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the autumn wilds yonder

The Autumnal Equinox heralds the beginning of shorter days, cooler nights, pumpkins galore and the heady aroma of foraged fungus.

That’s right. The foraging season is upon us, and I am so ready!

This readiness is a far cry from my youthful leanings. Much to dismay of my local Polish forest mushroom foraging expert, also known as Babcia (Grandma), I did not care for the smell, texture, or taste of mushrooms. Or broccoli, but that’s a tale for a different time.

Nowadays, I consider mushrooms to be one of the world’s most perfectly-satisfying foods, although my mushroom foraging is strictly limited to a personal morel patch, the local farmers' markets and supermarket aisles.

Fall mushrooms are also one of autumn's most fleeting offerings. A chance trip, a wander through the farmers' market in Sparta, NJ, and Dining Wild's table of foraged provisions yielded a bountiful crop of one of my all-time favorites, the lobster mushroom, a.k.a. Hypomyces lactifluorum.

Foraged Lobster Mushrooms These vibrant beauties aren't an actual mushroom species: they are the result of one fungus attacking another host mushroom, resulting in a bright orange coating and an oddly twisted shape. Their velvety texture, robust aroma and succulent meat hint pleasantly at the namesake crustacean. In other words, yum.

Because they aren't cultivated, lobster mushrooms are available only from late summer through fall. If you happen to luck into someone who trades in these foraged edibles, be sure to grab some for your next indulgence. Your taste buds will thank you.

Lobster mushrooms tend to be costly, so I pair them with less expensive cultivated or wild mushrooms. Today’s companion is locally-foraged maitake mushrooms.

I exchanged a knowing look with Jordan Stettner, partner and forager of Dining Wild. We waxed poetic about lobster mushrooms role in various recipes (his girlfriend is a very fortunate gal) as he carefully bagged my treasures. I headed homeward, my foraging complete.

I have a feeling that Babcia is smiling down in approval.

Creamy Lobster Mushroom Soup

Serves 4

Bowl of Creamy Lobster Mushroom Bisque
A velouté, (or sauce velouté, if you’re feeling chefesque) is one of the five basic French sauces. A modified version adds body to the thin mushroom stock. Cipollini onions are mild and sweet: other sweet onions work equally well.

If you don't care for rum, swap in some cognac. A touch of saffron, fresh lemon thyme and crème fraiche complete this seafood-free soup sonata.

  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 6 cups store-bought or homemade mushroom broth, divided
  • 1/4 pound fresh lobster mushrooms, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3/4 pound maitake mushrooms, chopped coarse
  • 3 small cipollini onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 ounces flavorful dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche
  • Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
Make the velouté: In a small saucepan over low heat, bring 2 cups of stock to a bare simmer. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter, then stir in the flour until well blended (do not brown.) Gradually whisk in the warm stock; reduce heat and simmer until silky and thickened, stirring often, about 20-25 minutes.

While velouté is simmering, make the soup: In a medium pan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter and sauté the mushrooms, onions, garlic and a pinch of salt until softened and moisture from the mushrooms has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the rum and cook until just evaporated. Add the remaining mushroom stock, reduce heat to low and simmer until warmed through.

When the velouté is ready, gently whisk it into the soup. Stir in the saffron and lemon thyme; simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the crème fraîche; simmer until heated through.

Ladle into shallow bowls, garnish with a sprinkling of lemon thyme leaves. Serve immediately with some crusty bread and a glass of wine.
Time well spent turning this...
Ingredients for Creamy Lobster Mushroom Soup. Cippolini onions, maitake mushrooms, lobster mushrooms, lemon thyme.
...into this. Cheers!
Bowl of Creamy Lobster Mushroom Soup