In the last few decades, Western tastes have caught up with the Eastern tradition for cultivating and cooking dozens of delectable mushroom species. Some edible fungi thrive in the wild, while others grow well under indoor or outdoor cultivation. A few useful types, including the oyster, grow well in a myriad of conditions. While each species boasts its own nutritional benefits, in general, according to mushroom authority Paul Stamets, "Mushrooms are rich in protein, high in antioxidants, and very low in fat....They are a very good source of some B vitamins...Vitamin D, [and are] high in dietary fiber."
Best eaten cooked to avoid indigestion, wild blewitts work well in soups and stuffings. The mushroom sports a lovely purplish hue and often grows under fir trees.
Normally collected in the while, chanterelles are famed for their superb meaty texture and slightly peppery taste. The orange-tinged mushrooms contain significant amounts of Vitamin C and beta carotene.
These long, skinny white mushrooms grow in jars in low-temperature cultivation rooms, although they also grow outdoors on hardwood stumps. Its mild flavor often complements soups and stir fries.
Hen of the Woods
Also known as Maitake, Hen of the Woods proliferates heavily in the forest, usually at the base of trees and stumps. These large mushrooms have both medicinal and culinary value, and can be cultivated on hardwoods or buried logs. Its massive size lends itself well to stuffing with other food, but cooks also like to slice it and use it in stir fries.
This mushroom grows on both hardwood logs and sawdust, with its flavor often being compared to lobster. It develops cascading white spines, and tastes best when harvested young.
Morel-hunting in the woods is a classic early spring activity. While morels present less predictable growing results than other cultivated mushrooms, the preparation for them---a large bonfire to produce the required ash bed---can be exciting. Gourmands count the morel as one of the finest mushrooms, often pairing it with cream, butter and fowl dishes.
"Growing throughout the world, this ubiquitous mushroom species has adaptive abilities that are nothing short of amazing," notes Stamets of the smallish, white species. The mushroom thrives in a number of growing conditions, and is considered one of the easiest to grow. They can be eaten raw or cooked.
Mushroom producers almost always sell porcinis dried; consumers then reconstitute the wrinkled brown bundles in water before cooking. Considered a wild delicacy, porcinis mostly grow in evergreen forests, although they have been found in deciduous woods as well.
Portobello mushrooms rival shiitakes as the new popular "meaty" mushroom. Portobellos' size and shape lends themselves to stuffing and baking. What many people may not realize is that portobellos (sometimes known as portobellas) are simply the familiar button (the youngest, whitest, version), or crimini (slightly older and darker) mushroom, allowed to grow to maturity. Mushroom growers supply several kinds of Portobellos, and criminis grow well in various mediums.
Grocers stock wildly popular shiitakes both fresh and dried. They grow well on oak and other hardwood logs. Whether sautéed in olive oil or added to soups, shiitakes often substitute well for meat.
Other mushrooms worth studying and perhaps growing and cooking include the coral, turkey tail, Brazilian blazei, reishi and nameko mushrooms. The staggeringly expensive truffle eludes the talents of even the most knowledgeable grower and must be found through the help of the famous "truffle pigs."