10 Lessons From the Annual Los Angeles Wild Mushroom Fair

Cooking demonstrations, guided walks, and children's activities were available to mushroom lovers at Arcadia's Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia last Saturday. Hundreds of attendees of all ages enjoyed a full day of activities at the 27th Annual Los Angeles Wild Mushroom Fair sponsored by the Los Angeles Mycological Society.

The morning began with guided walks through the beautiful grounds of the Arboretum, where visitors could learn about a variety of mushrooms growing in the area. While it was tempting to stay outside and enjoy one of our patented Los Angeles winter days that felt like the height of spring, everyone filed back inside Ayres Hall to learn about cooking with the precious mushrooms.

Leading the cooking demonstration was Le Cordon Bleu graduate Hend Yahya. After sharing her tips for preparing “the cleanest mushrooms you’ll ever eat” that she learned while working at Michelin star restaurant Ze Kitchen Galerie in Paris, she prepared beautiful renditions of Warm Trumpet Mushroom Salad and Sage Infused Couscous with Chanterelle Mushrooms. She graciously provided the recipes for us to share, which you can find below.

While there were multiple displays, coloring activities for children, and mushrooms for sale, the highlight of the event may have been having the opportunity to mingle with people so passionate about their love of mushrooms. In addition to selling more mushroom-related items than I ever knew existed, Curt Haney of Just Mushroom Stuff told me about events where hundreds of mycologists come together in various remote areas and hunt for mushrooms, cook with their bounty, and drink considerable amounts of wine for many days. In the course of a few minutes, my curiosity transitioned into frustration that I didn’t know this culture existed earlier. I pictured myself hunting for morels at my own Burning Man-esque utopia fueled by Slippery Jacks and Spike Mushrooms instead of Magic Mushrooms.

I was quickly brought back to the present when I started talking to Wendy Talaro of Truffle in Paradise who was handing out samples of her handmade chocolate truffles. Combining high quality organic fair trade chocolate, local and seasonal produce, and equal measures dedication and passion, her table was clearly a fan-favorite of the day.

The fair also featured a wealth of information. Here are ten things I learned at the event:

1. Although mushrooms don’t grow in streams (it prevents them from breathing), they do enjoy stream banks. Delicate mushrooms in particular benefit from the constant humidity
2. There is evidence that the Turkey Tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor) is an immune enhancer and effective against some forms of cancer. It can either be chewed raw or steeped in hot water to make tea.
3. Conifers (evergreen trees with needles and cones) are an excellent mushroom habitat.
4. Dung mushrooms are rarely poisonous but sometimes psychoactive. The most famous dung mushrooms are the mushroom of commerce (Agaricus bisporus) and the Magic Mushroom (Psilocybe cubensis).
5. Half of the brightly colored Russula mushroom ignites your mouth like hot pepper. They do not taste great raw, but can be dried and powdered to be used as pepper.
6. Almost every edible mushroom has a poisonous look-alike. Be careful when you discover what looks like a tasty Chanterelle, it might be the poisonous Jack o’Lantern!
7. Mycorrhizal mushrooms form a symbiotic relationship with living treams. Mycelium from the mushroom attaches to roots of the tree in order to exchange nutrients with the tree.
8. Almost half of all mushroom species are mycorrhizal and half are saprophytic. Only a few are parasitic.
9. While duff (thick layer of fallen leaves) protect mushrooms from dry air, it makes it difficult for mushroom hunters to see the mushrooms.
10. Mushroom gills are covered by millions of spores. As the spores mature, they are released from the gills into the air to be blown to distant places.

Recipes
Warm Trumpet Mushroom Salad
By Hend Yahya

Mixed spring greens
Raw spinach leaves (baby spinach also ok)
Cooked garbanzo/chickpeas (can come in cans)
Thinly sliced yellow onions, sweated with little bit of olive oil (or be creative and try different onions)
Red raisins
Crumbled feta cheese

Dressing: balsamic reduction (reduce to slightly thicker consistency), infuse it with fresh sage stems or leaves (cook sage while reducing balsamic). Clean and rinse trumpets thoroughly (from dirt, leaves etc). Sauté trumpets, then add it to the balsamic after balsamic is done reducing and strained from sage. Let the trumpets sit off of the fire and marinade in balsamic, can take as little as 10 minutes. Toss everything together while warm, along with raisins and feta cheese, season with salt, garnish and enjoy!

Sage Infused Couscous with Chanterelle Mushrooms
By Hend Yahya

Instant couscous
Japanese eggplant (larger eggplants work as well)
Green bar zucchini
Chanterelle mushrooms
Fresh sage leaves
Red raisins
Olive oil
Heavy cream
Salt (kosher preferably)

Cook couscous with water (volume of water may vary by brand of couscous). Add finely chopped sage and drizzle of olive oil to cooked couscous. Add heavy cream for richness (be careful not to make the couscous too wet). Cube eggplant and zucchini and sauté in olive oil and salt. Clean and rinse chanterelles well (from dirt, leaves, etc), and roughly chop into medium cubes and sauté in olive oil (separated from eggplant and zucchini). Mix all ingredients together, as well as raisins. Season with salt and olive oil and enjoy!