Whether you’ve wondered how to select mushrooms in the woods or off the grocery-store shelves — and how to prepare those enokis, shiitakes, chanterelles, porcinis, morels, criminis, and oysters — the 10th and latest cookbook from chef and wild food expert Bill Jones offers invaluable fungi fundamentals.
The Deerholme Mushroom Book — from Foraging to Feasting was a 10-year labour of love, and the culmination of a passion piqued over 20 years ago, when Jones was working as a geologist in Calgary.
“I used to escape the city almost every weekend to go backpacking or hiking,” Jones explains. “I did a couple of big 10-day trips in the Rockies. It all started with me bringing dehydrated trail food along, and I wondered if there was something else I could add to it. It started with trying to supplement my diet when I was on these trips. So I started bringing a fishing rod and fishing for trout, then I graduated to some wild onions and wild herbs. But never too much in the way of mushrooms, because I was sort of raised on white buttons and scared of it all.”
Jones’s fungi education really began when he switched from geology to the profession of his father, who was also a chef. “I did my apprenticeship in France, and it was eye-opening. These old guys would come to the back door of the restaurant with baskets of cepes — also known as porcinis — and it really intrigued me. I talked one of them into taking me out on the trail, and that was the big eye-opening experience. It really struck me that he wasn’t necessarily looking for the mushrooms; he was looking for trees, terrain — the right conditions for the mushrooms. That was an amazing opportunity to learn from someone who’d been doing it all his life,” says Jones.
Back on Canada’s west coast after time in Michelin-starred restaurants in France and England, Jones discovered there were thousands of mushroom varieties at his feet. For the past 13 years Jones and his wife have lived at Deerholme Farm on Vancouver Island, where they host local food dinners, cooking classes and foraging tours. For novice fungi enthusiasts, a tour is the ideal way to begin.
“It’s intimidating, because even in our area there are 10,000 different types of mushrooms. If you’re just starting out, that volume of information is overwhelming. It’s nice to have a guide to steer you to what’s an important place to start, what mushrooms you should focus on to begin with, because there’s lots of ways you can create error when you have so many different types and some look very similar,” says Jones.
Jones recently discovered truffles in his area. “They’ve probably been here for thousands of years, but for me it’s a couple-of-year-old discovery. We were just out walking one day along the river in the spring and saw these little buttons on the ground. They looked like chanterelles emerging; I dug them up and they turned out to be white Oregon truffles. That day we found about 60.”
What are indigenous truffles like? “Once they ripen, these particular truffles are very aromatic. When you open the fridge door all you can smell is the truffle aroma. It’s very pungent; a little garlicky and quite wonderful. And definitely in the world of truffles, much better than I’ve ever found by importing them from France or Italy. Quite impressive,” says Jones.
If you want to discover how to make chocolate truffles from real truffles, and knockout dishes from all manner of fungi, The Deerholme Mushroom Book is an excellent companion.