A mushroom is one of the most mysterious of nature’s creations. It is a fungus that reproduces through the release of spores. It can nourish or be poisonous…but for now, let’s set aside its powers and focus on the ‘nourish’ part.
FERMENTING RAW MUSHROOMS
There are a couple of ways to ferment mushrooms in Russia. One is fermenting them raw.
Folks do it by first soaking fresh mushrooms in water. It removes debris, bitterness, and toxins (supposedly). The water needs to be changed frequently. Then they drain as much liquid as possible. After that mushrooms get a generous sprinkling of salt and spices, and a weight on top. Salt draws the liquid out of the mushrooms. That liquid gets discarded, and then the mushrooms receive their final brine – a mixture of water, salt, sugar, whey and spices.
The drawback of raw mushroom fermentation is the fact that not all mushroom varieties taste and look good afterward. Some get mushy and gooey, others too fragile.
The varieties I remember my grandma fermenting raw are saffron milk cap (Lactarius deliciosus), milk caps, woolly mill caps (Agaricus torminosu).
Mushroom hunting and fermenting vary dramatically between folks even in the same area. It depends on their background and experience, and what they learned from their parents. I know my grandma scoffed at several mushroom varieties that other people found perfectly fit for eating and fermenting.
FERMENTING COOKED MUSHROOMS
The other method, which is what I’m going to describe below, is fermenting cooked mushrooms. Folks boil them, cool, then add the brine of water, salt, spices and leaves. It is fairly common to add whey and sugar to start fermentation quicker.
Growing up in the north, we used porcini mushrooms for cooked fermentation, but when I moved south, regular white mushrooms (Agaricus) were the main choice.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH MUSHROOM FERMENTATION
I tried fermenting baby bellas (also called criminis) and white button mushrooms from raw but found that they taste and look off – not appetizing, mushy and just plain gross.
I tried cooking and fermenting baby bellas, and didn’t care for the result. Even though at first glance it seems that they would be a perfect pickling variety. I figured I’d go back to the tried, true and predictable button white mushrooms. They ferment great, keep firm and pleasant texture, the color remains light at the end (after undergoing some changes during fermentation).
HOW TO EAT LACTO-FERMENTED MUSHROOMS
Russians like to eat lacto fermented mushrooms tossed with chopped sweet or green onions, dill and parsley, and some sunflower oil. Olive oil works well too. Lacto-fermented mushrooms make an easy dinner served with buttered boiled potatoes and a side of sauerkraut.
- 16oz fresh white button mushrooms
- A pinch of salt
- 1 quart filtered water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon grated horseradish root
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped or pressed
- 1-2 teaspoons your favorite pickling spices (I like mustard seeds and dill seeds)
- 1-2 sprigs fresh dill
- Starter - pick one
- ¼ cup sauerkraut or pickle juice (homemade or store-bought refrigerated brand, like Bubbie's)
- ¼ cup live whey + 1-2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar (you can even use liquid whey from store-bought yogurt)
- In a medium pot, place mushrooms and enough water to cover them completely. Add a pinch of salt. Bring to boil, then cook on low for 15-20 minutes.
- While mushrooms are cooking, prepare the brine: bring 1 quart water to boil, add 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon sugar to dissolve. Remove from heat, let cool to warm room temperature. Once cool, add the rest of the ingredients, including a starter of your choice.
- Drain the mushrooms, and place them into a quart mason jar. Pour the brine over the cooled down mushrooms. Cover the jar tightly and shake to spread the brine (I use a white plastic lid).
- You may put a fermenting weight, or a cabbage leave on top to keep the mushrooms down, but they don't always float.
- Keep brined mushrooms covered at room temperature from 7 to 14 days. I don't notice much activity like bubbling in the first few days. The reason I know something is happening is because the brine changes color to cloudy and opaque, and mushrooms become a bit darker. Around day 4-5, I see some bubbling, and mushrooms turn lighter color.
- Once done, mushrooms should taste pleasant, with that tangy pickled flavor throughout.