Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Grow your own morels

There are thousands of people out there with a mushroom obsession. Specifically an obsession for a wild mushroom called a morel, and the hunting thereof.

Morel hunting--which occurs in the spring--inspires contests to find the most or the biggest (or the smallest) morel. It inspires artists to carve morels out of wood or cast them in resin. For example, check out a store called Morel Mania where you can buy a morel-topped walking stick to use when you're in the forest looking for morels.

So, why am I talking about morel hunting in November? Because this is the time you need to order a tree that has been inoculated with morel fungus for planting in early winter. This way, when morel hunting season hits in the spring, you'll have your own personal morel orchard.

The trees--which are elms--are inoculated with a process patented by an avid morel hunter and are available from a company called Morel Farms. The trees cost $15 each, with a minimum order of 10 trees.

While you're waiting for your morels to mushroom in the spring, read this extremely informative book called Morels by Michael Kuo (University of Michigan Press).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Specialized rolling pins

My favorite part of Thanksgiving is pie. So naturally, now that we're in the run-up to that great American tryptophan festival, I'm in a pie frame of mind.

This brings me to this fine collection of rolling pins, many of which belong in the Who Knew? category:

The first one in the collection isn't a Who Knew?, it's more of a I Wish I Owned One. This is an antique folk art pin. There are nine images carved into the 5-inch pin, which presses the pattern into a stiff cookie dough such as springerle. The images are then cut out and baked. It's $59 from House on the Hill.

Next up is a rolling pin for making hard tack, which is a very hard (duh), thick cracker/bread designed to withstand no refrigeration and months at sea. It was the standard fare of sailors (and soldiers) in the 18th century. To keep the crackers flat as they bake, the cook needs to work the air pockets out of the dough. The knobs on this pin do the job. Hard tack (and other crackers) also have holes pricked in the dough to give any remaining trapped air an escape route. This hardwood pin is 10 inches long and is $23 from Creative Kitchen.

This pin is here because I like the sleek, ergonomic design. Or maybe I like it because if Darth Vader baked pies, this is the pin he would use. It's from OXO Good Grips, and the barrel of the pin is nonstick. It's $32 from Sur La Table.

I love the look of this guy. It's made of cherry wood and is actually designed to cut noodles, not roll pie dough. It's $28 from Lehman's, where you'll also find a .pdf with a recipe and an instructional on how to make noodles using the noodle cutter.

This pin is cool. Literally. It has a stainless steel barrel with an opening at one end so you can fill the rolling pin with cold water. The water gives the pin weight and keeps it cool for working with buttery doughs. It's $38 from Fantes.

Last but not least, a meat tenderizer masquerading as a rolling pin. Instead of pounding meat to tenderize or flatten, the knobbledy surface of the pin, and the pressure put on it by the human, evenly, and less violently, tenderize meat. The pin is almost 10 inches long and the barrel is made of silicone. Although sold as a meat tenderizer, this would clearly work as a hard tack rolling pin, too. It's $20 from Lehman's.