The other day I was poking around old cookbooks I hadn’t looked through for years. I found one that had been a favorite of mine so long ago, it was like finding an old friend. I flipped through the pages, remembering recipes I had tried and long forgotten. The book’s title is “Fancy Pantry” by Helen Witty. It is out of print now (it was published in 1986) but there are still plenty of copies available on the net.
“Fancy Pantry” was something of a touchstone for me when it first published. My daughters were just babies, I wore my hair in long braids, and we lived at a remote fishing lodge in Southcentral Alaska. I was making the effort to garden and preserve things in a much more vigorous subsistence style than I do these days. Mrs. Witty’s book introduced me to potted meats, homemade cheese, chutneys and relishes. So many recipes in this collection are still great today. That’s a sign of a good cookbook.
I’ve decided to re-introduce some of the “Fancy Pantry”” recipes into my fall repertoire. Today, I am starting with a recipe for potted mushrooms. If you have never tried a thick spread of rich mushroom paste over a piece of crunchy toast, you should give this a try.
First of all, I bought a variety of fresh and dried mushrooms. I found fresh brown mushrooms, white mushrooms and shitakes for a good price. I bought a mixture of dried mushrooms that added a nice variety to my collection.
I removed the stems from the shitake but left the stems on the brown mushrooms. The whites were so big, I snapped off the bottom part of the stems that were too thick.
Next, I soaked the dried mushrooms in warm water until they were soft, about fifteen minutes. I pureed the fresh and rehydrated mushrooms in a food processor, added in minced shallot, some garlic and salt. I added in a bay leaf, some cayenne pepper, and a splash of Madeira wine and pureed the mushrooms a little bit more.
I spooned the mushrooms into two small ramekins (small heat-proof round cups) that fit inside a loaf pan. I covered the ramekins individually with aluminum foil so water wouldn’t condense onto the top of the mushrooms. I added a little water to the loaf pan to make a water-bath. This prevents the mushrooms from scorching or burning on the bottom. I used another loaf pan to act as a lid. I cooked the mushrooms in a 300-degree oven for two and a half hours. From there, I deviated from the “Fancy Pantry” recipe, which recommends stirring a large amount of butter into the mushrooms to create a more buttery paste. I prefer the mushrooms just as they are.
As I was spreading my mushroom paste over a piece of toast, my daughter Mandy walked into the kitchen.
“You should make Mushroom Conserva. It’s so good,” Mandy said.
She told me she made it often when she worked at a restaurant in Napa called Ad Hoc. I had plenty of mushrooms left so we heated up some good quality oil, added in herbs and paprika, and brought the oil up to 170 degrees. We dumped in about 2 pounds of mushrooms and waited until the oil heated up to 170 degrees again. Then we turned off the heat and added in some sherry vinegar, salt and pepper.
This recipe definitely has a Spanish vibe. By the way, a trick I learned in Spain for sherry vinegar (which can be very expensive) is to combine sherry wine and white vinegar together to create your own blend. It’s more affordable that way.
All in all, I had a nice day in the kitchen – one old recipe to remember and one new one to try.
- 2 pounds assorted mushrooms
- 2 cups extra virgin olive oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 thyme sprigs
- 1 rosemary sprig
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Remove any tough stems from the mushrooms. Either tear or cut the mushrooms in into quarters or bite-sized portions.
- Combine the olive oil, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary and paprika in a large wide pot. Bring the oil up to a temperature of 170 degrees.
- Add in the mushrooms and stir, coating the mushrooms with the oil. Bring the temperature up to 170 degrees again. Cook the mushrooms at this temperature for five minutes. Turn off the heat.
- Add in the vinegar and then salt and pepper to taste. Let the mushrooms steep for about 45 minutes.
- Transfer the mushrooms into a covered storage container, keeping them covered in oil. They will last about 1 month in the refrigerator.