Trumpets of the Dead – Intriguing Mushrooms

“The children had gathered three varieties, all good for drying for the store-cupboard to make soups and flavour stews: winter fungus, pale-gilled and smelling faintly of honey; smooth brown porcini, thick-capped and firm-fleshed; horn of plenty, smooth and velvety, black as night, known in France as trompettes de mort.”

Elizabeth Luard, describing a journey through Yugoslavia, in Still Life

When browsing in the Mercado de San Miguel in Spain a couple of weeks ago I spotted some truly gruesome looking mushrooms – they seemed to be black through and through.

trumpets of the dead
Trumpets of the Dead at the mercado de San Miguel

Intrigued, I asked the stall holder what they were and was told “setas trompetas de los muertos” – trumpet of the dead mushrooms. So thought they would make the perfect subject for a blog on All Souls’ Day.

The scientific name for Trumpet of the Dead mushroom is Craterellus Cornucopioides and they are found aplenty in Spanish and French woods and forests especially under beech trees, but also under oaks – often beautiful glades lined with moss, lichens, and fallen leaves. These mushrooms gain added flavour when they are dried. They veritably surge out of the ground in masses, an extraordinary sight – hunters say they look for black holes in the ground.

Don’t pick them unless you know absolutely what you are doing. If you really do know your mushrooms bear in mind that they should be cut with a knife. You can buy dried Trumpets of the Dead at Buy Wholefoods On Line, or at Sous Chef. If dried, they need to be rehydrated for at least an hour in warm water, alternatively you can boil for several minutes and then rinse in a sieve several times under running water.

The flavour of trompette mushrooms

They have a complex, deep flavour – almost truffle-like – but should not be eaten raw as they can give indigestion. They should be carefully washed and then cooked for at least twenty minutes.

How to use trumpets of the dead

They’re unusual and they aren’t cheap so they tend to be used in:

  • terrines
  • soufflés
  • sauces
  • in stuffings
  • for garnishes (particularly effective as they look so striking)
  • And they go particularly well in an earthy, spooky, mushroom risotto
  • Good with scrambled eggs
  • for an almost instant supper, fry briefly rehydrated trumpets with garlic, oil and butter and serve on parpadelle with lemon zest and parmesan

A friend writes to me:

“One day we went to a workmen’s caff, so it was described, it was abuzz, and dominated by a huge painting of Beckham surrounded by scantily clad lovelies.  I had magret de canard with a sauce of trompe de mort, it was superb.  The rest had onglet with shallots and frites.  It opens at 5am to provide coffee, croissant, pastis, and closes after lunch is done.”

In the normal course of events, this sort of picture, taking up, as it did, an entire wall of a workmen’s caff in France, might have been enough to put you off your food… but luckily the trompe de mort sauce was so exquisite that the picture was rendered ineffectual.

The season for trumpets of the dead

Their season runs from the middle of August (particularly if it’s been a wet summer which causes them to grow very rapidly) until the first frosts of November.

Music to cook to

…. and of course you need to listen to some rousing trumpet music while you cook with these dark funghi… what better than the new recording by Pip Eastop  who plays on a modern copy of an 1830 instrument coaxing out of it an amazing range of croaks, roars and whoops – the cradenzas (see below) being an especially good example of this.

Alternatively you could listen to the gorgeous trumpeter, Alison Balsom.

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Frances

Where else but saucy dressings do you get great reading, inspiring ideas, art, imagery and wonderful music.
These mushrooms sound like a good addition to the store cupboard for the unexpected step or two beyond baked beans.

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