Collecting & Preserving Mushrooms from the Wild
No matter which drying method you decide to use be sure your mushrooms are really bone dry first. Drying time varies depending on the mushroom, method, and conditions where you dry them. It can take several hours or several days. Drying is a great preservation technique for many mushrooms including: Boletes (Boletus), Pink Gills (Agarics), Corals (Ramaria), Morels (Morchella), Candy Caps (Lactarius rufulus and L. rubidus), and Lobster Mushrooms (Russula brevipes/Hypomyces lactifluorum). Some mushrooms do not dry well at all including Chanterelles. They lose their flavor and become rubbery when reconstituted. Other mushrooms simply shrivel up and do not reconstitute well. Dried mushrooms do last a long time when properly dried and stored, and if the right types are used.
Using a Dehydrator with a Fan
Purchase a food dryer with a fan, but do not dry your mushrooms in the house or there will be spores everywhere. Mushrooms absorb smells easily, so don’t dry them near or in the garage where diesel, lawn mowers, etc., are stored.
Cut the caps and stalks into thin slices 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide, cutting out any bad portions. Arrange them on the drying racks, leaving a little space between them, then follow the manufacturer’s directions for dehydrating. It usually takes 6-10 hours at 110 degrees F. It depends on how wet and what type of mushrooms they are. Don’t consider them dried enough until they audibly snap in half. If they bend, they are not done.
Sun drying is best. Don’t dry them in the oven because it will only cook them. After cleaning the mushrooms, cut the caps and stalks into thin slices (1/8 to 1/4 inch thick). Arrange them on a large cooking rack or a window screen in a sunny location with good air flow. Drying racks need to be screened with stainless steel or new food-grade plastic-covered fiberglass screens, not galvanized. Take the drying racks or screens and stack them 2-3 high with bricks or something non-flammable in between. If possible allow 2 inches between the dryer and the floor or ground so warm air can enter and rise through the mushrooms. You can put a fan at one end of the dryer and turn it on low speed for faster drying.
If you are not using the sun to dry your mushrooms follow the directions in the previous paragraph, but also wrap the outside of the dryer with canvas and place a hotplate set on low heat underneath. Make sure the mushrooms are thoroughly dry before storing. If you dry them outside, you may need a tarp, covered deck, or tent to protect the mushrooms from showers. Whole, thin papery ones, such as winter chanterelles and small corals, dry fast (1-2 days). Medium density and larger mushrooms like big Lactarius mushrooms may take a week. Large meaty king boletes may need to be sliced first before drying.
Storing the Dried Mushrooms
If you only plan to store your dried mushrooms for a short time place in a glass jar with a good tight lid away from light and heat. Ziplock baggies let in too much air and moisture, and plastic containers do too. Label with the name of the mushroom and the date you stored them. If you want to store them for more than 2 months they are best stored in the freezer sealed in airtight freezer-strength plastic bags or vacuum-sealed. Label the packages with the mushroom’s name and date. Remember, drying isn’t cooking them, so they will still need to be cooked in a recipe or by themselves. Do not eat wild mushrooms raw.
If you want to use the dried mushrooms in soups, then you can just drop them into the soup pot dry, if they are clean and free of debris. Here is the two-step method I use to rehydrate my dried mushrooms.
- Put the dried mushrooms in a small bowl, pour a generous amount of warm water over the top, wait 5 minutes, and then aggressively agitate them in the water to get out any debris. Carefully lift them out of the water so you don’t end up getting the debris back on the mushrooms. Now you can discard the water in the bowl.
- Place the mushrooms in a heat-proof, clean container. I use a French coffee press. Because it is a tall container it allows plenty of room for the clean hot water to circulate around the mushrooms while the debris settles to the bottom, below where the mushrooms are floating. I boil the water first before poring 2 cups per ½ oz. dried mushrooms into the French coffee press. Use the plunger to submerge the mushrooms in just enough water to cover them. If you don’t have a French coffee press and the mushrooms are floating above the water, place a small cup or plate on them to keep them submerged. It will take anywhere from 10-30 minutes depending on the type of mushroom you are rehydrating.
When they are soft, make sure to lift them up and out of the soaking liquid, squeezing any liquid out. Avoid getting any sediment back on the mushrooms. If you want to keep the soaking liquid for later use you will need to stain it through a coffee filter or fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. This liquid can be used in soups or sauces.
Drying is a good method to preserve the following mushrooms:
Agaricus augustus (The Prince): The mushroom cap does not need to be peeled, just wiped clean with a paper towel or a damp cloth before slicing. Then slice and dry them in the usual way. They add an intensity of flavor to enhance any recipe that uses mushrooms. The Prince is great in omelets. They need little prep; discard the stalks, but save them for other uses such as in soup stock.
Agaricus bisporus (Commercial Mushroom): Wipe the caps thoroughly and cut off the bottom of the stalks. Smaller mushrooms can be threaded on string and dried whole. Larger ones should be sliced. Older mushrooms are usually better for sauces and stews because they impart a dark brown color to the dish.
Agaricus campestris (Meadow Mushroom): They are best collected when the caps have fully expanded because the button stage has yet to develop its full flavor. Use this mushroom in any recipe that calls for ordinary commercial mushrooms. It dries and stores well while retaining its flavor. Just wipe with a damp cloth, but do check for insect infestation. The smaller mushrooms can be threaded on string and dried whole. Larger ones should be sliced. Older mushrooms need to be used for sauces and stews since they impart a dark brown color to the dish. They are delicious with eggs.
Agaricus osecanus (Giant Horse Mushroom): Dries well, but it is important to check to see if insects are present. Slice the mushrooms, then dry in open dryers or with an electric dryer. Older mushrooms have flesh that turn dark brown and will color the dish you are cooking. They are better used in sauces and stews.
Boletus edulis (King Bolete, Cep, Porcini): Most boletes are full of insect larvae so check your mushrooms in the field and cut out any parts that are infested. If you wait until you get home you will have little left to eat. Don’t freeze them after they are fresh-picked or they turn to gooey mush. Even if they are first sautéed and then frozen, they do not turn out very desirable.
If you plan on preserving them the best way is to slice them less than ¼ inch thick, and dry them until they are crispy. Drying actually improves their flavor. If you don’t want to store them, but plan on eating them soon, sauté in some butter with a dash of salt and pepper. They are good in soups, sauces, and casseroles and pair well with meat dishes. Older mushrooms usually need their sponge layer removed from under the cap before cooking.
After drying and cooling your mushrooms store in a glass jar with a good tight lid. Other boletes that dry well are: Queen Bolete (Boletus reginus) with a flavor similar to the King Bolete (Boletus edulis); Admirable Bolete (Boletellus mirabilis) has a slightly citrus flavor; Butter Bolete (Boletus regius) with a delicate nutty flavor; and Oak Bolete (Butyriboletus appendiculatus). Zeller’s Bolete (Xerocomellus zelleri) and Cracked Cap Bolete (Xerocomellus chrysenteron) are also edible, but with a stronger flavor than the others. Use these two in recipes such as curries and chili.
Clitocybe: Edible mushrooms in this genus are Clitocybe odora, Clitocybe deceptive, Clitocybe suaveolens, and Clitocybe fragrans. These small mushrooms have a strong anise or fennel-like flavor and odor. They are good anywhere you want these flavors. Drying is the best method and they are also good when made into a syrup. This genus, Clitocybe, does contain some very poisonous mushrooms so 100 % identification is necessary before collecting and eating them.
Craterellus cornucopioides (Black Trumpets, Horn of Plenty): Black trumpets are best used in recipes that do not distract from their mild, but distinctive flavor. Clean them by tearing them open before cooking or preserving. Their hollow stalks almost always have forest debris present, such as fir needles, as well as bugs. Rinsing in water does not usually affect their texture. They are easily preserved by drying, and then rehydrating.
When you rehydrate them, add a little brandy to the water. Don’t let any of the strained, rehydrated water go to waste. It can hold a lot of flavor. Add the liquid to the sauté pan and let it mostly evaporate while cooking, and the flavor will stay. When using them fresh, sauté in some butter. You can freeze them once they are cooked. I let them freeze in the vacuum-seal bag first before actually vacuum-sealing them to keep any liquid from being drawn into the machine. See “Stalks and Liquids” for other ways to preserve these liquids.
Fistulina hepatica (Beefsteak Mushroom): Looks like a marbled steak, but it has an acidic flavor and can be somewhat slimy when working with it. It does make a good jerky, if marinated, and then dried. It is also good after being cooked and frozen. Use it in sweet and sour dishes, with lemon, sour cream, and in curries.
Ganoderma oregonense (Western Varnished Conk), Polyporus tsugae (Reishi), and Ganoderma applanatum (Artist’s Conk): All of these can be added to soup stock or made into tea after they are preserved by drying.
Gomphus clavatus (Pig’s Ear): This distinctive mushroom is often riddled with insects, but if you do find some good ones, drying is the best way to preserve them. The flavor is best when young. It becomes less flavorful and insipid as it ages. Smoking or marinating works well too, especially when used fresh or after being frozen.
Hypomyces lactifluorum (Lobster Mushroom): This mushroom is actually two mushrooms with one being a parasite on another one, usually growing on Russula brevipes. This is a very popular mushroom here in the PNW. It retains its flavor very well after being dried.
Lactarius camphoratus (Spicy Milkcap): This mushroom has an odor that has been described by various people as similar to maple syrup, burned sugar, or curry. Whatever smell you detect, it is usually pleasant. They are also good when baked.
Lactarius deliciosus (Delicious Milkcap), Lactarius rubrilacteus (Bleeding Milkcap): The flavor is often described as mild and nutty, but it’s usually the texture that turns many people off. If I am planning to use them fresh, I sauté them in some butter and season with some salt and pepper, then chop them in a food processor. That way you get the good taste without the gritty/chalky texture. sauté the younger ones that haven’t turned green yet when you only want a short amount of time for cooking; use the older one in soups or stews that require longer cooking times. These mushrooms can be preserved by freezing or pickling. They are also good when baked.
Lactarius rubidus/rufulus (Candy Cap): This maple syrup tasting and smelling mushroom is best used to flavor desserts such as cookies, puddings, fruit tarts, etc. It can be easily confused with other mushrooms in this genus that are toxic, as well as other poisonous mushrooms. When candy caps are fresh they usually don’t have much of an odor, but drying them brings out that wonderful maple syrup smell and flavor. Be sure to use a low heat with your dehydrator of 85 to 90 degrees F. They tend to lose their flavor if dried in an oven or at higher temperatures. They will keep for many years if you can stand to leave them that long. They are great when made into a syrup. Candy caps can be used to flavor alcohol, such as brandy, vodka, and rum. They are also good when baked.
Leccinum manzanitae (Manzanita Bolete): This mushroom is rarely infested with insect larvae. Some people have an intolerance to it so use caution the first time you eat it, especially if you had symptoms after eating boletes. They are best dried if they are large, whereas you could sauté them first if they are very young and still in the button stage. This is good advice for all edible mushrooms in the genera Leccinum and Boletus.
Since Leccinum mushrooms tend to turn black when sautéed you could par-boil them first. Heat the water to boiling, add ½ teaspoon salt per quart, throw in sliced or chopped mushrooms for a couple of minutes, drain, and then sauté them. This mushrooms is excellent in casseroles and gravies and pairs well with meat. The taste and texture improves with drying. In older mushrooms the sponge-like pores/tubes should be removed from the caps and discarded before cooking. Save them for soup stock.
Lepista nuda (Blewits): This mild flavored, purple mushroom has a hint of citrus. They can be dried, frozen, or pickled. You can also sauté them by themselves or use in mild flavored dishes such as soups, quiches, or with eggs or potatoes. Be sure they are dry after collecting them since Blewits water-log easily.
Morchella (Morels): Drying is the easiest technique for preserving morels, but morels also freeze well. Dry in a dehydrator or simply string them on a line. Clean morels well, cutting them in half length-wise to check for forest debris and bugs. After drying, seal in a container marked with the name and date. Then freeze for a week to ensure that any insects that escaped the cleaning and drying process have been killed.
Finally, store the container in a cool, dry place for as long as you can resist the temptation to cook with them. Reconstitute the morels before using in a recipe that requires cooking. Remember, morels are poisonous raw and can still cause toxic symptoms if undercooked. They are excellent dipped in batter and deep-fried. They pair well with meat dishes, poultry, and in sauces.
Suillus (Slippery Jack): Most people do not eat Slippery Jacks because they are usually slimy, but they can be prepared and dried with success. They can be slimy when cooked fresh, if you don’t peel the cap first. After drying they are not as slimy. There are a couple of species that you have to watch out for so 100% identification is important. Of course, that is important in any mushroom that you plan to eat.
The species with the best flavors are: Short-stalk Slippery Jack (Suillus brevipes), Dotted-stalk Suillus (S. granulatus), Matte Jack (S. lakei), and Heavy Bolete (S. ponderosus). After drying and rehydrating, they are excellent in soups or sauces. If used fresh, cook them in gravies or casseroles to hide any detectable slimy texture. Older mushrooms need to have their tubes/pores removed and discarded before cooking or drying.
Trametes versicolor (Turkey Tails): Dry to preserve for later use. Use in broth, soup stock, or as a tea.