DeLITcious: Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #1

Ever since my pre-order on February 21, I’ve been counting down the days to MaddAddam.

MaddAddam, coming on September 3, completes Margaret Atwood’s trilogy that started with Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Year of the Flood (2009). The series focuses on a handful of different characters and their experiences leading up to and after a global pandemic. Oryx and Crake follows the experiences of Snowman (aka Jimmy), a privileged young man who grew up on the HelthWyzer compound (a rich suburb that is walled off from the crime and poverty of the “pleeblands”). The Year of the Flood tells the stories of Toby and Ren, former members of a fringe religious group in the pleeblands called the God’s Gardeners who predicted the pandemic, calling it the “Waterless Flood.”

I’ve just reread both of them in preparation, obviously.

One of the things that I like so much about The Year of the Flood in particular, and much speculative and science fiction in general, is the food. Whether it’s a post-apocalyptic world where the ability to grow and safely preserve food is a necessity, or an alien world where a description of dinner helps paint the vivid picture of a world unknown, well-written food always tickles me in a story.

It’s because of this that I’ve decided to seek out and develop a series of recipes inspired by my favorite books. Which I am of course, calling DeLITcious, because I can’t resist a horrible pun. And what better book to start with than The Year of the Flood as I wait with bated breath for MaddAddam to arrive on my doorstep?

In The Year of the Flood, The God’s Gardeners are nothing if not self-sufficient. In many of the flashbacks to Ren’s and especially Toby’s time with them, the food that they grow and preserve plays a major role in their daily life. They have a rooftop garden for vegetables, a beehive to harvest honey, and a mushroom growing operation, nutritional and medicinal alike, in the bottom of an abandoned condominium building.

When Toby first joins the Gardeners, one of the first foods she eats (among many others) is a dish called Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley.

Pilar's Pickled Mushroom Medley #1

“The first evening, there was a modest celebration in honour of Toby’s advent. A great fuss was made over the opening of a jar of preserved purple items — those were her first elderberries — and a pot of honey was produced as if it was the Holy Grail.

Adam One made a little speech about providential rescues. The brand plucked from the burning was mentioned, and the one lost sheep — she’d hear of those before, at church — but other, unfamiliar examples of rescue were used as well: the relocated snail, the windfall pear. Then they’d eaten a sort of lentil pancake and a dish called Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley, followed by slices of soy bread topped with the purple berries and the honey.

After her initial elation, Toby was feeling stunned and uneasy. How had she got up here, to this unlikely and somehow disturbing location? What was she doing among these friendly though bizarre people, with their wacky religion and — right now — their purple teeth?”

Pilar and her place in the God’s Gardeners is not revealed until later. However, given the friendship that grows between them, I really like that part of Toby’s first Gardener meal was a result of Pilar’s labor.

All of this is to say, I wanted to make my own version of Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley.

But then I ended up with two versions.

Here’s the deal: The God’s Gardeners most certainly would have canned their wares, both for selling at the Tree of Life market but also for packing into their Ararats (caches of food and supplies hidden all over the city in preparation for surviving the Waterless Flood). And Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley most certainly would have contained a wide variety of mushrooms plucked from the bed in the basement of the Buenavista Condos — puffballs, shaggy manes, morels, and anything else that was available when she went to fill the jars.

Therein lies the problem. There are no tested, approved water-bath canning recipes that I am aware of that utilize anything besides standard grocery store button and crimini mushrooms (which, by the way, are the same species). Other varieties of mushrooms would likely have a different density which could affect the safety of a finished canned product.

Because I’m not in the business of poisoning my loved ones, I decided that two versions would be appropriate. First, behold the Ararat-approved recipe utilizing a “medley” of crimini and white button mushrooms.

Pilar's Pickled Mushroom Medley #1Coming soon, a more exciting and exotic medley that must be stored in the refrigerator. Stay tuned. (Update: Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #2 recipe here.)

Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #1 – Shelf Stable
Slightly adapted from Marinated Whole Mushrooms by National Center for Home Food Preservation

Makes 9 to 12 half-pints

3 1/2 pounds small whole white button mushrooms
3 1/2 pounds small whole crimini mushrooms
1/2 cup bottled lemon juice
2 cups olive oil
2 1/2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
1 tablespoon pickling salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup diced pimento
3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in quarters
27-36 black peppercorns

Equipment
9-12 half-pint jars, rings, and unused canning lids
boiling water canner with rack
jar lifting tongs
jar funnel (optional, but recommended)
clean dish towels

Important Note: If you’ve never canned before, you will probably want to study up on some basics before you get started. And use common sense when eating home-canned goods — leaking, compromised seals, weird growths, bad smells? Play it safe and throw that shit out.

Select the freshest, smallest mushrooms you can find. Wash to remove dirt, then trim off the stems, leaving about 1/4-inch attached to the cap.

Dump all the mushrooms in the largest pot you can find (or split them evenly between two large pots), then pour lemon juice over. Fill with water until mushrooms are fully submerged. Bring to a boil (this will take a very long time), then simmer for 5 minutes.

Drain mushrooms. (Because the pot was so big and unwieldy, I had a much better time using a skimmer to transfer the mushrooms from the simmering liquid to a large bowl. In addition, I was able to save and freeze some of the mushroom liquid — the lemon juice prevents you from using it as straight broth, but I froze some into cubes which I plan on throwing into soups here and there that need a bit of a pick-me-up.)

At some point you should start your canner boiling, depending on how long it takes for it to get up to temperature. When it is, pop your jars, lids, rings, and tools in for 10 minutes to sterilize.

Mix olive oil, vinegar, salt, herbs, onion and pimento in a large nonreactive saucepan. Heat to boiling over medium heat.

Remove sterilized jars from canner and place on a clean dishtowel. Put a quarter piece of garlic and 3 black peppercorns in each jar. Using a funnel, fill each jar with mushrooms until there is about 1-inch of headspace. Then ladle in hot, well-mixed oil and vinegar mixture until there is 1/2-inch of headspace.

Use a chopstick, small spatula, or other non-metal utensil to stab and stir the jar to remove air bubbles. Wipe the rim of each jar with a wet paper towel. Center a lid on top, then screw on a band until fingertip-tight (until you just meet resistance). Using jar tongs, place jars in the canner.

Bring water back to a full, rolling boil, then process for 20 minutes (or longer according to this chart if you are at a different altitude).

Using jar tongs, remove jars from canner upright, without tilting. Place on a clean, dry dishtowel without touching each other. Do not disturb for at least 12 hours.

Check each jar for a good seal (press on the middle or the lid — it shouldn’t move or make noise). Any that didn’t seal can be refrigerated immediately and still used. Remove rings to prevent rust, and clean the outsides of the jars and lids as needed before storage. Store in a cool, dark place for 6 to 9 months. Refrigerate after opening and use within 1 month.

Note on yield: While the original recipe states this recipe makes 9 half-pints, I ended up with 10 and a lot of mushrooms still left. If you don’t have enough jars or room in your canner to process them all, you can store them in non-canning jars (I used those tall salsa jars) and store them in the refrigerator.

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