Stuffed and otherwise 

Going wild over mushrooms

It seems that just about everybody on earth knows the multi-dimensional pleasures of edible wild mushrooms – everybody that is except us, and maybe the Americans. The Italians have their porcini, the French their vaunted truffles, the Japanese and First Nations people, their pine mushrooms, and the worldly but practical eastern Europeans, well, they pick and enjoy whatever edible wild mushrooms they can wherever they live.

In fact, it was her Hungarian godmother who first opened up the possibilities of wild mushrooms for a 10-year-old Ophra Buckman as she cleaned and sorted them on the balcony of her Montreal apartment. But it took the Polish grandfather of her best friend to teach her the wonder of gathering wild mushrooms in the Eastern Townships of Quebec some 25 years ago.

"He showed us what to look for and we all disappeared into the woods – it was so beautiful just wandering around, looking for them," Ophra recalls. "But when my girlfriend and I showed him what we had gathered in our baskets, he threw them all out, every last one of them. ‘They’re all no good,’ he said."

Point one about gathering wild mushrooms well taken.

But that didn’t deter her, and if anyone in the Whistler valley has rightfully earned the name "the mushroom lady" it’s Ophra. A cook and baker who was one of the original partners in Auntie Em’s Kitchen in Village North, Ophra has gone on to become an informal but well-informed consultant on the various wild mushrooms found in the Whistler area.

Her friend’s European cleaning lady phones: I’ve got all these wild porcinis I found. Do you want some? Another friend of a friend knocks on her door with a bag of mushrooms in hand: are these good to eat? Yes (they were chanterelles).

If you missed last weekends Fungus Among Us mushroom festival, sponsored by the Whistler Naturalists, you missed Ophra in her finest hour. She showed some 40 lucky participants how to make her creamy soup made with pine mushrooms, her savoury mushroom strudel, stuffed with spinach, sour cream, mustard, asiago cheese and gypsy mushrooms, and her wilted spinach salad set off by a rich miso dressing and hedgehog mushrooms.

And then, like a magical cooking show where everything is miraculously done in an instant, she trotted out samples of same for everyone to taste – in some cases, two or three or four samples of each, they were so popular. (If you missed the demo, you can find the recipes at Nesters Market, which offers the best and most consistent supply of wild mushrooms in the valley.)

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