Springtime is cheesytime

Curd in cloth; and unmolded two days later.

Incidentally, the making of stinky cheese is one of my top post-reporting-burnout fantasy careers. I also want to own goats, but goats whose poop is someone else’s responsibility, if we’re going to flesh this fantasy out. But for now I am a long way from Master Cheesemaker, and just two weeks ago embarked on my first long-term cheese project.
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Wild turkey, with a small ‘t’

Four pounds of it, snagged by hunter Karl, brined and waiting for the smoker.


The turkey’s purpose is to inspire a group of non-turkey hunters before their turkey hunt this weekend. Just before turkey season begins for everyone else, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has a Learn to Hunt program, organized by Karl. I’ll be hunting, even though I lost my glasses this week. As will W., and a few other wild-food-friendly friends. It’s a natural progression from hunting mushrooms to hunting moving prey, a leap that requires substantially more hand-eye coordination.

I am petrified of drying out the meat; Ruhlman has advised keeping the temperature as low as possible. Also, we may have to engage in some Poor Housewife Witchery to stretch it out over the expected crowd. Perhaps something involving the other Wild Turkey.

A sausage cure for the winter blues

Tastes like salami, but more so than usual: smoother, richer, funkier. The extra pork fat stayed nicely separate from the meat, which validated my OCD efforts to keep it cold during the grinding process.

First, a note of thanks to my parents. When you sent W. that bulky weather station, the one that displays the humidity and temperature both outside and inside, plus the barometric forecast and the atomic time, we scoffed. We can get the weather outside by going outside. We get the weather inside by going inside.

However, it was indispensable in creating the perfect sausage-curing climate. Perhaps if the manufacturers had mentioned that use on the packaging, I would have been less skeptical. Continue reading

The curing box

“Dry-curing” is a misnomer, from my point of view inside a very, very dry house. Every morning this week, I’ve woken up a desiccated shred of a human being and been forced to gulp my weight in water so that humanity returns to me. The dryness is making my cold worse, not curing it.

The sausage and I are on the same page with this one.

This weekend, I ground and stuffed Tuscan salami, my first attempt at dry-curing. I also discovered that my basement/curing cellar is running around 40 percent humidity — much lower than the 60-70 percent recommended. If the casings dry out and harden, they no longer allow water from the inside of the sausage to escape — i.e., the magic of dry-curing.

I spritzed the sausages hourly while I mulled what to do.

I was going to add a humidifier to the basement, but my neighbor pointed out that basements typically do not respond well to wetness.

Ruhlman and Polcyn, in Charcuterie, suggest an old fridge, unplugged, with salted water in the bottom to keep the humidity up (salted to discourage germ growth). But my local thrift shops had nothing. Freecycle and Craigslist did not provide. And I’m not all that keen, anyway, on adding another big appliance to the basement.

So my curing box, at the moment, is a cardboard box. It has plastic duct-taped to line the insides, a pan of water in the bottom and a dowel thrust through the handles. It’s a little small for the purpose, but humidity is at 70 percent and holding. The ne plus ultra of climate control, if not of elegance. The experiment is off and running. Now it’s time to pray to the iodophore gods that our sanitation was sufficient, and that the Bactoferm F-RM-52 is able and energetic, and that the cats do not escape into the basement and make trouble.

And now I just need a dry-curing box for myself.

The greedy hunter pays the price

Chanterelles: hard to miss, harder to clean.

The search cost for many mushrooms, so sparse and unpredictable, would seem to be too expensive for what you get — except that you weigh those costs not only against the find’s quantity and deliciousness, but your irrational desire for the quest itself, or to conquer the maddening woods.

Chanterelles are pleasantly untricky to find. But they are the mushrooms for which I’ve paid the steepest price so far. Continue reading

Dirty, dirty boletes

The first mushroom bonanza formed the idea of the thing, created a precedent for all others. They were aspen boletes, which I never saw in the wild but W. hunted on a glacier trail in Juneau last year with a friend. They went back armed with loads of cardboard boxes and filled them all. It took days to clean and dry them all, a year to eat the small concentrated bag we took with us to Madison. While they were drying, while others were waiting on newspapers and in boxes to be dried, we ate a Slavic yogurt soup with mushrooms floating in it; it could not be simpler or more divine.

Boletus pulverulentus. Perhaps not the Ur-mushroom, but it has its good points. At right, the cleanest ones I ever saw growing, freaks of their kind.

Because of that the boletes were the Ur-mushroom in my mind. As you know the porcino, queen of mushrooms, is a bolete. So about a month ago, when I discovered a wood that was scattered with them — all over, so many underfoot I couldn’t help but step on some of them — I thought my life charmed. I discovered the boletes at the same time as the mosquitos discovered me, Continue reading

The mosquito of vegetables

I cannot understand what people see in celery. To me it provokes the urge — never indulged yet — to lie at a restaurant and claim I am allergic. I can taste it in cheap curry powder; it ruins otherwise fine chicken broth. Another thing I kvetch about is the paltry pickings in my CSA box. But now they finally fill the 5/9-bushel box, and with what? An entire celery bush the size of the Eiffel Celery Tower.

I do know someones who will take this off my hands, though.

She also nibbles on the plastic-and-duct-tape window cover every chance she gets. I haven't known someone this omnivorous since college.