A New Policy

Copyright © by Patrick Hamilton, Mycochef

It was just before sunset, a time when the sides of a rainbow trout and sides of the sky oftentimes reflect the same splendid shimmering brilliance.

Can be and has been.

Yep, especially lakeside at 6500' in the High Sierra. Here I was casting to delectable, elusive, beautiful, heavily regulated and controlled by the Department of Fish and Game fish and I began to think. . . .

In my lifetime the limit of trout in possession has gone from 15 per day to a lot less. And, in my life, times have changed. I no longer often keep trout, salmon, steelhead, etc. unless I need them for eating or maybe to give as gifts after smoking them.

We used to proudly display our stringers full of fish , especially to anybody who had less then we did. And, remarkably, hid those same things from those who had more, bigger, etc. It is a wee bit like with mushrooms. Sort of, but the opposite.

Who amongst us shows off the pickin's to boost their ego to total strangers? Now, with fish it is the way it is. "Hey there, look over here at the size of my take. Probably a few more than you have, right?"

That just doesn't happen with mushrooms (unless you are with me and I know you very well and I just can't help myself).

Usually the proper and accepted methode de cep is, in fact de-ception. Show no one nothing. Zero, zip, nicht, nein und null, nada darn thing. We don't need signs to stick on our puffed out egos. That would be wrong and, more importantly, it would give others reasons to learn about our patches.

With fish maybe there at one time were so many of them that it's been historically okay to brag about the haul. Or perhaps a particular body of water is so large that giving strong clues, like hanging upside down a trophy marlin, is not harmful to future personal takes.

We know that it isn't so with mushrooms. Ever see a spectacle like an upside down hanging 5 pound porcini in a mushroom camp? Deer yeah, but just not with trophy fungus. At least not with my mushrooms near their patches.

Because the Department of Fish and Game here in California a while back introduced a program for the best trout waters in the state I propose a similar policy for mushrooms in the best patches--"Catch and Release."

Sounds crazy, but remember that here is where you read it first.

In some streams only a single barbed hook is allowed, to make it more difficult to catch and to make for easier release, so I'm thinking an eye patch, over your good eye, to hinder the hunt; and large holes in the bottom of your basket to make it easier for the mushrooms to get away.

"Fly fishing only" is posted in a lot of hot stretches of precious waters so what can be done to hinder the hunt for mushrooms in similarly hot patches? Perhaps "only walking backwards" through the best picking grounds. I am not sure of the relationship of fly fishing to walking backwards, but you get the idea, right. . . ?

Using heavy monofilament with an oversized rod to enable easier taking of fish is certainly frowned upon by ethical fishermen so why do we allow big ole Buck knives to hack away at the stipes of some stubborn shrooms? That shouldn't be allowed. We need to have "pen knives only" or maybe even "butter serving knives only here" and a time limit for how long it can take to cut the stems or you have to leave them alone, let 'em get away.

Night time hunting for black chanterelles (they kinda glow) is well known amongst the cognoscenti of pickers. So is crawling for boletes with a flashlight under the shore pines up north an accepted fine method of spotting trophies. But heck, isn't this a little like a deer in the head lights? Shouldn't be allowed, unless it is for simple pure sport and all mushrooms taken this way would be immediately released unharmed.

Diving for abalone is very popular here along the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts and the attendant restrictions are well monitored by gun-toting binoculared wardens. Fines are heavy and jail time for major infractions are not uncommon. If an undersized "ab" is mistakenly removed from its rock you must replace it right where it came from.

I'm thinking that too small shrooms (or even too many) should be placed back into their same environment, into the same exact spot. Gosh, then wouldn't the Native Plant Society be happy with us pickers?

This new policy of "Catch and Release" needs some work and anybody can see where this is going--heading to the food part of the food column.

After working hard on a new classic like my "Catch and Release" policy I can really get an appetite going for a classic mushroom dish. With the holidays approaching I think that an old favorite appetizer to serve our old favorite guests would be nice. We don't have to call this an "old dish" nor call any of our female guests the same. That wouldn't be right, unless it's true.

Let's make some yummy stuffed mushrooms to serve with sparkling wine for the big upcoming New Year.

Instead of a Champagne type wine we could serve a classic Hungarian type like Tokay. And for the Millennium we now can say as we serve this, "Why Tokay?" Maybe not.

Mushrooms Florentine

Serves 4 as an appetizer
(adapted from the New York Times Cook Book)

  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Wash the mushrooms and remove the stems. Dip the caps into 6 tablespoons of the melted butter and place them upside-down in a buttered (or oiled with the olive oil) baking pan.
  3. Chop the stems small and sauté them in a little butter and olive oil mix with the minced onion until the stems have lost their water and the onions are limp. Add the minced shallot and cook for 5 minutes more.
  4. Add the spinach which has been squeezed very dry, meat (optional), nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir and warm through.
  5. Fill the caps with the spinach mixture. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top of the filling and bake for 15 minutes. Transfer to an attractive serving platter and while passing them engage your guests into a discussion of "Catch and Release" and they will be impressed.