Here on California's Far North Coast, we're inundated with moisture, even during drought years. Having our foggy little corner at the bottom of the greater Pacific Northwest keeps us in an abundance of forest riches and changing menus as wild mushrooms stagger their seasons throughout the year. Finding these fungal forest treasures is thrilling — there's nothing quite like walking into a forest and coming out the other side with dinner (or brunch). If you took away all clocks and calendars, the most serious foragers could track the seasons by mushrooms alone.
The longer you forage, the more the seasonal cycles of this species or that become apparent, a sixth sense, perhaps. With spring snowmelt and higher temperatures, morels appear in the inland mountains and in lucky wood chip piles. Shaggy manes emerge, abundant and short lived in all their inky goodness. The first flush of chanterelles — rainbow chanterelles, smaller and more colorful than their fall cousins — herald the start to summer.
The princes arrive shortly thereafter, scented strongly of sweet almond and shaming their store-bought cousins, the portobello and the cremini. When strikingly colored lobsters and hefty boletes arrive, they signal the later dog days of summer and the transition into fall when Pacific golden chanterelles in vast numbers always end up stealing the show. Even during years of drought and during months bereft of choice edibles, the blessed oyster mushroom happily grows in Humboldt all year long.
My favorite mushroom dishes are ones where they're the star; their meatiness lets me go meatless without feeling like I'm sacrificing heft or flavor. They let me eat in season and encourage me to hike — let me tell you, I'm never more excited for exercise than I am when it leads directly to food. During summer with potlucks and book clubs and tea parties, little savory bites of mushroom and Gruyère tarts are a delightful addition. And baking a big, mushroomy quiche on Sunday makes for easy breakfasts reheated and finished in the air fryer throughout the week.
Morel Quiche with Tater Tot Crust
This recipe is best made with morels, but chanterelles, hedgehogs, boletes and shaggy manes make excellent substitutions.
½ bag of frozen Tater Tots (enough to smash into a crust for a 9-inch pie pan)
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh morel mushrooms, sliced
2-3 handfuls of spinach
1 shallot, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 ounces chevre
Edible flowers (optional)
1 tablespoon cooking oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 425 F. Cook tots for half the recommended time. Remove to a 9-inch pie pan and smash to form a crust (using the bottom of a mason jar helps). Return to the oven to bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Lower the oven temperature to 350 F.
While the tots are cooking, wash all the produce. Sauté morels in a dry pan over medium-high heat for a 2 minutes per side. Add cooking oil (avocado or olive oil works well), shallot, salt and pepper; stir until just browned. Stir in garlic and spinach until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat.
Take the par-cooked Tater Tot crust and evenly distribute chunks of chevre around the dish. Spoon the veggie mixture evenly around the dish. Whisk eggs, milk, salt and pepper well in a bowl and pour into the pie dish. Bake for 21-25 minutes, or until the quiche is set but moist. Remove from the oven and top with minced chives. Add some edible flowers, like borage or onion flowers, to make it look fancy. Slice and serve immediately.
Wild Mushroom Tarts
Chanterelles, hedgehogs and morels work best for this one.
3 cups wild mushrooms, button sized, whole or halved
2 shallots, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry, thawed
8 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded
8 sprigs fresh thyme, stemmed and roughly chopped
1 egg, beaten with a splash of water
Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk egg with a splash of water, then set aside. Sauté whole or halved wild mushrooms in a dry pan over medium-high heat. After 2 minutes, add oil, shallot, salt and pepper. Cook until translucent, then add garlic. Stir for 30 seconds, then remove from heat and set aside. Be careful not to overcook the mushroom mixture, as it will continue to cook in the oven with the puff pastry.
On a clean, lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry sheets, one at a time, using a floured rolling pin. Roll out the dough until it increases in size by about 20-25 percent. Use a square biscuit cutter or a knife to cut the pastry into even squares. Using the back of a knife, score a half-inch-wide frame into each square (this will form a puffed crust for the tart); be sure not to cut all the way through the dough. Using a fork, poke a few holes in the inner square of the puff pastry (this will prevent the dough from rising and spilling the mushroom filling during baking). Transfer each square to the lined baking sheet, separated by an inch on all sides. Place in the fridge to keep the pastry cold and repeat the process with the second sheet.
With a small basting brush, paint the egg mixture onto the frame of each pastry square (this will make a nicely browned crust). Then, place a pinch of shredded Gruyère in the middle of each tart. Top with a spoonful of mushroom mixture, another pinch of Gruyère and a sprinkle of fresh thyme rubbed between your fingers. Bake until the pastry is golden brown and the cheese is melted, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
Jessica Ashley Silva (she/her) is a technical and creative writer living in Humboldt County. Her freelance writing covers the tastes and sights of California's North Coast. She's an avid foodie, forager and explorer of forests, falls, and springs up and down the Pacific Northwest.