Friday, June 17, 2005

Passion for mushrooms ...

Lansing State Journal:Passion for mushrooms spreads from DeWitt specialty shop to home kitchens

Local coverage of Earthy with some good reference materials on types of 'shrooms and some uses.

(Photo :BECKY SHINK/Lansing State Journal)

By Kathleen Lavey
Lansing State Journal



Shiitakes range in color from tan to dark brown. When cooked, they are meaty. Dried, retail price is around $25 a pound; fresh, they're just under $10 per pound.


Tan to yellowish brown, it has a cinnamon-like aroma. Use in dishes that call for wild mushrooms or stuff them. Retail price is about $75 a pound, dried.


Named for their bright-orange color, they have a mild, nutty flavor. Saute them or add them to sauces, soups and stir fries. Retail price is about $50 a pound, dried.



Tan, yellow or black with a nutlike flavor. Fresh morels from the West are $33 a pound, but hurry, the season's almost over. Retail price is about $120 per pound, dried.


Also known as maitakes, they have a distinctive aroma and add a richer, woodsy taste to any cooked recipe that calls for mushrooms. Retail for $49 a pound, fresh.

Blue foot

White to light tan with periwinkle-tinged stems. They have a strong flavor and must be cooked. Go well with onions, leeks and wild game. Retail price is about $39 a pound, fresh.

The walk-in cooler at DeWitt's Earthy Delights harbors a treasure trove of wild and cultivated mushrooms.

Nestled in paper or packed in wooden boxes, the fresh fungi in fantastical shapes wait to be shipped to chefs and consumers around the country.

There's hen-of-the-woods, a pale tan, palm-sized series of flaps and ruffles.

Blue foot, a white, classic-capped mushroom that looks like its stem has been dipped in periwinkle fairy dust.

Morels, with their distinctive cone-shaped, honeycombed caps.

"They're wonderful foods," said Ed Baker, president of Earthy Delights, pulling open a box of hen-of-the-woods. "They add really complex, wonderful flavor to dishes."

That hunt for the perfect smoky or woodsy or earthy flavor and new nuances in food is driving chefs and consumers across the country toward mushrooms.

"Sometimes I'll buy a mushroom based on the texture," said Kevin Cronin of Dusty's Cellar in Okemos. He gets his mushrooms from Earthy Delights and from Elegance Distributors in Eaton Rapids. "Or I might want to go with something that has flavor. Flavor is one aspect. Texture is one aspect."

Mushrooms are low in calories and fat, high in antioxidants and a great way to add flavor to an otherwise dull sauce or meat dish. They're sold dried or fresh.

Conditions have to be just right for mushrooms to grow well, and they need to be picked carefully, stored gently and used quickly.

Just as winemakers fret over the perfect growing conditions for grapes, mushroom growers sweat the smallest stuff to sprout fungi indoors. Some mushrooms grow in layers of peat, some in plastic bottles, others in bales of oak sawdust designed to simulate rotting logs.

The most predictable thing about the fresh, wild mushroom supply may be its unpredictability. Cronin and many others were disappointed in the recently ended season for morel mushrooms, which was hampered by dry, cold weather. The morels - with a honeycombed, hollow, cone-shaped cap and a woodsy flavor - like rain and warm weather.

"Sometimes they're here, sometimes they're not," Baker said. "Sometimes they're cheap, sometimes they're expensive."

The gourmet varieties of mushroom are a far cry from canned, white mushrooms or those that show up on pizza from the local pizza shop.

Crimini, porcini, shiitake, portabella and dozens of other mushroom varieties all have their own tastes to add to the mix with meats, in sauces or even in salads.

"Everybody talks about the super-earthy kinds of flavors to the smoky flavors," Cronin said. "Those are the kind of characteristics we talk about. They're sometimes sweet, depending on the type of mushroom."

People who are daunted by the idea of cooking fresh mushrooms can get used to the flavors of different varieties by buying dried mushrooms, pulverizing them and adding them to sauces.

"Porcini is a great mushroom to start off with; they have a pretty mild flavor," Cronin said.

Brush a portabella mushroom with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and grill it, he suggested. Or roast fresh mushrooms to bring out the flavor.

"We might toss mushrooms into a little bit of olive oil, cover them with foil and kind of gently roast them to get some of the moisture out of them an intensify the flavor," he said. "You can eat them warm, almost like a salad."

Or add them to meats. Most mushrooms complement meat dishes well, Cronin said.

"There's such a variation in texture and flavor to mushrooms," he said. "There's really not that many things they don't pair up with."

Game, beef, chicken, pork and lamb all work with mushrooms, but choose delicately flavored mushrooms for meat such as veal, which has a delicate flavor of its own.

He paused to think about whether there is any food that mushrooms couldn't improve.

"Chocolate cake," he said. "Even then, that's not true. Because I've had chocolate mixed with black truffles, and it's delicious."

Mushroom guide

Here's the lowdown on some common gourmet mushrooms and their uses:

• Wild mushrooms: Hunters find these in the woods and pass them on to wholesalers. Wild mushrooms are prized for their rich flavors but availability is unreliable. Dip them in salt water before cooking to get rid of any insects that may be hiding inside. If you intend to hunt mushrooms, consult an expert before eating any of them. Some varieties that look like popular wild mushrooms are poisonous.

• Cultivated mushrooms: Some types, including crimini, portabella, oyster, enoki and shiitake, are cultivated under tightly controlled indoor conditions. This makes the supply steadier.

• Dried mushrooms: Drying is the best way to preserve mushrooms beyond the fresh season. Use dried mushrooms in soups, stews and sauces. A pound of dried mushrooms reconstitutes to 6 to 8 pounds of fresh mushrooms.

• Fresh mushrooms: Prices fluctuate with the supply. Use them within a few days for the best flavor.

More flavors

• Chanterelles: Delicate, with a fruity, peppery flavor. They work well in veal, poultry, pork and egg dishes as well as cream sauces and with seafood.

• Crimini: Similar in appearance to the familiar white mushroom and from the same family (Agaricus). Look for a light tan to rich brown cap and a very firm texture. Deeper, denser, earthier flavor than white mushrooms. Use in any recipe calling for white mushrooms. They go well with beef, wild game and vegetable dishes.

• Enoki: Fragile, flowerlike mushroom with long, slender stems and tiny caps. They grow in small clusters and have a mild, light flavor and a slight crunch. Use raw in salads and sandwiches or as a garnish for soups.

• Oyster: Fluted and graceful, oyster mushrooms range in color from soft brown to gray. They are best if cooked. Oyster mushrooms have a delicate, mild flavor and velvety texture. Delicate flavor is excellent in chicken, veal, pork and seafood dishes.

• Porcini: Ed Baker of Earthy Delights describes them as "the morel of Italy." "They go wild for them over there," he said. Porcini mushrooms have a long, fleshy stalk and a round, convex cap with tubelike pores on their undersides. Saute the rich, woodsy mushrooms for a few minutes, then use them in any recipe that requires mushrooms. Can be grilled, too. Cook them thoroughly to avoid stomach upset.

• Portabellas: An overgrown crimini. Its fans describe it as rich and meaty. Caps are large enough to grill like a hamburger and eat in a sandwich.

• Truffles: White or black, the underground fungus is round with a bumpy surface and irregular shape. The French use female pigs to help hunt the famous fungus. Truffles are best grated onto food and into sauces and soups just before eating. Add them to veal, chicken, fish, souffles, omelettes or pasta. Retail prices fluctuate, but fresh black summer truffles currently are about $60 for 3 ounces; frozen winter white truffles are $450 for 3 ounces. Prices are steep, but truffles go far. "Three ounces is a dinner party," said Ed Baker of Earthy Delights.

Source: Earthy Delights (, "Wild About Mushrooms" by Louise Freedman, and The Mushroom Council

Buying mushrooms

These tips are from the Mushroom Council. For more information about mushrooms or for mushroom recipes, check the Web at www.mushroom

• Choose mushrooms with a fresh, smooth appearance, free from major blemishes, with a dry (not dried) surface. A closed veil (the thin membrane under the cap) indicates a delicate flavor; an open veil means a richer flavor.

• Refrigerate mushrooms. They're best when used within several days but will keep up to a week. Do not rinse mushrooms until ready to use. If purchased loose, store mushrooms in a paper bag. If purchased in packages, do not open until ready to use; store unused portion in a paper bag. Storing in air-tight containers or plastic bags will cause condensation and speed spoilage.

• Wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth or soft brush to remove any peat moss particles. Or, rinse with cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

• Fresh mushrooms don't freeze well. But if it's really necessary to freeze them, first saute in butter or oil or in a non-stick skillet without fat; cool slightly, then freeze in an air-tight container up to one month.

Good for you, too

Mushrooms are low in calories and have some antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Nutrition info, from the Mushroom Council:

• In their raw form, most mushrooms are free of sodium and cholesterol and very low in fat.

• They contain essential minerals including selenium, which is thought to guard against prostate cancer, and potassium and copper. They're also rich in B vitamins.

Contact Kathleen Lavey at 377-1251 or


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