Those familiar with my musical career may know that I have a deep love for the natural world, an attraction which E. O. Wilson termed biophilia. For me, an immense beauty lies in the details, the minutae, the hidden and the evanescent. The kingdom of fungi somehow epitomizes this hidden and mysterious side of the natural world, and for years its beauty and complexities have attracted me. Sealing my fate as a mycophile, I discovered the joys of eating wild mushrooms. During the rainy season I started becoming restless indoors. I began to yearn daily for those hikes in the mud, through poison oak and woodland brambles, seeking that elusive quarry. The hunt itself became the source of joy, the culinary results almost an afterthought. I started to dream at night about porcini, chantrelles, morels -- finding them growing in pathways, behind doors, under clothing or under my feet. I began to understand how shamans in hunter-gatherer cultures merge with the spirit familiars of the animals most hunted, for these are the animals whose living patterns burn themselves indelibly into the minds of the hunter.
So I have become addicted, my imagination infiltrated by fungal phantasmagoria. Whenever I can free myself from the recording studio, I go hiking. I try to identify as many species as I can, edible or not. I sometimes return from my woodland forays with baskets full of delectible edibles, and face a challenge. What am I going to do with all these mushrooms?
I began to search for mushroom cookbooks, and found a few good ones. These cookbooks all had a decidedly European approach, dominated by Italian or French -- two of the most passionate mushroom loving cultures. I soon felt a need to apply my own tastes to the task. Growing up in California, I have developed a strong Asian influence in my cooking, and I enjoy integrating unusual fresh ingredients and low-fat cooking techniques into my diet. Furthermore, for a period of time I didn't eat very much meat, and I like to find ways to cook without it. This led me to get creative with my ingredients, and create meals that work without the typical focal point that meat creates.
As a result of these challenges, I began to accumulate a pile of recipes that I had adapted or invented, each one tweaked to complement the flavor of the mushrooms I had found. The idea for a cookbook grew along with this pile of recipes. Compiling enough recipes for a cookbook has created a new challenge, especially considering the fickle nature of the main ingredient. You have to find the mushrooms first! I have chosen to limit my scope to what I personally collect and eat. I hope to add to these recipes whenever I get the chance to collect more mushrooms.
I should explain that I almost never follow recipes, personally. My mother taught me to improvise in the kitchen, to measure only when necessary, to substitute ingredients when unavailable, and never fear a mistake. Thus it has been a bit of a challenge for me to translate my sloppy technique into written recipes. When I cook for myself I use measurements like a pinch, a handful, a few, a bunch, a splash or a glug-glug. I tried my best to convert these measurements into such standards as cups and teaspoons, but I don't honestly expect anyone to follow these measurements exactly. I never do. For those reading this from elsewhere than the United States, please forgive our archaic system of measurements. I prefer the metric system personally, but nobody here seems willing to change. Maybe next year.
My photographs grew from the same mentality as the recipes. I'm not a photographer, I take pictures; I'm not a chef, but I love to cook. Perhaps by the same token I'm not even a musician, but that's another topic. In any case, I hope that the photos give some clue about what the mushrooms and the dishes look like. I'll try to update the photos as my collection improves.
Please don't use these mushroom photos as a substitute for a true field guide. You can find much better photos on other websites and in books. Please look at the Warnings before you start acting upon anything you read here. My descriptions aim to entertain, and perhaps inform you a bit, but I have chosen to focus upon the culinary properties of the mushrooms, not their taxonomy. Don't eat any wild food until you have spent some time with an expert and developed some experience identifying inedible as well as edible species. People die every year from carelessness, arrogance or ignorance. The promise of culinary delight is a poor excuse for accidental poisoning.
Wild mushrooms have the uncanny ability to capture the imagination and fill it with storybook images of dank mysterious places, dark woodland secrets and magical potions, not to mention culinary delight. The study, collecting and eating of wild fungi can take on obsessional proportions in certain quirky personalities like my own. In sharing these recipes, I hope to share some of my enthusiasm for this particular little corner of the living world, and perhaps contribute a little to the enjoyment of life.