Wild Winter Oyster Mushroom Bonanza

Xenia foraging winter oyster mushrooms

Xenia, my wife, is a huge mushroom fan. I wish I was, but I’m not. That said, I’m a huge fan of very local, very seasonal eating. And it doesn’t get more local and seasonal than freshly foraged foods. Which this time of year includes winter oyster mushrooms.

I call Xenia the farm‘s chief forager. She was the first to find wild ramps at our farm – one of my favorite foods of all time. She harvests stinging nettles bare-handed. She’ll pluck wild green like violets, wild scallions, bitter cress, and sheep sorrel. But mostly, she finds mushrooms of all kinds. She is even a state certified wild mushroom identifier (n.b. – in Indiana, a certified expert must identify wild mushrooms before they are sold. At least sold legally…).

This time of year, when we’re down to only one farmers’ market per week, and things on the farm have slowed to a merely hectic pace, I even get the chance to join her in the woods on a Sunday every once in a while. This was the case yesterday.

Mushrooms this time of year?

Most people think this late fall/early winter time is relatively devoid of wild edibles. They even believe cultivated foods are limited to squash, root veggies, and things imported from far away (though they shouldn’t!) But there are still many wild edibles to find.

Case in point, the winter oyster mushroom. Oyster mushrooms are one of the most sought after gourmet treats, and can be prepared in dozens of ways.  We typically go fairly simple, just sautéing them in butter and garlic, often with a healthy splash of soy sauce.  But many people love to cook them as mushroom steaks, often with teriyaki sauce.  They are popular as a key ingredient for stuffing squash, peppers, sandwiches, chicken, and turkey.  They also pair well with some starch, as frequent stars of paellas, risottos, and Thai noodle stir fries (both vegan and traditional Pad Thai).

Winter oyster mushrooms are doubly nice. Fewer bugs attack winter oyster mushrooms compared to oyster mushrooms at other times of the year (though the deer do love them). They are also more firm and less easily damaged as you’re hauling them out of the woods. And they last longer in the fridge, often up to a week instead of a few hours to a day like many foraged mushrooms.

Even so, with the dozens of pounds of mushrooms Xenia found, we are pondering all sorts of uses, packaged a bunch for sale, and the freeze dryer is loaded down and humming now! Don’t let the change in seasons deter you from eating seasonally, or enjoying time outdoors. Get out there and find some ‘shrooms!

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