Earthy scented mixed flavors blended together in a coarse yet creamy texture make a rich and flavorful Mushroom Soup, or that’s what I finally concluded after attending the annual Mushroom Festival held in Kennett Square Pennsylvania this fall, the proclaimed mushroom capital of the world.
Having sampled a few mushroom soups while out in the mushroom growing area over some time has always kept me sort of taste tracking; identifying various flavors, varietal combinations, including the depth balance between dried and fresh mushrooms, proportional creaminess. I had long determined to prepare my own favorite version of the soup based on those taste testing memories but there was one missing component, that of never having attended the mushroom festival. Annually missing the event due to college sports travel in the fall, with commencement now passed, this year, I determined to attend the event where in my own mind I had created this vision of tables and tables lined with various versions of mushroom soups and otherwise, well, everything mushroom.
That didn’t happen. So while the Mushroom Festival was a really fun community event with what appeared like miles of interesting and fun booths, many of the mushroom activities are held over the course of the weekend, rather than all on one day. There is a designated mushroom soup contest, but there were no ongoing or abundant lined display tables featuring mushrooms soups except what might be featured at the pop up stands along the historic State Street storefronts of existing restaurants, including Talula’s Table, Portobello’s and the Kennett Square Inn (whose creamy but decidedly strong earthy flavor was incidentally my favorite pick of the day.)
Display tables of featured varieties of beautiful, fresh, local mushrooms at both points of entry and exit provided order slips for mushroom purchase pick-up from stocked refrigerated trucks at departure. A long white tent a few blocks down from the organized bus drop off point exhibited the growth production of mushrooms simulated in a natural state of complete darkness making it difficult to photograph, and for educational purposes, including that of my grandson, I might have preferred an actual tour out at a mushroom farm to gather a more complete picture of the process.
Included in the reasonable $3 entry fee to the Festival were the entertaining culinary demonstrations featuring mushroom dishes located at an off-block open air tent surrounding a make-shift kitchen set on wooden stage platform, equipped with microphone and speaker system for the day’s featured stars, Fabio Viviani from Bravo’s Top Chef, and Lisa Keys, from Kennett Square, winner of Food TV’s Chopped.
Still, no rows of tables lined with assorted mushroom soups for tasting.
In the end, relying on some of those former mushroom soups once tasted at different establishments throughout the mushroom growing region, along with a few diverse selections in white Styrofoam cups sipped with rounded plastic soup spoons, those served by a few restaurants along the street on that day of the Mushroom Festival, the proclaimed mushroom capital of the world, I simply decided that perhaps I had at least enough information to know the taste I was looking to prepare, that of earthy scented mixed flavors blended together in a coarse yet creamy texture, all combined creating a rich and flavorful mushroom soup.
And then, I just simply prepared it, Mushroom Soup.
- generous 1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms, and strained reserved liquid from soaking
- 1 1/2 pound mixed fresh mushrooms, crimini, button, shiitake, sliced
- 3 large shallots, chopped fine
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 6- 8 sprigs thyme, leaves removed from stem, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 generous tablespoon brandy
- 3/4 cup white wine
- 1/8 cup flour
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- 1/2 cup or more half and half
- 4 tablespoons butter, approximately
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, approximately
- coarse kosher salt
- cracked black pepper
- Place dried porcini mushrooms in a heat proof bowl and pour 1 1/2 cups boiling water over, set aside for ten minutes or so before removing the mushrooms, slicing, and cooking them last in the pan after all the fresh mushrooms have been sauteed, straining the soaking liquid for later adding to the soup pot. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil into a soup pot, scrape in the shallots and cook on very, very low heat. Meanwhile, melt one or two tablespoons butter in a large nonstick pan, raise heat to medium, saute mushrooms in batches taking care not to overcrowd or mushrooms will begin to stew in their juices. Let mushrooms cook until just barely golden and earthy scented, shaking pan intermittently for a couple of minutes or more, sprinkle mushrooms with a small pinch of salt, stir, then transfer to a glass dish, continuing the process until all of the mushrooms are cooked, adding in a tablespoon more butter if needed before each addition. Add garlic to the shallots, stir and cook for two minutes, then tumble in all of the cooked mushrooms, stir. Increase the heat to medium and spoon in the brandy, stir and cook another 2 minutes, pour in white wine. Cook until wine is nearly evaporated about 4 minutes, then sprinkle the flour all over the mushroom mixture and stir, cook 3-4 minutes. Add in the bay leaves, thyme, chicken stock and strained liquid from the porcini mushrooms, reduce heat to very low and simmer soup for a half hour or a bit longer for all of the ingredients to fully infuse. Fetch the two bay leaves out of the soup then again working in batches, process the soup to a smooth yet still coarse consistency. Return soup to pot, stir in the half and half and simmer another ten minutes. Add in a pinch of salt and bit of cracked black pepper. Check seasoning, adding just a bit more salt if desired. Serve hot.