It is sometimes difficult or even impossible to get fresh mushrooms to market. Some mushrooms such as the King Boletus (porcini/ceps) need to be chilled and shipped right away. The alternative is to dry them. With the exception of morel mushrooms, it can mean a lower price that what the fresh would get. However, if you are harvesting in a remote area, or haven’t quite got enough to warrant paying for gas to get to an airport, restaurant, farmer’s market or bus station, aside from eating them yourself, drying is the way to go. And dried mushrooms can be stored for several years if they are kept cool, dark and dry.
Most wild mushrooms have to ability to produce stronger flavours when dried and reconstituted, so there is a market for most of the popular wild mushrooms such as red caps, spruce boletus, king boletus, matsutake (pine), black trumpet, hedgehog, lobster and many others. There are exceptions, such as chanterelles which lose a lot of flavour, but which people continue to purchase anyway.
When harvesting wild mushrooms, only pick those that are fresh and not starting to go mushy. And it is important to pick clean as well. If you are about to start a harvest, check out the information on how to harvest, clean, handle, store and ship that particular mushroom. There is absolutely no market for sandy morels or pine mushrooms, and the price paid for dirty mushrooms is almost nil.
These dried mushrooms are choice consumer goods. People are paying good money to get healthy foods. Anybody that treats these mushrooms as anything but food they would eat themselves, will soon find themselves without a market. Bits of insulation or dog hairs or gasoline smells are a sign of poor handling. Buyers often have their dried mushrooms inspected several times to ensure good quality.
In Canada, we are moving towards a system of tracking for all wild mushrooms. Although it is only now coming into use in Quebec, this will likely become standard practice across Canada. This system requires all harvesters to keep notes, records of what the mushroom is, and where and when it was picked. This does not mean that a harvester must reveal the details of where their morel patch is, only that if required, that information can trace the origins of a specific mushroom.
How to dry wild mushrooms
Mushrooms, even when dried, are still fairly delicate food items. Mushrooms should be dried with air and heat at about 120 degrees F. Then they should be flashed, heated to 160 degrees F for about 2 hours. Ideally they will have about 7% to 9% moisture. Any mushrooms that are dry to the point of being brittle, may have been heated too much. Too much heat can mean that they are effectively ‘cooked’ and will not provide optimal flavour when reconstituted. If the mushrooms are too dry, there will often be pieces that remain tough even when cooked. They should be bagged in pounds or kilos and in clean new bags. The bags should not contain dirt or a lot of dust and small pieces. However it must be recognized that these are wild mushrooms, harvested in the forests and an occasional oak leaf or pine needle should not be a sign of poor quality control. Mushrooms that look like dried meat are often the result of being dried when wet and should be rejected. Mushrooms that have mold, such as morels, were probably dried wet and should be thrown out.
It is important when drying wild mushrooms to make sure that they are not mishandled, crushed, bruised or dirty. The taste, smell and colour of mushrooms are important to retain and this is not difficult to manage if proper care is taken. Most mushrooms are about 90% water. The surface of the drier must be clean and the mushrooms need space between them to ensure good airflow. Initially it is preferable to direct a good fan on them for about 6 to 8 hours at a temperature of about 20 degrees C to 27 degrees C. Depending on the species, the drying should be done at 40 degrees C for 12 to 36 hours. To finish the process, the heat should be increased to 48 degrees C for a final 5 to 6 hours. The end product ideally will have a 7% moisture content. This usually means dry to the touch but not brittle. Each type of mushroom will take its own time to dry. Morels and black trumpet are relatively quick, lobster and pine take longer as they are heavier, more dense mushrooms. Depending on the type of mushroom, and the type of customer, you may need to slice the mushrooms prior to drying.
Mushrooms that are dried too hot and for too long will have very little taste or smell and will be hard to reconstitute. Anybody foolish enough to buy these, will never buy from you again.
For information on drying methods and field technologies, please see our article here.
Potential customers will often request a small sample of dried mushrooms to determine if they meet the buyers standards. Some buyers will pay for the shipping on samples. Canada Post is a cheap way to ship.
All dried mushrooms must also be packaged separately and no mixing of varieties. Any package of dried mushrooms that contains other varieties, even one piece, is considered contaminated, at least until the harvester can provide precise information as to what else was being dried at the time and why it ended up in the package. Buyers will assume that the harvesters don’t know what they are doing and could be ignorant as to what kind of mushrooms are being picked.
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