Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Wine Cap and Gingered 
Hash Brown Cakes

This recipe, adapted from Antonio Carluccio's treasure of a recipe book "The Complete Mushroom Book: The Quiet Hunt"  is basically a hash brown cake with sauteed Wine Cap spooned on top. Wine Caps harvested as buttons and quartered make for a crisp yet succulent topping; a vegetable in its own right. Wine Caps keep the dark red color and white solid stems, and the taste and texture are mildly reminiscent, at least in this recipe, of a tender bok choy. If you are in a hurry and don't want to mess with cutting potatoes into sticks, you could even make it with bagged frozen hash brown potatoes. Working with these beautiful mushrooms though, (not to mention new potatoes from your garden) is utterly satisfying in its own right.

Wine Cap and Gingered Hash Brown Cakes
Serves 4

For the mushrooms:

1 1/4 c quartered fresh Wine Cap mushrooms, preferably buttons
4 T olive oil or butter
large clove of garlic, minced
pinch of ground red pepper flakes
3 T chopped chives or green onion
salt and pepper to taste
3 T chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish

For the hash brown cakes:

2 1/4 lb Yukon Gold, red potatoes, or similar variety, cut in thin strips or grated on large hole of a box grater for a more homey presentation
2 oz fresh peeled ginger, cut or grated as above
8 T oil , divided
Fresh lemon or lime to squeeze on cakes to taste


Clean, trim, quarter (or slice if you have more open caps) Winecaps. You can use the stem as long as it is tender and solid. Heat the olive oil or butter in a frying pan and add onion/chives, garlic, and red pepper flakes; saute until just tender. Add mushrooms and saute until mushrooms are cooked through. Season to taste and keep warm until potatoes are cooked.

For the cakes, pat sliced or grated potatoes and ginger with a towel and lightly salt. Divide in two portions. Heat half the oil in the fry pan and mound the mixture in the center and flatten to a pancake. Cook on a medium to medium low flame for about 10 minutes, flip onto a dinner plate, add the remaining oil and slide the uncooked side of the cake onto the hot pan, cooking another 10 minutes or until golden. Do the same with both potato portions. Lift the cakes with a spatula onto a serving platter and spoon mushroom mixture on top, garnishing with lemon or lime slices and cilantro.

To further impress yourself or anyone else who approaches with a fork, serve with a crisp chilled white wine or cold summer shandy beer. Perfect.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Wine Cap Stropharia...The Mighty
Mushroom Multi-tasker
by Mary Ellen

Say you’re at your local farm market this spring and you pass a vendor who is selling a mushroom you have never seen before. It is a handsome mushroom with a port red cap color and ivory colored stem. You ask the vendors to tell you about it. The vendor, with an excited gleam in her eye, says that the mushrooms are called Wine Caps and they grow on their farm, outdoors on wood chips or sawdust, and not in caves or special grow rooms. Its texture is crunchy, with a mild taste. It is best harvested in the button stage and is one of the very best mushrooms to pickle. You buy some and take them home. Sautéed and scattered across a green salad, you are quite happy with your local market and the innovative growers who supply you with such cool new products.

 A handful of perfect Wine Caps prepped for market (photo courtesy of Pierre-Luc Choquette, Quebec)

What the vendor may not tell you is that besides being a good culinary mushroom, it has other useful qualities that we are just now learning about. Wine Cap Stropharia (Stropharia rugosa annulata) is native to North America and is being trialed for a whole bunch of uses, not just for food. Most of us plant Wine Caps outdoors for food in big beds of wood chips, straw or a combination of the two. Other people are looking at Wine Cap for something extra. For example, in agricultural regions with livestock manure run-off problems, it can be grown in straw- and wood chip-filled burlap sacks. The sacks are tucked into watercourses, and with Wine Cap’s powerful mycelium-knitted net, screen out bacteria. 

Wine cap-myceliated straw mixed with wood chips and stuffed into burlap sacks makes for a mycofliter in areas of agricultural run-off. (Photo from Mino De Angelis) For more on this project, take a look at “Using Mushroom Mycelium to Filter Bacteria from EBMUD Watersheds by Co-Renewal” at www.corenewalproject.org
Plenty of mushrooms generated from the mycofilter bags 
(Photo courtesy Mino De Angelis) 

Wine Cap is also being tested as a disease-suppressing agent by mulching myceliated straw in with potatoes and tomatoes to thwart Phytopthera and Alternaria. Grape growers are testing Wine cap mycelium for disease suppression under grape vines, not to mention the ability for the mycelium to capture nematodes. Most usefully, it digests straw and woody litter within a summer or two, quickly converting large thick mats of organic material high in carbon to a fungal rich layer of organic matter and humus.

Phoebe is layering straw and wood chips with wine cap spawn, with straw and wood chips 
under grape vines and in an asparagus bed.

Planting Wine Caps

You can plant Wine Cap any time from early spring through fall; it’s best to inoculate when nighttime temperatures are above freezing and when daytime temperatures are below 95 degrees (F). However, depending on your location, you can plant almost any time. Wine Caps grow on a wide range of carbon-rich materials but there are a few important things to consider:

In general, a large range of different particle sizes of substrates works best. We recommend layers of moistened straw with wood chips as the straw has more air space and the wood chips are more dense, combining the best of both worlds: fast spawn colonization (provided by the straw) and longevity (thanks to the dense wood chips). In general, straw beds last 1-2 seasons and wood chip beds 2-4, depending on the size of chip, density and type. Hardwood chips are preferred, though conifer chips work well if composted for a few years.

Abundant harvest from 6 year old pine chips. (Photo courtesy of Van Bialon, Emily, MN)
Myceliated wood chips a month after planting.
While late season mushrooms provide the best quality because of the cooler nights and high humidity, lots of fruiting can also be had in the spring. Just be aware that the mushrooms can look a little different depending on variable spring weather. For example, almost silvery caps to lots of cracking. Check out the photos below with some classic markers: knobby ring on the stem, charcoal colored gills (milky grey on young mushrooms), and straight stem with white "rootlets".

These specimens show the classic white stem, pale red cap and broken ring on the stem. 
Cap color heightens with humidity.
Spring harvested Wine Cap; note the variable appearance of the caps.

While Wine Caps are not highly flavored, the appearance and texture more than makes up for it. It can be planted throughout the growing season on a huge range of substrates; one of the best sources is from your municipality's waste yard where they grind up loads of branches, and it's usually free for the taking! Harvesting these garnet colored jewels is a delight and can be experienced by almost anyone with a yard.

Looking for a recipe to try with your Wine Cap mushrooms? Try Wine Cap and Gingered Hash Brown Cakes, its delicious!

Little Wine Cap buttons, cleaned with a pastry brush, can be braised whole with spring
vegetables for a special meal.