Who eats mushrooms?

for tacos, quesadillas, tortas, enchiladas, tamales, etc.

Chef Seth Peterson does a cooking demo for the Merritt College Mushroom class using smut that grows on corn called Huitlacoche, a fungus that infects the corn but is revered as a delicacy.

Chef Seth Peterson does a cooking demo for the Merritt College Mushroom class using smut that grows on corn called Huitlacoche, a fungus that infects the corn but is revered as a delicacy.
Photo by Holly Bazeley

Seth Peterson, a second-generation urban gardener living in the heart of Berkeley, has worked as a chef at Berkeley’s Three Stone Hearth and teaches at the Institute for Urban Homesteading.

Says Seth, “Huitlacoche [corn smut] is called the Mexican truffle because of its earthy, delicate-yet-pungent aroma. I don’t bother using it canned: it’s best fresh. In the Bay Area I get it in September at the middle to end of the corn harvest, as it grows on late season corn: There’s only a one- or two-week window when it’s available. My best source is Full Belly Farm. You might also ask your favorite farmers about it, since some may not even know that they can eat this wonderful food. Like many fungi it is considered a nutritious superfood. That’s a term I dislike, since most everything people ate was a superfood before modern agriculture. My recipe has leeway on ingredients, so adjust to your tastes as you go.”

3–4 ears of corn covered in large fresh huitlacoche (Note: It should be intact, not bruised and smashed.)
1–1½ cups chopped onion 2–3 tablespoons high quality cooking oil, lard, or butter (or even coconut oil, to be exotic)
2–3 chiles (serrano, jalapeño, or poblano)
1–2 cloves garlic Himalayan or sea salt to taste Optional:
¼ cup chicken stock or veggie stock or ⅛–¼ cup fresh raw cream

Cut huitlacoche and corn kernels off the cobs. You should have about a one-to-one ratio of huitlacoche to corn, but you might vary that to your tastes.

Roast chiles over an open flame until charred and then put on a plate. Cover with a bowl and let them sweat for a few minutes before you peel and chop.

Place oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and cook onion for about 5–8 minutes until soft. Add a large pinch of salt to pull water out of the onions and help them break down. Don’t brown, or maybe do.

Add garlic and lightly sauté for 2 more minutes. Then add chiles and huitlacoche and sauté another 8–10 minutes until huitlacoche breaks down into a black mess of earthy aroma deliciousness.

You can add the optional stock little by little as you sauté to keep the mixture moist and add flavor, but don’t let it get soupy.

If using cream, add at end, again just enough to make it smooth and moist.

Add salt to taste.

Note: Salt to taste is a ubiquitous yet ambiguous statement in cookbooks. It means salt until the flavor of the other ingredients comes out, but stop before you taste the salt.

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Photographs from Spencer Woodard and Anthropogen.com Spencer Woodard, a Bay Area native and Berkeley resident who has a background in complex agroforestry and ethnobotany, blogs at Anthropogen.com. The photos at left are from his January 4, 2013 post:Candy Cap (Lactarius rubidus) and Lactarius xanthogalactus mushrooms – an important distinction.Candy cap mushrooms include the following species: Lactarius rubridus, L. fragilis, and L. camphoratus.

1) Candy caps are peculiar mushrooms, commonly used in sweet dishes and as a culinary flavoring (like saffron and vanilla).

2) Here is a photo of the candy cap gills.

3) In this photo the candy cap is the mushroom on the right, note the coppery hue. The mushroom on the left is the toxic look-alike Lactarius xanthogalactus, which exudes a yellow latex when cut or broken. Candy caps exude a clear milky latex. Note the concentric “bulls-eye” zoned coloration on the top of L. xanthogalactus.

4) Again, candy cap gills on the right, and Lactarius xanthogalactus gills on the left. Both have hollow stems.

Note: Never eat a mushroom collected from the wild until you are 100 percent sure of its identity and edibility.

By Ken Litchfield

Candy caps (Lactarius rubidus) are native Northern California wild mushrooms that are just beginning to gain renown. They grow symbiotically in a mycorrhizal relationship with oak trees, and are often with associated marker species like chanterelles, amethystinas, blewits, and death caps. Look for them under oaks from roughly late November through January or later, depending upon the rains. They are typically uniformly copper-topped, one to two inches in diameter, with a rough newt-like skin texture and hollow stem. They have a distinctive watery-white “skim milk” sap and sweet taste. There are inedible candy cap look-alikes, which can be distinguished by yellow or white “whole milk” sap, a bitter or peppery taste, and concentric bull’s eye zoned coloration on the cap tops. You can find good examples of candy caps and their look-alikes under “California Fungi” at mykoweb.com.

Dried candy caps lend the flavor of maple syrup to your cooking, so you can skip the sugar and the energy-intensive sap processing. Like most mushrooms, they infuse into animal fats better than vegetable fats. One or two candy caps are enough to flavor a whole cheesecake or half gallon of vanilla ice cream, or to scent a van for a year as a dashboard car freshener. Dehydrate them at low heat until crispy and then store in sealed glass jars. Often they have no discernible scent in this state, but when allowed to reabsorb some moisture, they will emit a fragrant maple or, to some, butterscotch scent. Some say that candy caps are somewhat psychoactive in higher doses, so consider that as you use them in your recipes.

I make the following items on a regular basis using local candy cap mushrooms. I collect them from under oak trees, use honey from beehives that I associate with, and get local butter from Trader Joes. Perhaps better would be butter bartered from home-raised goats.


You’ve perhaps heard of limoncello, a sweetened alcohol extract of lemon zest served as an aperitif or flavoring? How about making a fungicello using dried candy caps or dried chanterelles instead of lemon zest! For added body you could add a couple vanilla beans to either. The chanterelles that grow in the East Bay hills have a distinctive flavor that differs from those I’ve found at Salt Point or other common collecting areas. Dried, they develop an aroma perhaps best described as smelling like freshly baked cinnamon pecan rolls.

Find a glass jar with a tight-fitting metal lid. Grind enough dried candy caps or chanterelles in a clean coffee grinder to half fill the jar, and then fill the rest with vodka. Shake regularly, say once a day, for 2 to 3 weeks. Let the extract sit without being shaken for a couple days to settle out, then pour off the alcohol through a cloth-lined strainer into another clean jar (with a sealable metal lid). Scrape all the remaining wet mushroom powder into the cloth and then squeeze out the remaining alcohol from the wet powder into another clean glass jar. Let this settle out for a day or two and then pour off the clear liquid back into the rest of the first extract, leaving the cloudy powder on the bottom of the second jar. You now have candy cap or chanterelle alcohol extract or tincture. You may use as is or increase its concentration by repeating the process with more fresh powdered mushrooms and the same alcohol extract. Thus, you would have a double or triple extract of the mushroom.

The candy cap extract, whether 1, 2, or 3 times extracted, will be somewhat bitter. It can be used as is to give a maple flavoring to cheesecakes, ice cream, ham glaze, smoked wild turkey or venison, or any fatty food that could use some maple flavor. To turn the extract into candycapicello, just add enough honey to cut the bitterness but not overly sweeten. The chanterellecello can be used similarly to the candycapicello or as a uniquely novel aperitif or digestif.


Take a palm-full, or 2 to 10 or so, of crisp-dried candy cap mushrooms and grind to a powder in a clean coffee grinder. To reconstitute the candy caps and activate their flavor, add the powder to a skillet with a dash of sherry. (Amontillado types work well with many species of reconstituted mushrooms.) Add a dash of smoked salt to subtly activate the taste buds, but not to make it salty or smoky. (I like applewood-smoked sea salt.) After a few moments in the sherry, add 2 to 4 sticks of chopped unsalted butter to the pan on low heat. When the butter is fully melted, turn up the heat a tad to simmer off the sherry, then remove from heat. Let butter cool a little and then add honey in about a ⅓ proportion to the butter. (You don’t actually want to heat the honey much because it will lose its volatile aromatic compounds.) Stir until the butter and honey gel and transfer to a small serving bowl. Chill. Stir to amalgamate the honey with the butter if necessary. Goes well on fresh-from-the-oven whole grain biscuits or on popcorn. For a little extra richness add a tad of strained bacon fat to the butter.


You will often find Toby Garrone, co-owner of Far West Fungi, chatting wtih customers at her booth at any of several farmers’ markets. Don’t be surprised if one of her young granddaughters is there learning to help.

Toby runs Far West Fungi with her husband John and sons Ian and Kyle. “When we first started 30 years ago, people didn’t know about tree oysters, maitakes, and shiitakes,” says Toby. Today, shiitake and tree oyster mushrooms are the farm’s mainstays. Other regular crops include nameko, pioppini, lion’s mane, maitake, king trumpet, and reishi (a medicinal mushroom).

Explains Toby, “We grow five different oyster varieties. Each has a different look, flavor, and texture. The yellow oyster has a buttery cucumber flavor. The pink is strong and earthy. The blue (or gray) has a chewier texture, and the brown is milder. Our San Francisco strain, a denser, firmer, chewier, meatier mushroom, is from a wild strain we cultured in San Francisco. It’s gaining in popularity. I have people coming up every week saying, ‘Do you have the SF strain?’”

The Garrones comes together for a famliy picture at their open house and barbeque.

The Garrones comes together for a family picture at their open house and barbeque.

Serves 8

3 cups heavy cream 1 cup milk
½ cup sugar
3 strips lemon zest
½ vanilla bean
¼ ounce dried candy caps (or less for a more subtle flavor)
One ¼-ounce package gelatin, unflavored
Vegetable oil
Brush 8 4-ounce ramekins with oil and chill until you need them.

Add 3 tablespoons water to a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the top and set aside until softened.

Combine milk, cream, sugar, and lemon zest in a heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape seeds into the cream mixture, adding the pods as well. Add the whole dried candy caps to the cream mixture and heat just to a simmer. Remove from heat and add 1 cup of the hot cream to the gelatin, stirring until gelatin is dissolved. Then pour the gelatin into the cream mixture and let cool until barely warm to the touch. Remove the vanilla bean pod and the candy cap mushrooms. Squeeze out any liquid from both into the cream. Pour mixture into the chilled ramekins. Cover and chill for at least 6 hours.

To serve, run a small knife around the inside of each ramekin. Turn each out onto a small serving plate, shaking gently to release. Serve topped with fresh lemon zest or chopped lightly toasted pecans.

Mino de Angeles eyes the Stropharia harvest. Photo by Sean Parnell

Mino de Angeles eyes the Stropharia harvest.
Photo by Sean Parnell

Sean Parnell helps himself to a handful of Stropharia before heading to the kitchen. Photo by Sean Parnell

Sean Parnell helps himself to a handful of Stropharia before heading to the kitchen.
Photo by Sean Parnell


Parnell, a BARM volunteer, says he was completely disgusted and unwilling to eat mushrooms of any sort until very recently. Now, with an ongoing supply of Stropharia in easy reach at the project in Orinda, he cooks and eats mushrooms with enthusiasm.

When Sean gathers young Stropharia (picked before their caps have flared out), he prepares them by removing stems, cleaning caps with a brush or towel, brushing both sides with extra virgin olive oil, resting them cap down, and applying salt, pepper, and a dash of Worcestershire or balsamic vinegar. He grills or bakes until tender and garnishes with flat-leaf parsley. Sometimes he adds sausage bits or melted cheese.

For mature Stropharia (picked after their caps have flared out), he cleans them as above and then thinly slices them, tossing with sliced onion, minced garlic, salt, pepper, extra-virgin olive oil or butter, and a dash of Worcestershire. He pan-fries or wraps in a foil packet to put on the grill until done. An alternate version is to pan-fry in butter, adding chopped tarragon, salt, and pepper, and a splash of cream at the end.





Humans are not the only animals who munch on mushrooms. Sean Parnell works with BARM and collects mushrooms for regional fungus fairs. The facilities manager at the East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley, he says that some reptiles, like tortoises and lizards, eat mushrooms. He notes, “Mushrooms, newts, snakes, lizards, mosses, millipedes, beetles, and many other life forms are often found in the micro-habitat of a rotting log.” Parnell has observed garter snakes foraging and consuming slugs and worms within his home-garden mushroom patch when the mushrooms are actively fruiting. He jokes, “Mushrooms and reptiles appear together with great regularity in the game Super Mario Brothers.”

Note: Sean took the photo above while hiking through the Audubon Canyon Ranch near Stinson Beach in Marin. It’s a rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa) on top of what Sean believes to be a red stemmed bitter bolete (Boletus rubripes).