Fall Foraging – Mushrooms

French people are crazy about their mushrooms – the edible kind, not the psychedelic kind (well, for the most part). From April to November, small talk in the countryside consists of the weather and mushrooms. But as much as they like to talk about them, French people guard their coins à champignons with their lives. If you ask someone where they found their mushrooms, they’ll either point over their shoulder and give you a very vague answer, or just answer with a smile.

The king of the mushrooms – the most appreciated and most foraged – is the cèpeIn English, it’s known as a penny bun, or more often by its Italian name, porcini. This year was not a very good one for cèpes, much to the disappointment of one French guy in particular.

Cepes in the sun
Cèpes in the sun

What we did find a lot of this autumn was the trompette de la mort, the trumpet of death, more commonly known as “horn of plenty.” Despite its name it’s edible and very delicious, although not very easy to spot. They grow under broad-leaved trees; around here there’s a chestnut forest with horns of plenty a-plenty.

Trompettes de la mort – the black wavy looking things in the middle (there are three of them)

Searching for them consists of sweeping away the leaves with a stick and trying to catch a glimpse. The good news is that once you find one, there are bound to be more nearby. They range from grey to black, depending on the amount of sun they get.

Grey trumpets and a chance encounter
Grey trumpets … a chance encounter between a moldy mushroom and a chestnut

There’s a small one in this picture, see if you can find it!

Did you find it?
Did you find it? Click here for the answer 🙂

A great way to prepare most mushrooms is sauteed with some cream. Perfect for eating with some bread, or as a sauce for chicken, steak or even duck. I made a very Halloween-y dish the other day, chicken breasts with trumpet of death cream sauce and roasted pumpkin, yum!

before and after
before and after
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Vendanges, or how to make grape juice

Grape vines cover the terrace of the house where we are staying, much to the liking of Petit Chat.

when she was still petit - circa 2009
when she was still petit – circa 2009

It’s nice in the summer for a bit of shade, but we’ve never been around for the grape harvest, or vendanges. Not that I really knew what to do with the grapes anyways. The first thought, of course, was to make wine! But after some googling, I realized I would need to invest in quite a lot of equipment, so we might save that for next year. We decided instead to make some homemade grape juice.

It was the first weekend in October when T deemed the grapes ready for harvest. And even then, they could have used a bit more sun.

les vignes
les vignes

First, cut off a bunch of bunches and put them in a pot of water to clean them up. Then picked off the individual grapes (it’s OK if there are some stems).

pretty little grapes
pretty little grapes

After that, working in batches, you need a bit of elbow grease to mash up the grapes.

mashing and must
mashing and must

The resulting mess is called moût, or “must” in English (learned a new word, thanks Wikipedia). Throw the must into a big pot and bring it to a simmer. Let it cook for about 10 minutes, mashing a bit more halfway through. To filter the grape juice, you can use cheesecloth or a fine mesh colander, but we just used a dish towel that we tied over a large pot. After about an hour, squeeze out the remaining juice and voilà!

Once it cools you can keep it in the fridge for a few days – it will start fermenting around day three. We decided to freeze most of the grape juice, though it apparently loses a bit of flavor compared to fresh juice.

What to do with grape juice? You can drink it for breakfast, or drink it for cocktail hour! We mixed it with a bit of rum and some sparkling water. I need some help coming up with a name for the drink!

grape juice + rum + fizzy water = Grape Fizz?
grape juice, rum, fizzy water = Grape Fizz?

Fall harvest recipes

Well, not just fall, but also late summer, and not so much harvest as gifts.

Neighbors with vegetable gardens rock. Until you come home to a crate full of gigantic zucchini on the porch, and then the neighbors still rock, but you secretly want to ring their necks. So I’ve kind of become a pro at finding new and interesting ways to use up the fruits and veggies people so generously give us, because gratin de courgette can get old real fast.

Courgettes

courgettes
the final four … hopefully

These are tiny zucchini compared to what I normally find waiting for me, and they have magical properties – when you eat one, it’s immediately replaced by another! So here’s a whole meal of my favorite zucchini recipes.

Apéro : Zucchini bites
Entrée : Cream of zucchini soup
Plat principal : Zucchini enchiladas
Dessert : Chocolate zucchini cake

Tomates

tomate
my precious

While zucchini might sometimes be a cadeau empoisonné, homegrown tomatoes are always welcome on my doorstep. They just don’t compare to a grocery store tomato; I think I might like them more than chocolate. I haven’t had a chance to make my favorite tomato recipe this year, so I might have to go stalk my neighbors to get the last of their crop.

Tomato crisp

Pommes

apples
ugly apples, before and after

Our friend has an orchard, but isn’t always around to pick the fruit, which means free apples! These were pretty tart, so I decided to make apple butter. I found a great slow cooker recipe that was like having a fall scented candle burning all day, except you get apple butter at the end instead of a puddle of wax. Also check out this apple cake recipe, it’s so good because – butter.

Slow cooker apple butter
French apple cake

Potiron

potiron
you can’t really tell, but this is a gigantic pumpkin

This pumpkin is currently occupying a whole drawer of my freezer. Half in chunks and half in puree. You see, you can’t get canned pumpkin in France, so if you want pumpkin spice anything, you have to make your own. So a few afternoons every fall are devoted to pureeing pumpkins. The Pioneer Woman’s instructions and tips are great, especially the freezer bag roll-up. I also freeze a bit in chunks to use in curries or chili. The internet doesn’t need another list of pumpkin recipes, but I will link to this super yummy Afghan recipe I tried the other night.

Homemade pumpkin puree
Afghan sweet and savory pumpkin