North to (Almost) Alaska

Copyright © by Patrick Hamilton, Mycochef

It was obvious that too many Bald Eagles were hanging out in the uppermost branches of the Sitka Spruces alongside Hecate Strait. The Ravens, relegated to hunkering down lower in the trees, acted like they couldn't fully relax and crow about all the clams and small crabs revealed once again during yet another 22 foot tide ebbing on the north end of Moresby Island--the largest southern island of the Queen Charlotte archipelago.

In spite of the seemingly rare (to us) spectacle of avian avarice taking place between those lofty birds one can certainly argue that this almost mystical island group is much more well known for the Chanterelles that fruit there in amazing abundance. . . .

The adventure began by traveling to Eugene, Oregon, for a friend's wedding that we catered. It was bright eyed whole BBQ Sockeyes stuffed with fennel bulb, Walla Walla onion and lemon slices served with a horseradish lemony whipped cream plus more good stuff.

(Just for the heck of it--while there we happened to stay in the home of "Bungalow Bill" of the Beattles song who is, by the way, a real person!)

Then on to Anacortes, Washington, and the ferry to Sidney, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Here we hiked a protected parkland with a friend of ours, Bryce Kendrick, the author of The Fifth Kingdom and the docent of that forest. He was like having a field guide compendium along with us for each flower, shrub, tree, moss, lichen, smut, slime, rust, smell, et al. for whenever we needed information. Quite a guy, quite a walk. For his great book on fungi and for information on a variety of other mycological subjects he can be reached via e-mail: Mycolog@pacificcoast.net.

After a tasty lunch we presented his wife, Laurie, with a pint of reduced Morels from home. I had been asked by Bryce about my availability of that rather rare (there) mushroom and figured that an intense sauce from Sierra Morels would be a fitting offering to bring.

To make this I chopped a half pound of dried Morels that had been rehydrated in warmed water, squeezed dry, then sautéed in olive oil and butter. Next, the soaking liquid was added, cooked down to about half the original volume and seasoned with Kosher salt. (Don't salt sauces to be reduced until they are--they might end up being way too salty!) Into the blender it went and ultimately cooled in the refrigerator. Upon presentation I told them to freeze it in ice cube trays and when hard, pop them into baggies to be used one at a time to flavor a variety of dishes. This can also be done with pesto (sans cheese--it doesn't freeze well), bolete reductions, etc.--almost any sauce that survives the freezer.

After lunch we drove 300 miles up island towards Port Hardy for another ferry. Along the way we dined in a recommended restaurant and inquired about wines served by the glass. The waitress explained each of the only two offered were "medium." "Hmmm, medium, huh," This Northern Californian thought bemused. "What does this mean?" The size of the glass? The color? Price? The amount of alcohol? The temperature it will be served. . . ? "Of course not," she said smug in her obvious knowledge of the vine, "Medium is how sweet it is. Where are you from?"

In addition to this type of fine dining every small town in British Columbia seems to have a Chinese restaurant. If you haven't already seen these prepare yourself for the signs that say, "Chinese and Canadian Food." Ah, that great winning pick-up line, "Hey honey, let's go out for some Canadian food tonight."

The ferry boat took 15 hours on the lovely but long "Inside Passage" to get to Prince Rupert, B.C. The next morning we boarded yet another ferry for the 8 hour trip out into the Pacific across wild Hecate Strait to the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Here we were, really a long way from home and close to so many beautiful Bald Eagles. I learned there that it takes those birds four years to get the characteristic plumage of the white head and almost black body with white tail. Up until that time they look rather odd, like big "ugly ducklings", all browns, mottled and not too majestic.

"The Charlottes," are also home to a "World Heritage Site" --Ninstints-- the greatest remaining example of an ancient settlement and totems of the Haida people. Evidence suggests that they inhabited these islands for more than 10,000 years. To visit the heritage site you must take a float plane an hour down islands then board a motorized Zodiac raft to cross another very choppy and oftentimes foggy strait wearing the required clumsy rubberized survival suits.

While flying above those beautiful islands I asked the bush pilot what else does he do for income (very few folks come and travel all the way to Ninstints). "Well," he offered quietly yet not without local pride, "I am hired to spot Chanterelles from the air." From the air?

"By whom?," I was barely able to sputter as our motor purred over the Hemlock and Spruce forested mountain tops. "Commercial pickers, island folks mostly, who mark on maps where the 'fields of gold' are concentrated," ole Don stated as he reached over and helped close my gaping mouth.

"Now let me get this straight Don," I rallied. "Through the trees these puppies can be seen from the air?"

"Well yeah. That's what I said," he did say.

'Nuf said, sez me. Jeez. . . .

We later drove to mile marker "9" on the Skidegate (pronounced "ske de git") Lake road. We climbed and hiked up fairly steep terrain and spotted, growing along moss covered forest animal trails, zillions of Chanterelles. Tis true. Yup. O.K., maybe only 10,000 buttons emerging as we stared and small flying things entered our mouths. Oh yeah, Boletes were also fruiting but not nearly as many.

This ain't Kansas anymore. . . .

And since it wasn't, a just-caught Coho from nearby Rennel Sound was brought to me to prepare for a crowd at the B&B where we all were staying. (I should name here Connie Green of Wine Forest Mushrooms in Napa who was integral in planning our trip as well as Kathy Faircloth of Woodacre, my constant mushroom buddy).

We oven roasted that fabulous fish and served it with, among other things, a really good rendition of an old time favorite that we called:

Skidegate Scalloped Potatoes with Baby Chanterelles and Big Boletes

—6 servings—

This is a very easy recipe to make--it just may appear difficult. It is deliciously satisfying (ergo, not a diet food) and a great way to taste the mushrooms.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cook in salted boiling water: (you want the water boiling first to gelatinize the carbohydrates on the exterior of the slices)

Cook them just enough to be almost cooked through--about 8 minutes. Be careful not to allow them to become close to mushy-not even mushrooms should be mushy. Drain well.

Chop coarsely, sauté for 10 minutes in olive oil and butter, set aside:

Chop coarsely:

Make a roux in the same pan as the onions with:

Cook 'til golden brown and the onion is softened then "break the roux" (this means add the liquid) to make a sort of Bechamel sauce with a mixture of:

Continue to cook until the whole thing is beginning to thicken--about 5 minutes. set aside.

Grate and set aside:

Assemble the dish by layering the potatoes in a buttered casserole dish. After one layer toss in some of the cheese, a little sauce and some of the mushrooms. Continue until all the stuff is gone but save some sauce and cheese for the top. Bake 'til bubbly.

And, by the way, this would go very well with a bubbly yeasty California white wine.