italian seasoning or curry powder, or a good pinch of garlic or onion powder. Personally, however, I still want to savor that old-time flavor.
On a similar note, this week, while answering client questions on mushrooms, I thoroughly enjoyed the input of many online fans of the wild edible fungus among us, and will share some of the harvest of experience on preserving them with you. Just in case you should have "too many."
Here are bloggers suggestions on a few basic methods to consider -- all beginning with fresh, clean mushrooms:
* Brush with a clean cloth or brush to remove debris, place a little apart on a cookie sheet and open-freeze as quickly as possible. Place frozen mushrooms in protective packaging. For best quality, use in three months,
* Blanch by adding mushrooms to boiling salted water, boil three minutes, rise with cold water. Drain thoroughly. Seal in plastic bags. Freeze. Will keep about one year,
* Rinse, dry with a dusting of flour, and freeze quickly on cookie sheets as above,
* Clean and soak, cut them in half, then dip them into beaten eggs, dip in flour and fry for two minutes on each side, remove and let cool. Finish frying when you take them out of the freezer bag for a fresh taste, and
* Tip from a research minded shroomer -- for a firmer frozen mushroom, don't soak in salt water. Just rinse.
Drying (probably maintains flavor best)
* String dry. Brush clean. Using a large needle and heavy thread through the stems, string the mushrooms like popcorn for the Christmas tree, stretching the thread so mushrooms don't touch. Hang and let dry, by the stove, refrigerator, in the pantry. Rehydrate to near original size by soaking in water or chicken broth, pat dry and fry as usual,
* Dry on a clean window screen, or hardware cloth, stretched between two 2-by-4s,
* Use a commercial dehydrator for about 12 hours (not one with a light bulb), or string and suspend from oven racks. Heat to 160-degrees for eight hours or until dried,
* Brown paper bag drying. Shrooms shrink some but not as much as in dehydrating. Put them in a closed paper bag in the fridge and forget about them -- "may last forever." For quantities, put several brown lunch paper bags between layers until dry. Then dump them into one big bag (keeps shape better).
One cautionary note: Do not preserve mushrooms by canning. Canning morels can be lethal. Morels, like many other mushrooms, have toxic hydrozines in them, which are normally released into the air during cooking. When canning, these toxins have nowhere to evaporate to so they go back into the mushrooms, which can result in deadly botulism. There is no safe pressure or poundage that is known to pressure can these mushrooms (National Center for Home Food preservation at www.uga.edu/nchfp).
Hope you enjoyed those experiences of other mushroom lovers as they freeze and dry mushrooms for home use, and welcome your ideas too. Of course, sharing Hoosier woodland lore comes with the usual disclaimer. And be sure you identify the mushrooms which are really safe to eat.
Nutrient value? For something that good, perhaps it doesn't matter. But just so you know -- if you have selected morels or other non-poisonous varieties, mushrooms are good for you. Who'd have thought that a serving of wild mushrooms (five ounces) gives you 50 percent of the daily value of selenium, 40 percent of riboflavin and similar percentages of the B vitamins, as well as moderate amounts of magnesium, calcium and iron? In recent years, medical research on mushroom extracts have shown many benefits -- including anti-tumor, antioxidant, antiviral as well as positive relationships to cholesterol and blood glucose.
As for the Hoosier favorite -- the "Mighty Morel," -- a cupful contains 136 IUs of Vitamin D, 270 mg of potassium, 128 mg of phosphorus, in addition to the previous list. That cupful of mushrooms also contains about six grams of dietary fiber (twice as much as a slice of whole-grain bread), and surprise to me -- protein.
The interesting thing about protein in mushrooms is that one does not expect to find all of the essential amino acids (all the types of protein building blocks your body needs for growth and maintenance of cells) in a plant. This makes mushrooms a good protein source which can be substituted for animal protein. The average protein content in mushrooms varies from 15-40 percent of dry weight. However, since our Indiana mushrooms are only around for a brief period, and as much as a pound per person per year would be a high average, we will probably just continue to celebrate them for the joy of the chase, the delectable flavor and the array of special woodsy memories of spring.
Note: If you are into growing your own morels, you can find detailed instructions for several methods at mushroom-appreciation.com. Not a quick or guaranteed process, to be sure, but fun for the woodlander within.
Resources: "The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth," By Dr. Jonny Bowden; livestrong.com;cooks.com; thegreatmorel.com, and their bloggers; and www.uga.edu/nchfp.
Contact the Owen County Extension Office for more information at 812-829-5020 or the Clay County Extension Office at 448-9041. There is an Extension Homemaker club near you.