This year has been absolute crap for honey mushrooms, but I have snagged a couple. Their season is lightning fast, a few days late; you will miss it altogether. I love these mushrooms, but not nearly as much as the families from Eastern Europe who stalk our Minnesota woods.
When I first became aware of honeys, I stumbled upon a large cache of them which boggled my mind. It seemed nearly every tree in the entire forest I was in was infected with them. I picked about 20lbs of the most perfect buttons in an hour or two and then headed out to the nearest restaurant I knew that would buy them. (I would wager I saw at least 100lbs of mixed age honeys in this particular spot one day!) They had never heard of the things, but after I cooked a few for the head chef I will never forget his reaction: “Delicious!-with a sweet note”.
Honey mushrooms definitely have a sweet note that builds after you taste them. It is a rich, umami quality, much deeper than any shiitake (they are in the same family) could ever be. Every person I have ever served them to has loved them. Eastern European grandmothers have a particular predilection for these. I have owned and read a few different antique Russian and Ukranian cookbooks, they often call for an ingredient known as “Pidpenky”: the honey mushroom.
Another thing I was quite ignorant about was the structure of the honey mushroom itself. They grow to have stems that are ridiculously long, sometimes I have seen some over a foot long. Now with any mushroom I will typically cut the stem up to where any sort of bug damage ends to discourage further gorging, but with honeys I saw the stem as nothing but a nuisance. I would just swipe off the caps and toss them in my bag. Little did I know I was making a huge mistake.
Just like the greens of beets and turnips can be cooked alongside their underground counterpart, the long stem of the honey mushroom is part of the mushroom, and it shouldn’t be wasted. If you find really nice specimens with no bug damage, you can really come away with a serious haul of free, delicious food. All it takes is a couple minutes to peel them and you basically just doubled your haul. I’ll admit, the stem is not as choice as the caps themselves, but they are still great to eat, and could be made into any number of things, If you don’t want to just throw them into the frying pan.
Sauteed Honey Mushroom Caps and Stems
Remember to always cook honeys thoroughly, make darn sure they are done. If they are not cooked through they could give you an upset stomach. Fear not though, people around the world enjoy these and have been hunting them since, well, forever. The MN mycological society bans these at all of their communal potlucks, and that is understandable since their origin and species are difficult to ascertain.
- Long clusters of honey mushrooms and their attached stems
- Kosher salt and pepper
- Fat for sauteing, like lard, grapeseed or canola
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
- Trim the caps from the honey mushrooms and peel the stems. Heat a pan with oil until lightly smoking and add the mushroom caps, cook the caps for 3 minutes on high heat until lightly colored, then add the stems and saute for another 3 minutes.
- Continue cooking the mushrooms until they are well colored and thoroughly cooked. When the mushrooms are golden and caramelized, add the butter, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the mushrooms to paper towels to drain excess oil, then serve immediately.
Alas, I cannot take credit for this method. I David Arora’s book All The Rain Promises And More, he describes this very use of honey mushroom stems. When I read this for the first time though it was a revelation to me: “So thats how I can process and make use of that huge stem!”
After I tried this with honey mushrooms, I began to experiment with other types of mushrooms in the same family (Armillaria) that the honeys are in. Shiitake mushrooms are a great example. Typically people will just cut off the stem of shiitake and call it a day. If you have large cultivated specimens though, they may come with extra big stems.This method works as well for large stems like agaricus bisporus and it’s shackled cousins from your grocery store (cremini, white button, portobello).