What is the second favourite sport in Lithuania after basketball? Foraging for mushrooms! What is the most delicious ingredient in soup-in-a-bread-loaf? Mushrooms.
Autumn in Lithuania is the season for trips to parks and woods in search of this delicacy, famous in folk tales and cookbooks. Mushrooms are contenders for the most essential of Lithuanian foods and the most iconic form of plant life, together with the oak tree and rue branch.
Foraging for mushrooms is a pleasant pass-time, known in most temperate climates, personally witnessed as far away as the Botanic Gardens in Wellington, NZ. For Lithuanians, it is a hobby, almost a necessity of life, even a competition. Rumours and secrets accompany the art together with stories of adventures of picking in forbidden areas and near-death experiences from eating the wrong species.
New studies are finding that mushrooms are more nutritious than has been thought. Yet the danger of poisoning is not to be taken lightly. Best practice shows that learning from a seasoned mushroom forager (who also knows how not to get lost) is the way to go. Otherwise, a small knife and a basket are all you need. Old woods, with plenty of fallen trees, are a likely source. Edible mushrooms are usually available from mid-July, depending on temperature and the amount of rainfall. They grow in clusters, and to ensure future crops it is advisable not to pick all the mushrooms in a group, but to leave some for another harvest.
For Lithuanians, probably the most famous mushrooms are boletus (baravykai) and chanterelles (voveraitės). The latter are excellent for foraging, because they are very distinctive and rarely wormy. They can be dried, parboiled and frozen, or marinated and preserved in jars. They have a high water content, so should be dry-sautéed.
Add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil and 1 minced shallot to a large pan over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally and cook until the shallots are clear. Then add 2-3 cloves of minced garlic to the pan and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Set aside the garlic and shallot mixture.
Wipe the pan to remove the oil, add 1 pound (454 grams) of quartered, washed and trimmed chanterelles to the pan, and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon (14 grams) of butter and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Mix in the cooked garlic and shallots, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, and enjoy.
From Lithuania, we have a soup recipe, one of the most popular ways of consuming mushrooms.
Chanterelle and Chicken Soup
½ kg chanterelles
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic (optional)
½ kg boneless chicken thighs, cubed
½ kg potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons butter
1 litre chicken broth
1 teaspoon thyme
2 bay leaves
2-3 tablespoons tomato paste or sun dried tomatoes
125 g. cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Herbs such as thyme, dill, parsley
Melt butter in soup pot, added finely chopped onion and carrot, cook until soft. Add mushrooms, cover pot for a few minutes. Add chicken, salt, pepper and thyme. Add potatoes, cover with broth, add bay leaves and stir well. Cover and cook for 8-15 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Add tomato paste, cream cheese and cream. Heat to just before boiling, remove from heat, remove bay leaves, cover and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Garnish with fresh thyme or other herbs before serving.
An unusual use for mushrooms comes from Lithuania in the form of butter!
½ kg chanterelles
½ kg butter, room temperature
3 cloves garlic (or to taste)
1-2 shallots, finely chopped
Herbs, salt and pepper to taste
In a wide pan, sauté mushrooms in a tablespoon or two of butter or oil for 5 minutes, add finely chopped shallots and garlic, thyme or other herbs, stir and sauté for a few more minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Chop mixture in food processor. Beat room temp. butter until fluffy, add salt and pepper to taste and combine with chopped mushroom mixture. Spread on toast or add as flavouring to other dishes. Wrap well and store in refrigerator or freeze in portions to use later.
While many places in Ontario are excellent mushroom habitats, it is not legal to pick mushrooms just anywhere. Many private and publicly owned lands entirely prohibit the removal of plants, mushrooms, or animals. Make sure to consult local landowners and laws before picking mushrooms. Ontario’s most common and abundant place to forage wild mushrooms is on Crown Land.