Mushrooms: Fungi for Health

by Linda Conroy

puffballs
I am a big fan of mushrooms. I love to cook with them and eat them. I have not found a mushroom that I did not enjoy. Earlier today, I was preparing a vegetable soup and added mushrooms to the slow cooker. When I sat down for dinner and ate the soup, I was reminded of the many mushrooms I harvested and ingested during the past year. I remembered the long hikes during last years spring morel mushroom hunt. I was also reminded of the puff ball mushrooms we found in our neighbor’s field last summer and how abundant the chanterelle mushrooms were in the woods. We ate mushrooms often during the summer apprenticeship program and I am confident our immune system was thanking us.

I have long been an avid wild harvester. Preferring to find my food in the woods or fields rather than the grocery store. Mushrooms made me nervous for a long time. Prior to moving from the west coast to the midwest, I was comfortable harvesting only two mushrooms and even then I was very careful, as one should be. Today I am happy to say that I enjoy harvesting close to 20 mushrooms and and each year I add to my mushroom repertoire.

I have long been aware of the immune boosting benefits of eating mushrooms. I also know that they contain a wide spectrum of nutrients including B vitamins, vitamin K, copper, potassium, selenium and other trace minerals. So, I was not surprised when I recently read an article in the Acres USA Farming Magazine, that research is being conducted on the vitamin D content of mushrooms. Similar to humans mushrooms need to be exposed to light in order to synthesize vitamin D. This is an important factor, as most commercial button mushrooms are grown in the dark, so unless they have been exposed to light, they will not convert the necessary compounds. Wild mushrooms and particularly those that are exposed to sunlight are the ideal mushroom for promoting health. Although it should be noted that sitting your mushrooms in a sunny window for a day or two will enhance the vitamin D content.

This information is really inspiring to me, as I am continually trying to find ways to increase the nutrient density of my food. There has been a lot of attention in recent years, being paid to studies indicating that vitamin D is an important nutrient for maintaining health. Many providers of health care are encouraging their patients to ingest vitamin D supplements. As with nutrients in general I prefer to introduce them to my body through food not capsules or pills. I really do trust that with information and creativity we can assimilate the nutrients we need through our food.

So while, I will continue to eat whatever mushroom is presented to me, I am more committed than ever to eating wild or home grown mushrooms on a regular basis.

If you decide to harvest your own mushrooms be sure to consult a reliable field guide and/or spend time with someone who is knowledgeable about mushrooms. A good book is titled: Start Mushrooming by Stan Tekiela and in many areas you can find a local mycological society that will offer forays and other learning opportunities. Also growing mushrooms outside your door step is a good way to have them readily available and to learn to recognize them when you do see them in the a wild environment.
Incorporating mushrooms into your diet is fun and easy. Add them to soup, stew, stir fry vegetables, omellete, quiche and/or stuff them. Use your imagination I suspect you can think of many other ideas as well!
One of the mushrooms that is abundant this year is the Giant Puff Ball mushroom. From the perspective of a chef, this mushroom is all in the sauce. It takes on the flavor of whatever you marinate or cook it in. Below is one of my favorite recipes for preparing this unmistakable, generous mushroom.

In order to develop recipes for this mushroom you can think of them as a soft tofu. I like to marinate them and bake them. Once they are baked, I then broil or grill them and/or put them in the freezer for later us.
Usually when I do this I have several baking pans full of sliced puff ball “steaks”, which I then either eat as a mushroom burger, eat as a main course with vegetables and /or cut into small pieces and add to a stir fry.
Often when you find one giant puff ball there are many more. If you find many you can freeze them and eat then throughout the year! Below is my recipe for Mushroom “steaks”.

Puff Ball Mushroom “Steaks”

puffballsteaks
~Harvest one or more giant puff ball mushrooms (Calvatia gigantea.) If you are unsure about identifying mushrooms, a good book for beginning mushroom identification is Start Mushrooming by Stan Tekila.
~Wipe off the outside of the mushroom and check to be sure the inside is white and smooth and that it does not have insect damage inside.
~slice into slabs approximately ¼-1/2 inch thick and place in a large baking pan.
~marinate in the mixture listed below, or your favorite rich barbeque or steak sauce for 30 minutes. Be sure the marinade is covering all sides of the mushroom. *see marinade recipe below.
~preheat oven to 325 degrees
~place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes.
~You can do several things next:
1. place in a storage container and let cool. Once they are cool, freeze for future use.
2. Eat directly as a “steak” and/or cut in pieces and add to a stir fry or other vegetable dish.
3. Broil or grill and eat as a grilled “steak” or place on a roll to create a mushroom burger.
Marinate recipe:
Cranberry Sauce or other tart sauce 1 cup (I like high bush cranberry sauce)
2 TBS mustard
½ cup tamari
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup miso (barley miso is nice, as it is quite rich, but any miso will work)