A Meal in a Category All Its Own

by Miche Genest | Photos by Cathie Archbould

Boreal Chef ~ Fall 2012 (V6I3)

The great thing about harvesting from the wild is every cup of blueberries or handful of dried morels comes with a story. I love the practice of writing the place and date of harvest on each bag of berries or jar of dried mushrooms. Then you can say, “Oh yes! I remember that day. There were six of us gals and two dogs, heads down amongst the blueberries on Gray Mountain on a clear September afternoon. And we saw a bear moseying along the ridge to the north. He strolled down from the ridge and disappeared into the brush below us, and we didn’t know where he was going to emerge. At our feet? Somebody said, ‘Is this going to be one of those stories you hear on the radio, when you think, Why didn’t those people just move?’”

   One of the best times to tell these sorts of stories is on a lazy Sunday morning in the fall, when the harvesting season is over and friends and family surround you around a table laden with ... brunch! Sunday brunch is a brilliant invention for so many reasons: 1) the larder is bursting with good things you’ve gathered yourself; 2) you can eat well at brunch and still have time to exercise later; 3) there is always the option of a nap; 4) Sunday night angst due to Monday work or school is hours away; and 5) you get to serve and enjoy those great brunchy items that somehow don’t fit with the other meals of the day.

   Let us discuss eggs. Eggs are the ideal brunch food, an excellent medium for combining diverse flavours in omelettes, frittatas, and scrambled concoctions and delicious by themselves, particularly when they come from happy chickens fed on chicken scraps and organic feed, raised locally with room to roam. Once you’ve tasted real eggs it’s hard to go back to the supermarket version.

   These days, more and more Yukoners have access to great eggs sourced from artisanal farmers or friends with chicken coops. The City of Whitehorse amended its bylaws and now permits residents to raise small flocks of chickens in their backyards. (No roosters allowed though--too noisy.) My household is lucky: we have two suppliers, both good friends living outside Whitehorse city limits who keep enough chickens to feed themselves and a clutch of customers.

   One of these lovely people, Sophia Marnik, is of Dutch heritage, the other, Monika Broeckx, is German. The Dutch Baby pancake featured here is dedicated to them, because both Germany and the Netherlands share the origin of this gorgeous fluffy creation, halfway between an omelette and a pancake. Sophia calls it pannekoeken and Monika calls it apfelpfannkuchen (Monika’s mom cooks hers on the stove rather than in the oven) and by both names it is equally fabulous.

   Usually Dutch Baby pancakes are sweet, but I invented a savoury version the morning my husband said, “Do you fancy an omelette with some lovely shaggymane dust?” (He is crazy for throwing the small, broken bits of dried shaggymane mushrooms that collect in the bottom of the jar into everything you can think of--pasta dishes, soups, cream sauces, and omelettes.) I wanted pancakes, so we compromised--and a new dish was born.

   The other brunch-y item highlighted here is a second happy marriage of wild mushrooms and fresh, organic eggs. This time it’s the honourable morel mushroom, which is plentiful in the Yukon in burn areas the year after the fire and coveted by the international mushroom market. (Last July, black morels were selling at $10 for 28 grams at the Fireweed Market in Whitehorse.) Every spring, professional and amateur mushroom pickers converge on burn areas, especially when they’re easily accessed by road or river.

   In the summer of 2011, my husband and I floated down the wide, peaceful section of the Yukon River, from the north end of Lake Laberge through to Carmacks. Not far from Hootalinqua, we paddled around a corner into a silent world of blackened trees and scorched earth. Our first thought was, Yikes. Our second was, Morels! We ferried over to shore, but as we drew closer we saw there was still smoke rising from the ashy ground.

   One year after the burn, in June 2012, we went back down the river with morels in mind once again, and there we saw firsthand the magic of regeneration. The once silent, smoking landscape was transformed. Alder leaves shot up at the base of burned birch and spruce. On the hillside above our campground we climbed through green meadows of arnica, lungwort, and fireweed. On the riverbanks--where the morels were richest--we came across miniature landscapes of hills and valleys, with morels of all sizes tucked into the hollows made by tree roots. It was dreamlike.

   For two days we picked mushrooms, identified flowers, watched birds, and made a scientific study of the morel-picking culture that surrounded us: the riverboats, the drying camps, the size-11 boot marks in the soil. We came home with four large sacks of black morels and dried them on tarps covered in muslin. (Next year, we’ll be better prepared with baskets and drying screens.) Now we’re looking forward to a year of mushroom experiments. Here for your enjoyment is Oeufs en Cocotte, the first experiment of the season, and the consensus is two thumbs up. You can really taste both the eggs and the mushrooms, and it’s an utter triumph.

NOTE: Look for shaggymane mushrooms in disturbed ground in open areas. Black morels are available commercially at the Fireweed Market in Whitehorse into early September. Mushroom expert David Arora advises that it's good policy to cook morels before eating them, as some related species (false morels) are highly-toxic raw. As always, be sure of your identification before eating wild mushrooms. A good resource is Arora’s Mushrooms Demystified or his field guide All That the Rain Promises and More. Finally, make sure your guests know what they’re eating; some people don’t respond well to wild mushrooms.

Oeufs en Cocotte

with Morel Mushrooms

With thanks to Julia Child for the method and to Jeffery Mickelson for the idea. In August 2011, Jeffery served unforgettable Oeufs en Cocotte with morels and double-smoked bacon at Klondike Kate’s in Dawson City. I’ve wanted to try them at home ever since.

2 tsp. (10 ml) butter
1/4 cup (approx. 6 g) dried morel mushrooms
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. (15 ml) white wine
2 tbsp. (30 ml) 35% cream
2 tbsp. (11 g) grated parmesan cheese 4 eggs
4 small pats of butter

1) Preheat oven to 375° F (approximately 190° C). Butter four three-inch ramekins and place in a baking dish. Boil a full kettle of water.

2) Pour boiling water over the morel mushrooms to cover and soak for five minutes. Drain and gently squeeze out excess moisture. (Strain the soaking liquid through cheesecloth and reserve for sauces or soup stock.) Chop into bite-sized pieces, leaving small morels whole.

3) Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, add morels and garlic, then sauté for five minutes. Add the white wine. When wine has evaporated, remove morels from heat and let cool to room temperature.

4) Line each buttered ramekin with a few morels. Reserve some to tuck into the top of the dish. Pour 1 tsp. (5 ml) 35% cream over top of the morels. Break an egg into each ramekin, keeping the yoke intact. Sprinkle with 1/2 tbsp. parmesan, then tuck in a couple of morels. Pour the remaining cream over top, about 3/4 tsp. for each ramekin, and finish with a pat of butter.

5) Bring the kettle of water to boil again and fill the baking dish 2/3 of the way up the exterior of the ramekins. Place
a sheet of parchment paper over top of the ramekins.

6) Put baking dish with ramekins in
the oven and bake for 8–10 minutes. It may take a few minutes longer depending on your oven. Make sure the water surrounding the ramekins is bubbling steadily.

7) The eggs are ready when the middles still jiggle a bit, but the whites are clearly cooked. Take them from the oven and let sit for a couple of minutes in the hot water--they will keep cooking. Serve the eggs in the ramekins

set on a plate with lots of hot buttered toast and your favourite berry preserve.

Serves four.

Northern Dutch Baby

This recipe can go either way, sweet or savoury. Try both. The savoury version is great with lowbush cranberries heated on the stove and sweetened with a touch of birch syrup. For the sweet version, all you need is a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of icing sugar.

Shaggymane and Spruce Tip Dutch Baby

The spruce tips and shaggymanes are wonderful complements. Every bite is different--sometimes the lemony spruce dominates; sometimes the deep, earthy mushroom flavour does. If you don’t have shaggymanes, try dried porcini or chanterelle pieces.

3 eggs
1/2 cup (125 ml) milk
1/2 cup (125 ml) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup (approx. 6 g) crumbled, dried wild mushrooms
2 tsp. dried or frozen spruce tips, chopped
2 tbsp. (30 ml) melted butter

1) Preheat oven to 425° F (approximately 220° C). Butter a 12-inch cast-iron frying pan liberally and place in the cold oven while you prepare the eggs.

2) Beat eggs, add milk, and beat again until frothy.

3) Add flour and salt, and beat well to incorporate. The mixture will be lumpy at first, but persevere--the lumps will disappear.

4) Whisk in the crumbled dried mushrooms and spruce tips.

5) Bring heated frying pan out of the oven. Add the 2 tbsp. (30 ml) melted butter, and when it’s sizzling, pour the egg mixture into the frying pan. Put the pan in the oven.

6) Cook for 15 minutes at 425° F, then turn heat to 325° F and cook another 10 minutes. (Watch the Dutch Baby form mountains and valleys as it cooks and the trapped air expands. It’s a wonderful sight, like being present at the birth of a landscape. Have your camera ready because the Dutch Baby falls quickly after coming out of the oven.)

7) Cut into quarters and serve.

Wild Berry Dutch Baby

Omit the mushrooms and spruce tips. Add 1 tsp. (5 ml) vanilla to the batter and sprinkle a handful of blueberries or cranberries over the batter in the pan before baking. When the Dutch Baby comes out of the oven, finish with icing sugar and a squeeze of lemon. Y


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Carcross, Yukon Y0B 1B0

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