November has been great

Bob Bowles
Mushrooms and wines used for each course at the Long Point Mushroom Foray. (BOB BOWLES PHOTO)

Mushrooms and wines used for each course at the Long Point Mushroom Foray. (BOB BOWLES PHOTO)

It has been a great November so far up until today, with summer-time temperatures except for Oct. 6, when nighttime temperatures dipped to zero degrees and we received our first frost, then Nov. 11, when we received our first skiff of snow and then wet snow on Nov. 17. To illustrate just how warm the fall has been, I observed a monarch butterfly in Scout Valley at the butterfly gardens I planted a few years ago right beside the recently reconstructed Regan House. This was at 1 p.m. EST on Monday, Nov. 14, a very late date for this species.


But the warm temperatures will probably come to an end this week, so it is now time to put my mushroom books back on the shelf. The late summer and early fall of 2011 was excellent for the study of mushrooms. It started in mid-August with several grisettes and tawny grisettes dotting the forest floor, then the dotted-stalk and chicken-fat boletes. Mushrooms seem to capture the attention of participants in the late-summer field trips that I was leading when it should have been birds, butterflies and dragonflies. The Ministry of Natural Resources mushroom foray that I lead every year to Dufferin County forests was well attended and we found several species of mushrooms in mid-September. The number of mushrooms peaked during the last two weeks of September in our area. I could not believe the number of edible mushrooms that we found near Novar in Muskoka on a private mushroom foray that I led for a group of mushroom enthusiasts. The woods were filled with mushrooms and we had recorded over 50 species before we left sight of the house. Deep in the woods, growing on old logs, were large stands of the choice edible aborted entoloma, which had been attacked by another edible, the honey mushroom. The aborted forms of the entoloma are called hunter's hearts, and are just as edible as the forms that were not aborted. We filled baskets with these two edibles. Numbers started to taper off during the last few days of September. When walking with my two dogs in the Simcoe County Forests near Orillia, I often encounter groups of mushroom pickers from the GTA. One group of six with heavy Russian accents had two shopping bags full of mushrooms which they showed me. There were few choice edibles in these bags compared to the black trumpets, golden-footed chanterelles and bear's head fungus that I had found in large numbers the previous week.

I started to lead mushrooms forays for groups of naturalists more than 30 years ago and found that you really have to be certain of your identifications when you tell them what they can eat and which species are poisonous. We took this to the next level about 20 years ago when the naturalist at Grandview Inn near Huntsville talked me into leading a gourmet mushroom foray. We would go out in the woods and collect and study all mushroom species, but carefully picked edible species to bring back to the resort. The executive chef would then prepare a five- to seven-course meal with the mushrooms. We were never sure just how many edible mushrooms we would find from year to year, so they always purchased white button, shitakes, oysters, enoki, cremini, portabellas and other exotic cultivated mushrooms just in case we came up empty-handed. At first, the menus were basic dishes like mushroom soup, woodland salad, baguette, fennel and green apple compote, grilled oyster mushrooms, roasted mushrooms and barley gravy finished with a cobbler biscuit. New dishes were added the following years, like mushrooms and mint, breast of chicken in a mushroom sauce, king eryngii mini quiche, warm orange and grilled oyster salad, osso bucco and figgy duff. In recent years, we moved to the Rosseau, a J.W. Marriott resort near Port Carling, and continued the gourmet mushroom forays with many of the previous dishes, plus mushroom and mustard pork loin finished off with a warm apple crumble.

This year, we tried something completely new at the Eco-Adventures Lodge in southwestern Ontario in Norfolk County at Turkey Point near Long Point on Lake Erie. The St. William Forestry Research Station forest is next door to the lodge and the Burning Kiln Winery, owned by the same partners as the lodge just across the road. Chef Heather, who owns the Blue Elephant Pub and Restaurant in the town of Simcoe, was the chef this year for the gourmet mushroom foray. This was the first time that Heather, who has prepared meals in well-known restaurants around the world, had ever done a mushroom gourmet menu, so she and I worked closely together. Chef Heather and sommelier or wine steward Michael worked closely to match each of the six courses with the right wine that would complement the food.

I led the participants in the field through the nearby forests during the morning and we returned just after noon for our meal using some of the mushrooms we had collected that morning. They started off with platters of Jensen's cheddars and brie with garlic crostini along with a glass of Burning Kiln Cab Frank 2010 while Heather and I prepared the mushrooms. We then sat down for an appetizer of wild forest mushroom ragout in phyllo cups garnished with locally picked puffball, fresh morels and honey mushrooms. This was accompanied by a glass of 2010 Burning Kiln Chardonnay. The next course was a warm shitake and oyster salad with pine nuts served with an herb vinaigrette and accompanied by a glass of Burning Kiln Riesling. Next was a cream of porcini and cremini soup accompanied by a glass of 2010 Cureman's Chard. The entree was a wild forest mushroom, spinach and ricotta strudel with a morel herb cream sauce which featured wood ear, oyster, bolete and porcini mushrooms. This was accompanied by a glass of 2010 Burning Kiln Strip Room. We ended the meal with a dessert of floating mini puffballs with caramelized almonds accompanied by a glass of Chenin Blanc 2010. I can tell you that after six glasses of wine and a beautiful six-course meal, participants were very satisfied and happy with what they had learned about mushrooms and preparing them in a great meal. We hope to repeat this foray as well as hold a gourmet mushroom foray more locally next year at a resort in Simcoe County.

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