As the temperature and the leaves drop, the woods may look dead and bare, but there’s something growing among and on the trees: mushrooms. Fungi, spurred by the wet weather and sudden influx of decaying matter, fruit and spread their spores, creating delicious and diverse dining opportunities.
Mushrooms grow throughout the year — spring morels are particularly precious, and chanterelles begin to appear in summer, sticking around until the first frost — but fall is a particularly good season for mushrooms in the Hudson Valley. “I’d say everybody really looks forward to the fall, when you have chicken and hen of the woods and lion’s mane,” says Devon Gilroy, chef, forager, and co-owner of year-old micro-farm, Tivoli Mushrooms in Hudson. The farm cultivates specialty mushrooms for local restaurants and markets. “Hen of the woods hosts on oaks. And if there’s one thing the Hudson Valley has, it’s lots of wonderfully old oak trees.”
Mushrooms are either foraged (i.e. found in the wild) or cultivated on farms, depending on the species. “Cultivation is very cool because you have consistency,” says Gilroy, who grows blue and pink oyster, trumpet, and lion’s mane mushrooms, as well as shiitake, which is always cultivated. Foraged mushrooms, like chanterelles which thrive in the wild, have the added benefit of terroir (i.e. flavors unique to the region where they grow), but can be expensive and are at the mercy seasonal weather.
Umami-rich, meaty, and packed with fiber and protein, mushrooms are endlessly versatile. They can add depth to stews, sauces, and pasta; stand up to roasting and searing; act as a vegetarian or vegan alternative to meat; form the backbone of stocks and soups; and even be pickled.
“If you’re buying mushrooms, always look to see that they’re nice and dry, that they look clean, that they were trimmed well, and that they’re from somebody who knows what they’re doing,” advises Gilroy. “Definitely only buy wild mushrooms from a trusted source.” (Some species look eerily similar. No one wants to get poisoned.)
As for the much-debated question: Do you wash a mushroom? “Only if you absolutely have to, and if you do, it’s probably not worth it,” says Gilroy. When in doubt, a quick touch-up with a paintbrush usually does the trick.
Find Tivoli Mushrooms at Hudson Valley restaurants, including Hudson Food Studio, Silvia and Garden Café in Woodstock, Mercato in Red Hook, and Hotel Tivoli (where Gilroy is the executive chef). You can also find his mushrooms for sale at Otto’s Market in Germantown and at Red Hook’s Montgomery Place Orchards.