WILD MUSHROOMS and the CIA

Bill Bakaitis and John J. Stein

 

(First published in Mushroom: The Journal of Wild Mushrooming Fall 2003)

 

Not far from the grave of Pierre Tielhard de Chardin is a large Oak.  Under it, nearly every September a significant fruiting of Grifola frondosa appears.  Nearby, in small groves of evergreens and mixed hardwoods several species of choice Boletes can be found. In leaf litter Blewits and Stropharia abound. The rains of October will push up a crop of Shaggy Manes in adjacent grassy areas and induce Oysters to sprout from the trunks of several Maples. And come spring, on the railroad grade just below the grave, large fruitings of Morels are often seen rising from the ash of iron horses long since gone.

 

And every year a new crop of students pass by this grave and these mushrooms on their way to their classes at The Culinary Institute of America. They are hungry for the chance to explore new tastes and textures, to sink their teeth into new recipes, and to savor the thrill of capturing the comestible champignons sauvages.  Drawn to the dream of becoming a champion chef they are ready to plunge headlong into the challenge of collecting and cooking foods that their mothers never knew nor noshed upon.

 

Of course, adding to this excitement are the equally large fruitings of non-commestible and champignons dangerous that occur under these same trees, across the lawns, and next to the walkways these students take on their way to their classes and dorms. And for some lie the almost unmentionable thrill and promise of finding that fungal equivalent to the blowfish, delicately prepared so as to deliver us, lips atingle, to the doorstep of the noosphere, that divine omega point of consciousness for which Tielhard, lying cold in his grave, gave communion!

 

The Culinary Institute of America

Tielhard’s grave overlooks the Hudson River, just downstream from the Catskills, on the grounds of what was once the Jesuit Novitiate St. Andrew-on-Hudson and is now the campus of The CIA.

 

The Culinary Institute of America is the oldest culinary college in the United States, and the only residential college in the world dedicated exclusively to culinary and baking and pastry arts education. The CIA was founded with 50 students in 1946 by Frances Roth and Katharine Angell as the New Haven Restaurant Institute.  In 1947, the college relocated to a 40-room estate near Yale University and changed its name to the Restaurant Institute of Connecticut.  The name was changed to The Culinary Institute of America in 1951 to reflect the college’s national student population.  In 1972 with a student body of 1,000 the college relocated to its present home, the former St. Andrew-on-Hudson in Hyde Park, New York, a Jesuit seminary built in 1901.

 

Today, more than 2,100 students representing every state and many foreign countries are enrolled in the college’s bachelors and associate degree programs in culinary arts and baking and pastry arts.  In addition, more than 6,000 professionals each year enroll in continuing education courses and another 1,600 participate in programs for food enthusiasts.  The reader may find this CIA on the web at http://www.ciachef.edu  .


 Mushroom Identification as Community Outreach

In the early 1980’s, in response to a number of mushroom poisonings in the Mid-Hudson area, one of us (B.B.) was granted a sabbatical from Dutchess County Community College in part to try to address this need.  The formation of a local Mycological Association and the presentation of Mushroom Identification classes at area institutions were seen as two prongs of an attempt to reach as many current and potential mushroom collectors as possible.

 

Naturally the Culinary Institute was included in that first round of courses, and from the beginning a certain electricity was evident.  A half dozen chefs and thirty or so students eagerly attended the classroom lecture, and about half of those showed up for the first Saturday Morning Foray.  It was a good year and collections were bountiful. Nearly everyone left with mushrooms they wished to “study”. All, we thought, were well versed in the basic rules of Mycophagy (* see sidebar): ( Always be 100% certain of your mushroom ID. Check it out in several field guides; Eat only one well cooked species at a time; Without alcohol; etc.)

 

You can imagine our surprise and chagrin when we began to receive calls at home from slightly to moderately inebriated partygoers who were eagerly cooking-up everything they had brought back to their dorms wondering about the names of the mushrooms they were eating!!  We immediately realized that dealing with this supercharged population was going to call for some special attention.

 

From an institutional perspective, the problem was quite clear. The students were going to use wild mushrooms in their culinary careers and needed some exposure to the skills and risks of identification and misidentification, whether they collected themselves or purchased the mushrooms from others.  The inherent risks of a potential misidentification and toxic episode to the reputation of the institution however created a need for some sort of educational buffer.  A solution was to have seasonal short courses sponsored by one or other of the student groups, and when Mr. John J. Stein took the reigns of the Product Knowledge Course, the current model fell into place.

 

 This course is a first term freshmen class introducing students to the ingredients they will use in their future course work in the college’s kitchens and bakeshops.  Identification and use of vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, grains, prepared goods, dairy products and spices in various forms is presented.

 

Students also learn to evaluate products for taste, texture, aroma, appearance, and other quality attributes.  One session is on edible fungi and students identify and taste an array of commercially available species, both cultivated and seasonally available wild.  Special emphasis is placed on the safe procurement of foraged varieties.

 

The Mycology Short Courses:

At the CIA, these seasonal short courses are given both spring and fall as an extension of  Product Knowledge. The Mid-Hudson area of New York State is blessed with a quite rich and varied habitat structure, and our collecting sites reliably produce abundant spring and summer/fall flushes of choice wild mushrooms, Morels, Oysters, Boletes, Puffballs, Honeys, Blewits, Hens, as well as many of their toxic look-alikes. 

 

To help the beginning chef come to an appreciation of this diversity, common edibles and their toxic look-alikes are illustrated in a mid-week slide show presentation. This lecture is followed by a weekend foray. Gary Lincoff’s, The Audubon Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, is the recommended field guide for these courses.

 

We try to place these lectures and forays near the beginning of the local collecting cycle. By this time the CIA has usually been able to purchase commercially available specimens, and students, chefs, and the instructors will have been able to make field collections.  Fresh material is therefore almost always available to augment the slides, and often will have been used by the students in their courses and served to patrons of the Culinary’s world class restaurants.   (The American Bounty , The Escoffier Room,  The Catherine de’ Medici  restaurant , St. Andrew’s Café  and the Apple Pie Bakery café.) Following the course students will have time to collect on their own and have their collections examined.

 

During the lecture, a comparison between commercially available mushrooms and local wild specimens is often quite instructive, not only as to the variability of morphology, but also to that of texture, aroma and flavor. Slides have been selected so as to emphasize basic morphology and habitat of local collections with a strong emphasis on differentiating the edibles from some of the more common or dangerous look-alikes.

 

The availability of fresh specimens to reinforce these distinctions cannot be overstated. Having several varieties of Lepiota and Amanita present on the preparation table brings home the difficulty of correct identification and danger of mis-identification in a very graphic way. So too, the side by side comparison of  Lepista and  Hebeloma, or Boletus edulis and Tylopolis  felleus .  Equally enlightening is the side by side comparison of the same species brought to fruiting on two different substrates: Flammulina velutipes in the wild, for example, looks nothing like the commercial enoki the students will have used in their kitchens!

 

Nothing however brings home the dangers of misidentification like a good story! Our experience of working with local schools, mycological associations, and the poison control network has provided a wealth of anecdotes that are both sobering and arresting. These are used to good effect in the course.

 

Tales of Woe:

Consider, for example, the busy bed and breakfasty country establishment that cooked up a huge dish of “chanterelles” brought home by a regular. He was able to convince the proprietor/chef that his fragrant collection of Clitocybe illudens was edible, an error that sickened nearly everyone who ate at the family-style table that night.  A similar case of mistaken identity between these two species include that of the jack o’ lantern left for “interest” or possible identification at a local market, being subsequently transferred to a nearby restaurant where it was then incorporated into the menu. Another involves the case of a local proprietor/chef who happened to walk into a Mushroom Identification course we were conducting at a local college with a bushel of illudens, displaying them with pride as ingredients that his restaurant was, at that moment,  preparing for the “special of the weekend”!

 

Or consider the case of an “experienced” mushroom collector who used her NAMA identification card as a credential to sell Gomphus to one of the most highly touted restaurants in the area. The Culinary graduates who owned the restaurant bought them, apparently without question, as chanterelles. There were no reports of illness that came from that episode, perhaps because no one sensitive to them ate there that week. This case came to light only after the collector sought advice about the curious “ka-ka”, as she called it, that adorned the inside funnel of the “chanterelles”.

 

 Then there is the case of the Culinary-graduate owner/chefs of another restaurant that were given a special gift of some “lobster” mushrooms purchased from one of the better known New York City purveyors.  They alone became sickened with severe intestinal symptoms after eating this mushroom for their private afternoon meal. They later described the mushroom as being “soft and pliable”, quite unlike the usual crisp texture of H. lactifluroum.  A good guess is that it was probably “gone by”.

 

We could go on: the mistaken identification of  Amanita virosa for Lepiota naucina by an experienced collector, a registered nurse and wife of  a doctor who was very familiar with mushroom toxins;  another of the  “experienced collector” who convinced his wife that their Gymnopilus  collection were Honeys (since they came from the same tree), then accused her of  “attempted murder” while hospitalized for a panic attack in the middle of  a “bad trip” (not a laughing matter);  or the example of the popular regulars in a mycological association who mistook Galerina for Armillaria; or the son of an important wine grower near the CIA’s California campus who ate Amanita.

 

Cases of mistaken identity abound and serve as a caveat to those who would commit the reputation of their restaurant or careers, their financial circumstance, or their health itself to the addition of a small lump of fungal matter to the menu.

 

One part of these courses then is to underline the serious consequences of mistaken identification.  But another is to describe the skills and pleasures of good collecting habits with safe and sound preparation, and appropriate presentation. And so, interspersed with the slides and discussion of the common edibles are suggestions for their use, species by species.

 

Adventures in Good Cooking:

Some wild mushrooms stand up to heat and handling much better than others. Armillaria, for example must be thoroughly cooked to destroy the thermo-labile toxins, and are often used in tomato sauces; the edges of young Polyporous squamosus, normally reminiscent of watermelon rind, stand up well to a stew based on a heavy wine such as Burgundy. The sulfur shelf, Laetiporous sulphureus, when young can be delicately sautéed as a “mock chicken” in a vegan dish, but with age cries out for a longer, slower, moister preparation.

 

With some mushrooms a delicate preparation is suggested or necessary. Hericium erinaceus, “Satyr’s Beard”, makes a stunning presentation but not if the tender spines are damaged. Some Lacterii, such as hygrophoroides, can crumble almost as easily as Russula. Preparing Tremella has been compared to making a dry martini; more than a touch of vermouth destroys the drink, and more than a touch of heat destroys the mushroom.

 

The proprieties of some wild mushrooms to transform in the skillet are almost beyond belief.  The “Lobster Mushroom”,   Hypomeces lactifluorum, when sautéed in butter and scrambled into eggs infuses the entire dish with an almost psychedelic array of fluorescent yellow, golden, red and lavender hues. It is as visually stunning as it is flavorful, a menu item guaranteed to draw in the Sunday brunch crowd week after week, during August and September!  And during October and November, the dark liquor of  Coprinus  and squid over a dark pasta is equally arresting and haunting.

 

Students are always interested in our favorite recipe suggestions.  One of Professor Stein’s favorites is to carefully shred Hen of the Woods, G. frondosa, into toothpick sized strings, then lightly sauté with a touch of hazelnut oil before tossing with a light pasta.  Bill Bakaitis suggests incorporating a bit of Pernod into the preparation of either Oysters or Blewits. Garlic and butter, of course, is the time tested way to begin experimenting with almost any new mushroom, and following Jack Czarnecke, (who follows his dad, who learned from Jack Rosenthal, a past President of the Culinary Institute) a bit of green bell peppers and a few caraway seeds will greatly enhance the already earthy flavor of fresh morels.

 

American Bounty Cream of Mushroom soup with Maderia and Chives from Chef Jonathan Zearfoss

*A wide variety of wild and commercially available mushrooms may be substituted for those specified in this recipe. Experiment and enjoy!

 

 Yield ½ gallon, 10 to 15 portions

 Ingredients                                                                            Amount                                  

Unsalted butter                                                                       1 oz.               

Onions, thinly sliced                                                                6 oz.

Leeks, white part only, thinly sliced                                         1 ea.

Shallots, thinly sliced                                                               ¼ C

White button mushrooms, thinly sliced                                    ½ #

Crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced                                            ½#

Shiitake, thinly sliced                                                              ½#

Mushroom stock, see recipe                                                   ¾ qt.

Maderia wine                                                                          ¼ C

Heavy cream, ½ quart reduced to                                           ¼ qt.

Chives, minced                                                                      1 bu

Butter                                                                                    1 oz.

Shiitakes, stemmed, sliced 1/8 inch                                        ½#

Morels, dried, rehydrated, from stock                                     all

Truffle oil                                                                          

Salt and pepper

 

Method for Cream of Mushroom Soup

 

1.     Sweat the onions, leeks and shallots in an ounce of butter until totally tender.

2.     Add the mushrooms and continue to sweat until the mushrooms are tender.

3.     Add the stock and Maderia and simmer for 30 minutes.

4.     Bring back to a simmer, season and puree, carefully, in a large blender until totally smooth.  Add the reduced cream.  Keep warm for service or chill properly for later use.

5.     Sauté the shiitakes in a very hot pan with another ounce of butter.  Cook the shiitakes in small batches until caramelized and tender (they need to have some color) Season and warm for service.

6.     Place a small amount of the warm shiitakes and two dried morels in the bottom of a hot soup cup.  Ladle the soup into cup. Sprinkle with chives and two droplets of truffle oil.

 

Mushroom Stock

Mushroom scraps and stems                  11/2#

Morels, dried                                           1 oz.

Water                                                      1 qt.

Maderia                                                    1/8 C

 

Method       

Sweat mushroom stems and dried morels in a small amount of water.   Add remaining water and simmer for one hour until well flavored.  Add Maderia and reduce.  Cool.

 

 

 The Foray:

On the weekend following the lecture students, chefs, family and friends gather at one of our collecting sites for an early morning foray:  Over the years we have been able to use the same sites without difficulty.  The students appear to be quite honorable about not coming to these sites prior to the foray.  During the morning’s hunt we point out habitat structure and advise about possible venues where they might find their own undisturbed collections.  This has been quite important as only one or two “early bird” trespassers could denude the area and ruin it for the group that follows

 

The walk is organized so as to go by areas where specific fruitings are almost certainly to be found. The areas will have been scouted prior to the walk, but patches of the Morchella elata complex in the spring and oaks bearing G. frondosa in the fall have been quite reliable over the past two decades.  We also schedule time to explore areas where a variety of other mushrooms are likely to appear on a more variable schedule.  Almost always in the fall an attempt will be made to dig for a hypogeoal fungus. Elaphomyces granulatus although not edible, does provide the experience of following animal clues and selectively exploring the interface of duff and mineralized soil.

 

Most of these students will not have had the opportunity to have previously collected   wild mushrooms.  During the foray we therefore help them to differentiate collection techniques best used for identification purposes from those used to collect for the table.  Experienced collectors will know that the former case involves selecting a relatively few fully intact typical specimens, including the young, mature and aged.  Collecting for the table however usually involves making careful judgments of identification while in the field, followed by an equally judicious field dressing of those chosen for the table, all the while keeping the collections carefully separated and scrupulously free from contamination.

 

Invariably many of these young collectors will mix edible, inedible, and poisonous collections, and the entire collection will be riddled with dirt and debris. It is with much regret that they come to find that the choice morels they have gathered are all dusted with railroad ash and cinder and cannot be used in the kitchen. The dramatic revelation of these mistakes usually reinforces the principles introduced during the lecture and reiterated during the walk, often cementing the lesson for the whole group.  The mistakes are almost always accompanied by a good deal of good natured, often ego-less give and take, a very different atmosphere than that existing in some groups of cranky retired professionals!

 

There will always be more than one instructor examining the finds both during the walk and during the debriefing meeting at the conclusion of the foray. Participants who wish to bring home a collection for their private use are asked to have one of the instructors check it over before leaving. In addition, Professor Stein will have the opportunity to reinforce the lessons of the day in the weeks following the foray.    As an added check, a list of recommended field guides, area Mycological societies, and telephone numbers of the Poison Control Network are provided. 

CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA 9/26 & 9/28/02

EDIBLE MUSHROOOMS AND THEIR LOOK-ALIKES

 

1. LOOK GAYLORD                                      41.LEPISTA NUDA

2. TEST                                                       42.HEBELOMA CRUSTILINIFORMES

3. HAVE A BITE                                           43.CANTHARELLUS CIBARIUS

4. AMANITA BUTTON                                  44.CANTHARELLUS CINNABARINA

5. AMANITA BUTTON SLICED                      45.HYGROPHOROPSIS ARANTIACA

6. A. CAESARIA                                           46.GOMPHUS FLOCCOSUS

7. A. RUBESCENS                                        47.CRATERELLUS FALLAX

8. A. MUSCARIA                                         48.HYPOMYCES LACTIFLUORM

9. A. MUSCARIA                                         49.A. RUBESCENS W/ H. HYALINUS

10.A. VIROSA                                             50.PLUROTUS OSTREATUS COMPLEX

11.LEPIOTA NAUCINA                                51.       “                      “

12.COLLECTOR W/ HONEYS                       52.       “                      “

13.ARMILLARIA MELLEA BASKET                53.       “                      “

14.A. MELLEA                                            54.CREPIDOTUS APPLANATUS

15.A. MELLEA, YELLOW/BROWN FORMS     55.DENTINUM REPANDUM

16.CLITOCYBE ILLUDENS                           56.STECCHERINUM SEPTENTRIONALE

17.C. ILLUDENS AT NIGHT                          57.HERECIUM ERINACEUS

18.GYMNOPILUS SPECTABILUS                   58.RAMARIA AUREA

19.FLAMMULINA VELUTIPES                       59.RAMARIOPSIS KUNZII (/LENTIFRAGILLIS)

20.       “                      “                             60.CALVATIA GIGANTEA

21.PHOLIOTA VERIS                                   61.SCLERODERMA CITRINUM

22.GALERINA AUTUMNALIS                        62.”MORELS”

23.LACTARIUS HYGROPHORIDES                63.MORCHELLA ESCULENTA

24        “                      “ (WHITE MILK)        64.       “                    “

25.L. VINACEORUFESCENS (-YELLOW)         65.M. SEMILIBERA

26.L DELICIOSUS (SAFFRON-GREEN)           66.M. TULIPFERA (PROVISIONAL NAME)

27.AGARICUS CAMPESTRIS  ?                      67.M. CRASSIPES

28.A. PLACOMYCES  ?                                 68.MOREL BASKET W/ DEADLY LORCHEL

29.COPRINUS COMATUS                             69.M. ESCULENTA + BOLETUS EDULIS

30.C. ATRAMENTARIUS  (ALCOHOL)            70.BOLETUS EDULIS

31.C. COMATUS + C. ATRAMENTARIUS       71.B. EDULIS (COMPLEX) IN YARD

32.CLITOCYBE CLAVIPES (ALCOHOL)           72.B. EDULIS

33.TRICHOLOMOPSIS PLATYPHYLLA            73.B. BICOLOR / B. SENSIBILIS

34.       ‘                                   “                 74.B. SUBVELUTIPES COMPLEX

35.PHOLIOTA SQUARROSA COMPLEX          75.POLYPORUS (GRIFOLA) FRONDOSUS

36.CORTINARIUS ARMILLATUS (1000+sp.)  76.P. (MERIPILUS) GIGANTIUS

37.PLUTEUS CERVINUS                                77.P. SQUAMOSIS

38.       “              “                                      78.P. (LAETIPORUS) SULPHUREUS

39.ENTOLOMA ABORTIVUM                         79.P. SULPHUREUS + P. FRONDOSUS

40.E. ABORTIVUM W/ BASKET                      80.POISON MUSHROOM CHART

 

There is no way that you will be able to identify a wild mushroom from this presentation. If you are going to collect or use wild fungi for the table you will need help. At the very least you should own and know how to use a good field guide. The following are recommended:

Lincoff Gary: THE AUDUBON SOCIETY FIELD GUIDE TO NORTH AMERICAN MUSHROOMS

McKnight&McKnight: PETERSON FIELD GUIDES: MUSHROOMS

Bessette, Bessette, and Fischer: MUSHROOMS OF NORTHEASTERN NORTH AMERICA

The best form of life insurance you can obtain however is to collect with experienced mycologists. Join a local mushroom society. Here are a few local contacts for you to explore – please call them.

            THE NEW YORK MYCOLOGICAL ASSO.: Alice Barner 212-879-1936

            COMA, THE CONN-WESTCHESTER MYCO. ASSO.: Dianna Smith 914-271-5209

            THE MID-HUDSON MYCO. ASSO.: Rae Rhodes 845-691-8749

If you eat a mushroom and get sick call the NY POISON CONTROL CENTER 800-222-1222. They will call me (845-677-3185) or another consultant for an identification of the mushroom, 

Over the years, these mushroom workshop/short courses have been quite successful, giving the students the necessary rudiments of an introduction into collecting and using wild mushrooms.  Several have gone on to join area Mycological Associations in the areas they move to. Others have continued to consult with the instructors later in their careers, both as students and then later as chefs and owners of their own establishments.

None, so far as we have been able to determine, has ever been involved with a mushroom mistake serious enough to have been noticed.  So, Bon appetite! You may dine with relative confidence the next time you eat out at one of their establishments. And if you can, please write and let us know how well they are doing.  We would love the feedback.  


THE RULES OF MYCOPHAGY

 

There are old mushroom eaters, and there are bold mushroom eaters, but there are no old and bold ones!

 

Consider for a moment that there are thousands of species of fungi that fruit in any given area.  Some may appear nowhere else in the world. Some are edible, some toxic, and some are so variable that they are at times edible and at other times toxic. Often there is no good way to differentiate between species without hours or days of long tedious chemical and microscopic work.  Furthermore, the toxicity of mushrooms is unknown until they are actually eaten by fellow mushroom collectors. There are no good animal models.

 

Consider also that the edibility of mushrooms is often contingent upon the particular biology of the mushroom eater. Some mushrooms are edible to some but poison to others. And being like meat in composition, mushrooms are subject to rapid bacterial decay.  While the heat of cooking will destroy some of the toxins, other toxins will survive, especially if the cook attempts a delicate presentation, such as a light sauté or stir-fry!

 

 Consider further that some mushrooms, edible in themselves, contain substances that interact with other foods making them poison! Perhaps the most well known interaction of this type is the way certain mushrooms interact with alcohol.  Alcohol consumed for up to a week or two after the meal cannot be fully metabolized and toxic metabolites accumulate in the body in amounts sufficient to cause extreme discomfort or death.

 

Mushrooms also differ with regard to the speed with which their toxins operate. Some go to work immediately, while others have reactions delayed by hours, days, weeks or months.  In addition carcinogenic compounds which presumably would not show their true effect for years are known to be present in mushrooms, even in the common store-bought variety.

 

You can see then that the eating of wild mushrooms, however tasty and tempting this might be, is not accomplished without risk.  Here then is a set of Rules for the Eating of Mushrooms that the prudent Mycophage might employ.

 

1.     DO NOT EAT ANY MUSHROOM UNLESS YOU ARE 100% CERTAIN OF ITS IDENTITY AS A SAFE SPECIES.  CHECK IT OUT IN RELIABLE TEXTS.

2.     TEST YOUR OWN REACTION TO A MUSHROOM BY EATING ONLY A SMALL PORTION OF A SINGLE SPECIES AT A TIME. REPEATE A FEW DAYS LATER TO TEST FOR DEVELOPED ALLERGIC REACTIONS.

3.     MAKE SURE THE MUSHROOM IS THOROUGHLY COOKED BEFORE YOU EAT IT.

4.     DO NOT CONSUME ANY ALCOHOL WITH THE MEAL OR FOR A FEW DAYS AFTER.

5.     KEEP A FEW UNCOOKED MYSHROOMS IN THE FRIDGE FOR IDENTIFICATION SHOULD A TOXIC REACTION DEVELOP.

 

NY POISON CONTROL CENTER 800-222-1222

BILL BAKAITIS 845- 677-3185