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The Wild Mushrooms of Ireland
Some years pass and not a single mushroom pops up in the fields; in other years they are so abundant that Irelanders with the knowlege are making ketchup, sauces, soups, and so on to use them up.
There is still a deep suspicion of unusual wild mushrooms in Ireland; however, people are now becoming more adventurous and wild mushrooms are beginning to appear on the menus of more innovative restaurants. If you choose to pick wild mushrooms, regardless of where you live, always be sure to have expert help with indentification. The word mushroom is generally applied to edible fungi, but of the many thousands of species in the world, less than half are edible.
Mushrooms are grown in virtually every county in Ireland but the key growing counties are: Cavan, Donegal, Kildare, Mayo, Monaghan, Roscommon and Wexford.
The types of mushrooms found are Butter Mushrooms, Cup Mushrooms and Flat Mushrooms. Exotic and other types are Shiitake, Oyster, Brown Caps and Chanterells. Cultivated Mushrooms are available throughout the year.
While we associate mushroom picking with fall, foraging actually starts in May with morels. After a lull of a couple of months, chanterelles start to appear, usually in the middle of July, followed by others. Mushroom season continues well into October, depending on the area. When picking wild mushrooms, walk slowly and carry a sharp knife. Do not tear the mushroom from the ground; instead, cut the stem at the base. Try to remember where you find prize specimens as they often grow in the same spot year after year.
Pick young or mature mushrooms that are firm and untouched by animals. Remove surface dirt, and other debris and place the mushrooms in a basket or paper bag -- never in a plastic bag -- sorted by species. This saves cleaning time later, because some mushroom varieties are usually quite clean while others have more dirt on them. Once home, clean the mushrooms thoroughly and refrigerate in a paper bag.
Cooking & Preserving: Some wild mushrooms are best eaten fresh; others develop full flavor only when dried. For example, the fairy ring mushroom is quite insignificant when fresh but becomes a real delight once dry.
Fresh mushrooms should be prepared simply -- lightly sauteed in butter and herbs -- to bring out their best flavor. They can also serve as pancake or vol-au-vent (puff pastry) garnish. Dried mushrooms can withstand lengthy cooking and are ideal for stews and braised meat.
Meadow mushrooms (Agaricus campestris ) This wild cousin of the commercial white mushroom is found almost exclusively in the open in rich pastures. It grows sometimes in circles, which are called fairy rings. I used to pick baskets of meadow mushrooms on golf courses until I discovered how much pesticide, herbicide and other-cides are dumped on golf-links to keep them green and weed free.
Hedgehog mushrooms (Hydnum repandum) Fleshy and subtle in taste, sometimes misshapen when grown in clusters, it can be identified by the spines covering the underside of the cap. This species loves the mossy floor of coniferous woodlands. It should be blanched before cooking.
Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) Don't look on the ground for this mushroom as it grows in tiers or rows on deciduous trees and occasionally on conifers. The caps vary in color from cream to dark gray, and the gills are soft and cream colored. Available in the markets, oyster mushrooms can also be grown at home.
Chanterelle (Cantharellus spp.) mushrooms are definitely my favorite mushroom. Yellowish in color with hints of orange, its sweet, delicate fragrance is of roses and dried apricots. Most have a funnel-shaped cap, with gill-like ridges along the stem. They can be frozen remarkably well if found in abundance. They are generally found in wet coniferous woody areas, but also may be found near deciduous trees.
A good source of fibre, low in fat and with no cholesterol, mushrooms contain more vegetable protein per 100g than almost any vegetable and are richer than most in some vitamins such as B1 and niacin. Mushrooms also contain certain important minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, iron and copper and are low in salt.
Note: Hartson has become one of our most valued contributors. He is an almost endless source of material and we'd like to take this opportunity to say Thank You! And, as always, he has contributed yet another delicious-sounding recipe: Chanterelles on Buttered Toast. You'll find it and many others in The Irish Kitchen Index.
The New Irish Table
Margaret Johnsons love of Ireland permeates page after glorious page of mouthwatering Irish dishes, from Smoked Salmon Chowder to Raspberry Buttermilk Tarts. Lavish color photographs of the food, the landscapes, and the people are woven through the text, making The New Irish Table the next best thing to sitting down to dinner in Ireland itself.
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March 4, 2011