We must admit to some smoldering jealousy this time of year. Many parts of the country, at least the ones not still dealing with snow, are currently diving headfirst into morel mushroom hunting season, pulling up last year's secret morel maps of prize locations, filling up the GPS with coordinates, watching the weather, and occasionally getting lost on mushroom hunting expeditions. Sure, we Angelinos enjoy a year-round rainbow of berries, tomatoes, and greens. But we generally have to leave the wild mushroom hunting to parts north. Luckily, there's a new cultivated mushroom hitting our local markets thanks to Mountain Meadow Mushroom Farms in Escondido.
This is the first year that we've seen Almond Blazei (also known as himematsutake or “princess matsutake”) mushrooms at the market. It's a large capped fungus forming an almost perfectly arched half-sphere on top of a uniformly thick stem – a shape so cartoonishly accurate that you half expect to see a hookah smoking caterpillar perched on top. The cap is covered in sandy white and tan skin that protects a dense and meaty flesh. The flavor starts off typical enough, full of earth and loam, but then it finishes in a distinctly sweet almond flavor, thanks in large part to its abundance of benzylic aromatic compounds – benzaldehyde, benzyl alcohol, benzonitrile, and methyl benzoate, which by the way is the same gas that drug sniffing dogs are trained to smell when looking for cocaine.
Be that as it may, the mushroom doesn't induce anything remotely like a high, unless you're just passionately enamored about the idea of a mushroom tasting like almonds. Like most mushrooms, its best flavor is in its “button stage” before its edges unfurl to expose the gills underneath. Unlike most mushrooms, its button stage has a four to five inch diameter and has a nice deep cup perfect for stuffing. Mountain Meadow Mushroom Farms will have them off and on throughout the season. You can find them regularly at the Hollywood market just north of Selma.