The current porcini glut poses a dilemma for the fortunate hunter: how to make the most of the sudden bounty. Luckily porcini are one of the few fresh foods to be positively improved by drying . . .
Desicating food is one of the most ancient forms of preservation. Water is essential for all life, so removing this prevents most decay (think of Egyptian mummies). It is also the perfect way to store many fungal bounties. This is a well-established food preservation technique in hot, dry, climates, but for obvious reasons it is less culturally-established in many of the cooler, damper, parts of the Northern Hemisphere.
In reality it is easy to do in virtually anywhere, providing one follows the basic rules of circulating as much dry air as possible around the mushrooms. It is possible to dry small specimens whole, but speed is of the essence(microscopic fungi in the form of moulds start to attack bigger specimens as soon as they are harvested), so larger mushrooms should be sliced thinly. The mushrooms should then be spread out across a wire rack or threaded on cotton, making sure the slices don’t touch. They should then be placed above a very gentle heat source – suspended above a stove or radiator, for example or placed in an airing cupboard.
There are plenty of dessicating machines on the market, but many of these tend to be geared towards drying more challenging produce such as meat, fruit and vegetables. As a result they can use too much heat, even at their lowest settings, and end up toasting the mushrooms. Similarly, although some books suggest drying in an oven on its lowest heat with the door open, this tends to be too fierce. Keen woodworkers can also try sun-drying, although this is tricky in most British autumns. One answer is to make a drying chamber by paining the inside of a wooden box black and fitting a glass front – but do make sure there is plenty of ventilation to ensure a good airflow around the fungi.