As the archetypically American holiday of Thanksgiving approaches, vegans are faced with yet another situation that doesn’t feel so much like a holiday to us. I used to loathe the approaching of this day when I’d have to sit in a house closed in with a dead bird roasting in the oven, filling the rooms with the nauseous stench of death, and then sit at a table pretending to give thanks over this atrocity.
Well, hubby and I established an alternate Thanksgiving holiday–one in which we could actually feel gratitude. (My being Native American perhaps had a bit of sway there). We decided and told our families that the Thanksgiving holiday would be our day to have to ourselves; Christmas was the chip we would give up (more on that later).
Hubby and I treat Thanksgiving like most people treat Valentine’s Day–a lovely day for ourselves as a couple to enjoy what we enjoy. And what we enjoy is mushrooms! We plan for our Thanksgiving feast by foraging for wild mushrooms in the weeks leading up to the day. Yes, we are trained by mycobiologists at UC Davis in the identification of edible mushrooms in our area, and we are experienced mushroom foragers of 20 years. (We even have a microscope for looking at the spores of various species of mushrooms for exact identification).
We make a holiday in the week or two before Thanksgiving to go out and forage for wild mushrooms that I then plan a menu around with multiple courses. The menu varies from year to year, depending upon what is prolifically fruiting. Some years have seen us with massive amounts of chanterelles, or porcini, or pig’s ears (what polite restaurants like to call purple chanterelles, although they’re a different genus from true chanterelles). Sometimes we’ve even gotten the beautiful and delicious lion’s mane mushroom that looks like a cluster of icicles dripping from a tree. Menu courses in the past have been things like oyster mushroom-asparagus amuse buche, chanterelle tartlets with cashew cream cheese, sesame-encrusted porcini slices over polenta and edamame with roasted garlic, and candy cap ice cream with maple cakes
It’s difficult to describe in print how these lovely mushrooms taste and smell. Imagine almonds and sugar and loamy earth, and you’re getting close to a gorgeous chanterelle. Porcinis are satin and sex on a plate—so smooth and rich and luscious! Candy caps, the humble Lactarius rubidus, are pretty little deep red items that bleed a milky latex when the cap is broken, and they taste like an earthy version of maple syrup. That’s right—a mushroom that tastes like maple syrup, and is absolutely outstanding in cookies or ice cream.
The delight of our romantic Thanksgiving meal is that we had just spent the previous weeks together foraging for the mushrooms we will eat on that day. We walk together in the forest, wander off and call out to each other when we find the next beautiful specimen, and then we sit down to a beautiful once-in-a-lifetime seasonal meal featuring the mushrooms that we gathered.
Our vegan Thanksgiving is uniquely ours, and it is indeed a day for which we give thanks, with the foods we foraged for together.
Dr. Stacey J. Anderson (aka Chef Stacey) is a professor of public health by day, ferocious vegan foodie by night. She is a certified Master Vegan Life Coach and Educator (MVLCE) from Main Street Vegan Academy. She owns the educational venue Vegan Buen Vivir, a scrumptious way for the vegan-curious and new vegans to learn how to dive head-first into the vegan good life, with lots of great cooking and eating along the way. Chef Stacey lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and her two incorrigible cats.