Sunday, October 3, 2010

Autumn Watch #1 - Wild Mushrooms

The grapes have been harvested. We finished the day before heavy rains set in. Actually, the last of the grapes were harvested during scattered showers prefacing heavy rain the following day. Tropical storms and remnants of tropical storms are not unusual in Virginia. These usually coincide with harvest.

If we're lucky, the fall rains will wait until after harvest. With rain comes mushrooms, and some particularly tasty ones can be found in the vineyard. We occasionally use a flail mower in the vineyard. This machine turns grass and vine cuttings into a fine mulch, and mixes it into the top layers of soil. Several types of mushrooms favor the mix of soil and decaying plant matter resulting from the use of a flail mower. The Meadow Mushroom, Agaricus campestris, and the Purple-Spored Puffball, Calvatia cyanthiformis, can be found in large numbers in the vineyard after a rain in the fall.

The following pictures show mushrooms picked from the vineyard and included in some quick, delicious breakfast dishes.

This is a basket of Meadow Mushrooms, Agaricus campestris, picked from the vineyard two days after finishing harvest and one day after about 3" of heavy rains. The bulk of these will be dried and used in a mushroom ragu recipe. The recipe calls for red wine, and the plan is to use Shenandoah Ruby as an ingredient in the ragu, and as an accompaniment to the meal.

These are puffballs, Calvatia cyanthiformis. They are found in the vineyard, sometimes growing alongside the Meadow Mushrooms pictured at the top. These should be picked while still young and very firm; potato-size is about right, although they will grow larger. Slice open and examine color. Use only if the inside is a uniform pure white.

Not patient enough to wait for the ragu, some fresh Meadow Mushrooms were sauteed in butter and used to top off a slice of toasted pumpernickel bread for breakfast. The dark color of the cooked mushrooms compliments the dark pumpernickel. Thin slivers of Swiss cheese were melted over the mushrooms to hold them in place.

This is a quick breakfast idea using a Puffball, Calvatia cyanthiformis. Puffballs should only be eaten if they are a uniform pure white inside as shown sliced by the knife. Thin slices are fried in butter over medium-low heat. (High heat will char them and ruin the flavor.) They become pliable and a beautiful light-brown. The slices were put on a toasted bagel, and Feta cheese flavored with tomato and basil was melted to hold the topping in place.


This breakfast again uses fried puffball, sliced very thin. The puffball on the right is shown to be a uniform pure white inside. This time the fried puffball slices were pressed into the top of a scrambled egg while still in the skillet and cooked into place. Egg and puffballs are served on top of a toasted bagel.

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