Intrigued by wild mushrooms? We caught up with the experts behind The Mushroom Forager, who will be leading a foraging workshop with GMC later this week (August 28; 10 AM-12:30 PM). Learn more about writer, instructor and lecturer Ari Rockland-Miller and business manager and creative director Jenna Antonino DiMare below, then sign up for the weekend workshop!
Ari, What sparked your interest in mushroom foraging?
Ari: “I have always been fascinated by wild mushrooms, and got my first field guide at age ten but lacked an adult mycological mentor as a child. I became even more passionate about gourmet edible mushrooms after college when I managed the MacDaniels Nut Grove, an agroforestry research/education site on the Cornell campus. Seeing the way wild mushrooms, like golden chanterelles, spontaneously fruited out of the soil – not far from the cultivated shiitake logs – inspired me to learn as much as I possibly could about how to safely enjoy wild mushroom hunting.”
As a self-taught forager, where did you learn ethics around harvesting and how do you incorporate it into your workshops, Ari?
Ari: “As mushroom hunters, ethical wild harvest and stewardship of the forest ecosystem – essential for thriving mushroom populations – is extremely important to us. When you harvest a wild food, there is a sense of gratitude and responsibility to respect the resource and the overarching ecosystem. At our workshops we always highlight our guidelines and recommendations for a sustainable, ethical harvest; including always leaving the majority of a patch in the ground and considering the long-term integrity of the landscape. While carefully picking a mushroom fruiting body is more akin to picking an apple off a tree than chopping down the tree; the underlying mycelial network is integral to forest health and mushrooms themselves contain spores which foster genetic diversity and resilience.”
Ari, you’ve talked about how foraging helps you learn the patterns of nature. Could you expand on the importance of that?
Ari: “Understanding wild mushroom fruiting patterns intrinsically requires an awareness of trees, forest ecology, and ecological patterns. For example, maitake (hen of the woods) almost exclusively fruits under mature oak trees in autumn; while black trumpets favor mossy patches and beech trees. It is important to be aware of factors including the forest composition and stage of succession, pitch/aspect, as well as elevation and where you are in the watershed.”
Jenna, did you always love to cook, or has the foraging helped shape this past time?
Jenna: “I grew up in an Italian family where food and cooking were a central part of my upbringing. I have very early memories of making ravioli in the kitchen with my grandmother, and by age 9, I cooked dinner for my family once per week with great enthusiasm. To this day, I am a passionate home cook and love to feature seasonal, local ingredients – wild mushrooms are always a treat to include in any meal during the mushroom hunting season here in Vermont.”
What is the family’s favorite mushroom dish?
Ari: “When we are lucky enough to find a hefty fall harvest of hen of the woods, a cream of maitake soup is divine.”
Jenna: “Simple preparations of wild mushrooms are also often our favorites! We love roasting oyster mushrooms in the oven for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees tossed with olive oil, fresh herbs and salt. Also, many of our favorite wild mushrooms like porcini, hen of the woods, chanterelles, black trumpets, morels and lion’s mane are excellent when simply sautéed and seared in a cast iron pan with olive oil or butter and salt to taste.”
What is your experience with foraging mushrooms as a family activity?
Jenna: “It has been a joy to witness how much our children have grown to love mushroom hunting with us, and searching for gourmet mushrooms as a family is always a delight. Our 8-year-old Eliana and 3-year-old Noemi are both true mycophiles. They both adore the magic of the hunt itself and covet the gourmet wild mushrooms when we return home to eat them. I’ve been impressed with their identification skills, ethic, care and caution; and their lower stature to the ground makes them particularly well poised to find some of the more camouflaged mushrooms like black trumpets and morels.”
What sorts of mushrooms can folks easily identify this time of year (late summer)?
Ari: “Workshop participants will receive our ForageCastTM handout highlighting distinctive and delicious species in season in late summer. No mushroom is foolproof, and some species in our region can be deadly poisonous, so beginners should always be prudent and confirm finds with an expert. However, some of the more easily identified species of late summer include black trumpets and hedgehog mushrooms.”
What do you most enjoying sharing with folks during the workshops, and what can folks expect at the upcoming one through GMC?
Ari: “We love sharing our passion for wild mushrooms with others, and we are inspired by the myriad mycophiles who have joined our forays and programs throughout the years. At GMC, participants can expect a guided foray with an eye toward safely and fruitfully pursuing gourmet summer mushrooms. We are also excited to share a tasting with participants at the end of the program, featuring some of our favorite simple, tried and true mushroom preparations.”