. Preserving Mushrooms
- Preserving Mushrooms
There are four excellent reasons for preserving mushrooms:
1. They are very seasonal. Wild mushrooms are sold in the markets cyclically at the same time as they appear in their natural habitats. We must enjoy them fresh while we can. As a rule, they are most tasty when fresh. But many varieties, if carefully preserved, can be coaxed to hold on to their flavors for later use.
2. Mushroom prices are at their lowest when they are being harvested in quantity. This lasts for a few weeks or months, depending on the species. If you are lucky enough to find or to inexpensively buy a large quantity at one time, it may be impossible to cook and eat all of them. There are two options to be explored: either give the excess away to friends, or preserve them for later use.
3. Fungi do not keep well for long. After eating and enjoying some for a few days, holding the rest increases the risk of spoiling. To make the most of the leftover mushrooms, it is wise to safely put the remainder away until your taste buds again urge you to repeat past pleasures.
4. Transporting fresh fungi is difficult. They break and bruise easily. They do not tolerate exposure well. Therefore they can be merchandised satisfactorily by drying, canning, freezing, grinding, pickling, or as ketchup.
One of the earliest methods of preserving food was to dry it. This is still an effective way to keep mushrooms for a long time without spoiling. Their taste will usually be altered in the process. Sometimes the flavor becomes more intense, and sometimes their original qualities are lost. Some varieties of mushrooms take on nuances not found when fresh. Begin by selecting mushrooms that are in good condition. They should be firm, without many worm holes, and capable of withstanding gentle handling.
When cleaning, try to prevent the mushroom from taking on water, which is what we want to get rid of. The underside of the cap is particularly prone to holding onto liquid. Clean the top of the cap with a brush, a damp cloth, or your finger. Trim the stems.
Cut flat, even, broad slices about 3/8-inch thick. The slices should be of uniform width so that they will dry at the same speed. Plan to work on your mushrooms as soon as you bring them home. Do not leave them lying around to deteriorate. Avoid overlapping the slices on trays so that they will dry evenly.
Many mushroom fanciers have developed unique drying techniques. Some hang flats of wire screen doors, plastic mesh, etc., overhead with wire or cord, especially above ovens, fireplaces, or heating units. One creative person has converted an abandoned refrigerator into an efficient dryer using a fan and a 75-watt light bulb. Many effective and inexpensive commercial dehydrators are available.
When slices are bone dry, no less, place in metal cans or glass jars. If you are uncertain about their state of dryness, transfer them into paper bags, and hang in a dry, warm place over an oven or fireplace for a few days. Then put them into containers, adding a few dried bay leaves or a handful of whole black peppers to discourage insect pests. Be sure to label containers with the date and the species identification.
Freezing is a fine technique for putting mushrooms away for a future day when none are growing. They can be frozen fresh or precooked. Some small caps may be frozen whole, after examining, cleaning, and completely draining them. Allow 20 to 30 minutes for draining. Larger specimens should be sliced or cubed into 1/4-inch pieces. Heavy plastic is acceptable for freezing, or use freezing containers. Matsutakes and the boletes are preserved beautifully this way, retaining their aromas and spiciness as well as their textures.
There are two methods of precooking mushrooms for freezing. One way is simply to freeze a dish made with mushrooms, such as a quiche, ready to heat and serve. The other is to sauté the mushrooms in butter or oil, or both, for 5 minutes before transferring them to a freezer container. Be sure to include the liquid remaining in your saucepan. Such food will keep well for 6 months.
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