While Trent and I are knocking off projects in Reedsport, I thought it might be a good time to share a blog post. We’ve been slacking these days on content and it’s well past time to kick it back into gear. I promise to get you more mushroom centric content soon (I already have chaga in mind)! In the last few weeks we have had so many emails and messages from you all with words of encouragement and praise for the new book. We are overwhelmed by your thoughtful words and kind gestures, thank you so much!
Since we have books on the brain, I thought you all might enjoy the story of how Wild Mushrooms: A Cookbook and Foraging Guide came to be. As first time authors we were definitely in over our heads to say the least.
Almost two years ago, we were contacted out of the blue by Skyhorse Publishing to write a wild mushroom cookbook. I suspect a friend in common led them to us via social channels – Amira Makansi, who has a wonderful book called Literary Libations: What to Drink with What You Read. Check it out, it’s the perfect Christmas gift for your bookworm friends! I suppose we were in the right place at the right time as these things go, but it was a pretty random connection. As neither chefs or professional writers, we were hesitant to undertake such a project.
Ultimately we decided to jump in blind and figure it out because… mushrooms! Writing a book was never something either of us longed to put on our resumes, yet in the long run I’m glad we did.
We wanted to bring more to the table than just a cookbook, especially because we are not chefs. Trent has always been interested in preservation techniques (and loves experimenting with our freeze dryer) and I wanted to somehow involve the people we have met along the way and highlight their relationship with mushrooms. The book was slated to be titled ‘Forage To Table’, yet as with many things along the way we had to find acceptable compromises. We ended up with a wonderful mix of the three elements and a few more that worked for us.
With a plan in place we had one year to complete the mission. Piece of cake right? Ha! Our task included much more than just writing a book. We had also agreed to cook and photograph all the recipes, which meant… you got it, we had to hunt the mushrooms too. For us, that was the fun part – we hit the road in 2019 and visited, CA, OR, CO, PA and then OR again to find our 14 highlighted edibles and 3 medicinal mushrooms. We filled in some gaps using purchased Oregon truffles (thank you Chef Joe and super sniffer Mia!), our own cultivated oyster mushrooms at times, and even some fabulous preserved samples from our friend Elinoar Shavit’s personal pantry (thank you Elinoar!).
Thankfully our chef friends who helped us cook (Angelee, Tyson, Joseph, Matt, Graham & Jane – you all are amazing) are also skilled in food artistry. Most of the dishes photographed were plated by them. And thank goodness for Chris Ross, our photoshop and design guru. He cleaned up all the images and created a design style guide for the cookbook. It really does take a village. We are fortunate to have wonderfully talented friends. Our kitchen will never be the same! It was a super fun time filled with camaraderie and cooking.
We were lucky to finish up 95% of the cooking in January of 2020, just before the pandemic hit. As you know, after that time everything became harder, especially to locate. Need some tofu or Napa cabbage? Forget about it! Glad we didn’t need toilet paper. In any case we eeked in, just in time.
For Trent this journey also meant learning food photography. Over the years we have both dabbled as photogs, but never very seriously. I’m keen on the macro lens and Trent is just much better all around with the camera. We had most of the equipment already, but the know how… well, it was a big ask. Clearly I am biased, but I think Trent nailed it! All in all the photos turned out brilliantly. He brushed up on his skills using an online food photography course from the Bite Shot, purchased some new lighting equipment, and we jumped in. You would be amazed at what goes in to creating a beautiful photo of a plate of food – the shadows wreak havoc and lighting is incredibly important. Every piece of dust and hair causes issues that you don’t see until later and plating is truly an art form.
After setting up a small studio in our living room, we were keen to feature our own hand-thrown pottery in the cookbook but quickly realized that we needed more plates and bowls for 115 recipes. We made many, many trips to the thrift store to help add variety. The same went for backgrounds, each image needed a surface or background. For this we often highlighted cutting boards and beautiful wood backgrounds from our friends at Roaring Fork Custom Billiards. Ultimately, there was no relationship between the quality of the photos and the tastiness of the food. Just because a particular dish was photogenic does not mean it is more delicious – something to keep in mind when picking recipes from cookbooks 😉
2020 rolled in and we had yet to complete most of the writing for the book, due at the end of April. It was around this time that I wondered what the heck have we gotten ourselves into?! All of the sudden we had what seemed like an insurmountable challenge. The deadline loomed and the fun had ended – it was time to seriously buckle down. In this sense, the pandemic couldn’t have come at a better time. Everything had slowed down and we were stuck at home. So we wrote and wrote, often times until 2am. Soon the stress calmed and our love for mushrooms took over. Words poured out and things started coming together.
Trent tackled the mushroom intros as well as cooking and preservation and I wrote the book intro, forager pages and recipe intros. We tag teamed recipe conversions. We have very different writing styles – Trent pumps out information like a furious and funny dervish (he requires censoring at times, lol) and I tear things out from the heart as if having a personal conversation. In the end we were able to marry the sections pretty well, just like in life.
I would be remiss if I did not mention our editors. Our firey friend and seasoned author, Jane Mason, took the first pass and helped us beyond measure (also one of our foragers, Jane’s recipes are simple and delicious). Trent’s mom, Sharon – a retired English teacher, polished our grammar and spelling. And Leah Zarra at Skyhorse brought the whole thing together, with a huge focus on making sure the recipes made sense as written. Thank you all!
I am particularly excited about how the forager bios came together. When I reflect on our journey as a whole into Kingdom Fungi, the people we have met along the way truly make me smile – wonderful, generous, kind, talented, impassioned, people that continuously enrich our lives. We spent and hour or two with each of the 25 individuals highlighted just chatting about mushrooms and life. As I relived each interview and put words to paper, their bios sort of became a tiny love letter to our relationship – all special people with such talent and gifts to share. In fact, the most difficult part was keeping these intros to several paragraphs.
How did we choose which mushrooms to highlight in the book? Good question! Our initial plan was to cover more mushrooms including cauliflower, puffball, hawks wing, shrimp russula and Lactarius deliciosus. As we progressed through our forager interviews and recipe gathering, we dropped the less popular mushrooms which didn’t have enough supporting recipes. After some discussion, we added truffles, which was the only mushroom we didn’t personally forage. Trent and I took most of the mushroom photos, often with our cell phones in the field (with a few supplements from friend and fellow forager, Scott Smith, thank you!).
Overall we committed to not writing a normal cookbook organized by meal-type, feeling strongly that the recipes should be mushroom-centric. Based upon our own experience we often have a whole lot of a few types of mushrooms that we want to preserve or cook, versus simply thinking about ‘what’s for dinner tonight?’. We were keen to find recipes that worked with preserved mushrooms that weren’t too complicated.
One of the coolest things about the outcome of the book was the diversity of food that ended up on the table. There are 115 recipes contributed by 25 foragers and Trent and myself. You will find European, Thai and Asian influences along with a few vegan delights and of course a twist on the traditional. And some amazing desserts! So fun to highlight simple, yet exciting food that people have been cooking in their own homes for years. Quite a few of the highlighted foragers are incredibly talented chefs – bonus.
At the end, it was a whirlwind of back and forth, recipe minutiae, edits and compromise. And after looking at it for a million hours, we just weren’t sure if people would love it or not. Pretty scary to put such a labor out into the world for strangers to critique.
Connie Green eased our minds with a review that ended up on the back of the book. With a very tight turn-around window, not knowing us at all, she took a few days out of her schedule to read the book, personally reach out, and give us a thoughtful review. She is the author of an amazing resource, The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food and Recipes, and purveyor of a seriously cool online shop full of wild foraged food products. Our mushroom friends refer to her as “the Oprah of Wild Mushrooms” which is quite well deserved. Please check out her website – more awesome gifts for your foodie friends!
“The Blizzards have the rare gift of intimately knowing these wild mushrooms like old friends: their unique personalities, their eccentric culinary traits, and the special secrets to keeping them a part of your life and kitchen all year long. The superb recipes and preservation methods make this book the best wild mushroom forager’s guide to date.” ~Connie Green, Wine Forest Wild Foods & Author of the Wild Table
This was the first review we had seen from someone that was not at all involved in the project, we were awestruck. She really loved it! I am incredibly grateful to Connie for spending a few days with our book and taking the time to share her thoughts.
Phew, that was a long one… are you still with me? If so, here’s another one of my favorite recipes for you from our friend and forager Mayumi Fujio in San Francisco. We are vegetarians 95% of the time, but I tried all of the dishes. I could not stop eating this, so dang good. Enjoy!
Morels Cooked with Chicken
- 1/2 oz dried morels
- 1 lb boneless chicken thighs
- 1 Tbsp sake, divided
- 1 Tbsp +1 tsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp potato starch
- 1 Tbsp neutral oil
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 Tbsp ginger, chopped
- 2 Tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 servings Your choice rice or pasta
- Hydrate morels by cooking in a separate pan with soaking liquid for 10 to 15 minutes until liquid is gone.
- Cut the chicken thighs into bite-size pieces and marinate in 1 tablespoon soy sauce. Remove after 10 minutes, put in a plastic bag, and add potato starch to coat.
- In a wok, heat oil and then fry chicken on medium heat, add garlic and ginger and continue to stir-fry. If the chicken is not cooked to an internal temperature of 160F, add a little water to cook thoroughly.
- Once the chicken is cooked, add the morels.
- Add remaining sake, oyster sauce, and soy sauce. Sauté until everything is coated. Spoon over rice or pasta.