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Fall, Foods & Camping

Published October 29th, 2012 in Eat for Health

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD

As I write this article, I am getting ready to head off for a medical conference and a few days of camping along the way. This is also  fall hunting season in the Pacific NW, hunting season does not always involve a gun, but it always involves food… What is it we take to go camping with for food these days??? Pork and beans, stew, potatoes, freeze dried food packs, canned soups, lunch meat and peanut butter. As I drove through the forest it occurred to me the foods I was accustomed to taking camping  and hunting grub were more than likely far from the norm…. imagine that, who would have guessed.

My husband and son look forward to the fall – it means the end of a grueling fields season sometimes involving forest fires and sometimes not. What they look forward to is not only the cooler temperatures, but also the time to get back in touch with each other and with time. What goes through a man’s mind as he holds a rod or rifle in his hands, the quiet, the walk, the connection with nature, hunters and providers throughout history? OK that is from the  mind of a woman, we could have ended at quiet.

The fall is about the hunt, the hunt for the salmon returning to Pacific NW waters, the hunt for the buck deer or bull elk and for those who are not afraid of what is on the ground the ever-elusive mushroom. With fall’s first rains come the Chanterelles and Matsutake mushrooms. These shrooms are as sought after by the Elk and Deer as they are after by the human hunters who seek them. We may think of the flavor and texture, the animals may not think at all but just know these foods are essential for winter survival. They help the animal rid itself of parasites, replace lost minerals and build immune systems.

Mushrooms convey a fifth taste sense called unami in Japanese, translated – “savory or meaty”

Not all edible mushrooms are used for cooking; many have been found over the century’s to contain medicinal benefits and are sold as supplements, teas or herbs.  Mushrooms in one variety or another have been part of human culture since the start. Eastern cultures have used mushrooms for both food and medicine for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians believed that eating mushrooms would make you live forever.  France became one of the first counties renowned for the cultivation of mushrooms. After King Louis XIV’s reign, mushrooms gained popularity in England, and in the late nineteenth century, cultivated mushrooms came to the United States.

China accounts for 32% of worldwide mushroom production and the US cultivates 16% world production.

Chanterelles are common in northern parts of Europe, North America, including Mexico, in Asia including the Himalayas, and in Africa including Zambia. Chanterelles tend to grow in clusters in mossy coniferous forests, they can be found in mountainous birch forests and among grasses and low-growing herbs.

Though records of chanterelles being eaten date back to the 1500s, they first gained widespread recognition as a culinary delicacy with the spreading influence of French cuisine in the 1700s, where they began appearing in palace kitchens. Nowadays, the usage of chanterelles in the kitchen is common throughout Europe and North America. In 1836, the Swedish mycologist Elias Fries considered the chanterelle “as one of the most important and best edible mushrooms.”

Chanterelles as a group are described as being rich in flavor, with a distinctive taste and aroma difficult to characterize. Some species have a fruity odor, others a woodier, earthy fragrance and others still can be considered spicy. The golden chanterelle is perhaps the most sought-after and flavorful chanterelle, and many chefs consider it on the same short list of gourmet fungi as truffles and morels.

There are many ways to cook chanterelles. Most of the flavorful compounds in chanterelles are fat-soluble, making them good mushrooms to sauté in butter, oil or cream. They also contain smaller amounts of water- and alcohol-soluble flavorings, which lend the mushrooms well to recipes involving wine. Many popular methods of cooking chanterelles include them in sautés, soufflés, cream sauces, and soups.

Chanterelles are also well suited for drying, and tend to maintain their aroma and consistency.  Some chefs profess reconstituted chanterelles are actually superior in flavor to fresh ones, though they lose in texture whatever they gain in flavor by becoming more chewy after being preserved by drying.  Dried chanterelles can be crushed into flour and used in seasoning in soups or sauces, chanterelles are suitable for freezing, older frozen chanterelles can develop a bitter taste after thawing.

As we head out the door the food we take with us is not all that much different from what we eat at home. We are traditional campers – on our way, we live simple without the luxury of a high dollar camp trailer or coach, no flat screen TV, microwave, generator or shower. Our food is not all that much different from our family crossing the plains – beans, potatoes, coffee, and meat. Foods we collect along the way… Ok they did not braise their buffalo in chanterelles, garlic and wine or add sweet peppers and onions to the potatoes – so sue me; it still does not come out of a can, box, bottle or bag. The flavors are real, the campfire is too, for just a few brief moments in time life is simpler, and the hunting stories are still as exciting as the ones told in times past.

Category: Eat for Health