I spend every fall dreaming of hunting in the musty corners of Seattle's forests and parks for wild mushrooms. The October rains come, and I pull out my mushroom journal and David Arora's 1,000-page classic Mushrooms Demystified. But, inevitably, the fall fungus season comes and goes and I've hardly identified a single mushroom at all.
This fall is going to be different. I'm going to eat some wild mushrooms, even if I have to pay for them. My foraging adventure started and ended not in the woods but at Sosio's Fruit & Produce in Pike Place Market, where Sam Kallaway, the store owner's nephew, told me it's the perfect time to buy foraged mushrooms.
"We have a dope mushroom selection right now," Kallaway said. "We get a big influx of mushrooms in early September, but it's still bangin' and it'll get better through mid-December."
Kallaway guided me through bins of mushrooms that were as similar to grocery store cremini as humans are to jellyfish. There was the so-called "cauliflower mushroom," named for its wavy flesh, and the yellow chanterelle, with its distinct gills stretching up a phonograph body, so widespread that Kallaway referred to it as the "peanut butter and jelly" of Northwest mushrooms. Instead of these old standbys, I grabbed a handful of black trumpet mushrooms, morbid-looking things that I would probably never trust myself to identify on a forest floor, and a hunk of maitake (or hen-of-the-woods) that grows as a branching group of mushroom bodies. And I couldn't leave without the king bolete, or porcini, which Kallaway referred to as "the Ferrari of the mushroom table."
Back at home, I gave the black trumpets a simple butter sauté and then tossed them with pasta, a little pasta water, and a sprinkle of Parmesan. The mushrooms were wonderfully nuanced, with a deep earthy richness and notes of smoke, wood, and even a sweet nuttiness like hazelnut mixed with vanilla.
The king boletes didn't quite live up to the hype, almost certainly due to my own preparation. I sautéed them and then tossed them in a cream sauce with pasta. The dish was fine, but the mushroom flavor was underwhelmingly mild, and at $59.50 a pound, I probably won't be trying that again.
The maitake was my favorite. I simply dropped a slab of butter on a fist-size maitake hunk and roasted it in a hot oven. The little mushroom bodies turned crisp, with a char to match any steak, and the fleshy middle stayed moist and meaty.
If you can't make it to Sosio's, supermarkets like Whole Foods, PCC Community Markets, and Metropolitan Market carry foraged mushrooms this time of year, especially chanterelles. Asian grocery stores can be a great option as well, and Foraged & Found Edibles sets up shop in various weekend farmers markets. With all these local options, there's really no reason to spend another fall eating boring mushrooms. Instead, it's the perfect time of year to bring home the wild fungus all around us—even if you can't get to the woods.