The Black Trumpet mushroom, also known as Trompette de la Mort and Horn of Plenty, is a delicious winter treat in Coastal Northern California. These relatives of the Chanterelles appear from around December through April up here, but are usually at their best January through March. They will have growth flushes throughout this period. Black Trumpets dry and reconstitute very easily retaining a rich flavor and aroma. Because the dried mushrooms are available to us all year, have become a cornerstone of Turkeysong cuisine.
The mushrooms vary greatly in shape and size. Tidy symmetrical specimens are somewhat rare with the majority being some manifestation of folded, twisted, doubled, twined, lopsided, inside out or otherwise mutant looking. Because they look much like dead leaves or pieces of bark, it takes some experience for one to be able to spot them consistently. The fruiting bodies tend toward gregariousness however, so if one is found there are usually at least a few more very close by and occasionally multiple pounds can be harvested from a patch.
The Black Trumpet is a mycorrhizal mushroom, meaning that it associates with certain species of trees- the mycelium of the mushrooms exchanging nutrients with the tree’s roots. This mushroom, like many other mycorrrhizal mushrooms, prefers to associate with the Tan Oak (Lithocarpus densiflora). We have an abundance of Tan Oak, and we have an abundance of Black Trumpets!
STORING: The fresh mushrooms can be stored for a few days to a week if left unwashed. Cover them with a damp cloth out in the cold weather or put them in the fridge. Do not put them in plastic.
The dried mushrooms will keep well in airtight containers in a cool area.
CLEANING: As the mushrooms are emerging from the ground, they pick up a lot of dirt, leaves, bugs and other crunchy, chewy goodies. We have streamlined the process of removing these unwanted items. Tear the mushrooms in half lengthwise from the top of the funnel to expose the interior surfaces of the . If there are still folds that are closed, tear again lengthwise to expose all interior surfaces. Put the mushrooms in a generous sized bowl with enough water to easily stir and slosh them around. Slosh for 15 seconds or so and then remove the mushrooms from the water. The grit will all sink to the bottom. If this rinsing process is repeated three times, the mushrooms should be 100% grit free. For the less fastidious, two rinsings should be adequate.
DRYING: If you have more fresh mushrooms than you can eat, or you want to stretch your Black Trumpet supply out over the whole year, drying the mushrooms is easy. Wash as above, but spin in a salad spinner to dry. The mushrooms dehydrate quickly above the woodstove, in the sun, or in a power sucking plastic landfill destined piece of dehydrator junk. The dashboard of a car makes a great drying area. They are best placed on a permeable and slatted surface such as a basket. If a cookie sheet or other vapor proof surface must be used as a last option, lay several towels on it first. Try to dry the mushrooms quickly.
RE-CONSTITUTING: The dried mushrooms reconstitute quickly enough to be a good last minute addition to dishes with adequate moisture. If using dried mushrooms on top of pizza or in other drier preparations, you can reconstitute them by brief simmering. Do not waste the cooking water! Only a very small amount of liquid is need and the excess can be cooked down until there is little or no liquid and the flavor is mostly reabsorbed by the mushroom pieces.
The Black Trumpet mushroom may not look like the most delicious thing ever, but it is very tasty and is a prized element of French gastronomy, which gives it major credibility right out of the basket. The flavor is decidedly savory and somewhat reminiscent of aged cheese. Cooking develops the flavor.
These mushrooms are not only imminently edible, but they are also versatile and can lend their special savoriness to many different ingredients and combinations. In our kitchen, Black Trumpets find their way into an increasingly wide array of preparations. Hardly a day goes by where they aren’t used and most days they are used more than once.
We cook on the fly here and even when we follow recipes, they are usually modified or adapted to the ingredients on hand and in season, so I’m presenting guidelines more than recipes. There are many Black Trumpet recipes online.
Black Trumpets, fresh or reconstituted, are delicious on pizzas and foccacias. The dried mushrooms can also be crushed lightly and added to the the dough or to other savory breads.
Soups, stews and slow cooked moist meats are all good destinations for the Black Trumpet. Wherever it’s salty and savory, the trumpet will often fit reasonably to exceptionally well- Beef stew, chicken soup, slow cooked meats with onion and herbs, miso soup and preparations with meat broth to name a few.
A flavorful sort of sauce or drizzle can be made quickly by simmering a handful of Black Trumpets in a small amount of stock or even plain water and then thickening slightly with Arrowroot powder or Corn starch. Pour this over some grilled or broiled fowl breast, cauliflower or broccoli, or a discreetly sized mound of pasta. A light sprinkling of aged cheese will generally complement well.
When heating oil for a stir fry, scrambled eggs, sauteed onions or other dishes, try crushing a small amount of the dried mushrooms into the oil. This is a great Black Trumpet trick. It is fast and easy and infuses the whole dish with flavor.
Rich, nourishing and flavorful Greek meatball egg and lemon soup is a favorite dish around here. Our version uses Black Trumpets in the meat balls. It is best made with lamb, but goat, beef, venison or pork will all make delicious meatballs. It is preferable that the meat be reasonably high in fat such as one would use to make sausage, at least 15% though closer to 30% would be best. Season the meatballs with adequate salt (use more salt than you would for just meatballs because most of it will end up in the stock. Taste the stock as soon as the meatballs are cooked through and add more salt to taste). Add crushed spearmint and pepper. A small amount of dried oregano and/or thyme is optional. Fresh finely minced parsley is mandatory. We like to add a small amount of minced preserved lemon peel as well. Add a small handful of dry rice grains to the meatball mix. Don’t forget the dried and crushed, or fresh minced Black Trumpets! Add small bite sized meatballs carefully to simmering water and cook gently until done. Turn off the heat and remove the lid so the soup will cool. Mix 2 to 4 egg yolks in a bowl with a few tablespoons of water. Stir the yolks while very slowly drizzling in some of the slightly cooled stock so as not to cook the yolk. Just before serving, add the yolks back to the broth and squeeze in lemon juice to taste.
We’ve discovered that Black Trumpet sausage is excellent! Salt pepper and Black Trumpets, thats it!