Tag Archives: edible

Foraging begins—Mushrooms still sleepy—A happy consolation

People go crazy over these, but they taste pretty much like garlicky green onions you've had before but with a tender leaf. The reason we go crazy is because wild things are always better. It's not rational, but there you have it.

Week #2 of the 2011 morel hunt: no morels. Last weekend it seemed like it was still pretty much winter out there. But today we walked among shoots and sensed we were just a few days too early. The obsession is growing. But stay out long enough, and Mother Nature will always provide something. Sometimes it’s something unpleasant, like ticks. (Who knows, I may have those, too.) Today it was a lovely consolation prize: ramps. Continue reading


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

Now that’s a spicy mushroom

Spicy. Though like most mushrooms it could use some salt.

This is the white-headed stepsister of Lactarius deliciosus, and it is described in Wikipedia as “semi-edible”: Lactarius piperatus. A big meaty mushroom that oozes drops of spicy milk when cut and tastes a lot like horseradish. Continue reading

TO FILE: Morchella spp. — Obsessions — Satisfaction — Cream, Bacon, and Rabbit au Vin

If I had a child, I'd name it Morchella.

At the Saturday farmer’s market, morels were selling for $45 a pound. Ours were free, if you don’t count a few tanks of gas spent driving around to mushroom-hunting spots over the last two months, plus the time, scratched-up legs and tick bites.

With extreme need, I finally learned to recognize an elm tree.

Along the way I summoned tracking skills from my year in Africa that had grown dormant the last few years: those of patience, of filtering the visual scene for certain colors or sizes, of internally cataloguing the similarities and differences in habitats. I’ve never been expert at this, but I do occasionally pay more attention to the forest’s details.

I learned that the morel, with its heady mix of mushroom-perfume and umami, is really all it’s cracked up to be. I learned via morels dredged in flour and fried, and via morels stuffed with ramps, chevre, bacon and bread crumbs, accompanied by rabbit au vin. Two weeks later, I’ve finally digested that meal enough to laboriously type this out.

The first morel. Found by me, with its top already eaten off, thus making it easier to stuff.

I found the first morel, W. found the prettiest, and Stacie found the biggest. So we are all winners, just like our parents told us.

How to stuff a morel. NSFW?

In an effort to increase my mushroom karma, I will tell you that ours came from a dead-elm-infested area of the Wisconsin River area. W. found one motherlode … which someone else had already exploited, leaving just one fruiting body.

By the way, W.’s brain has been infected with the idea of growing them inside — an ambitious prospect, as Tom Volk, professor of mycology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, details, for the same reasons it’s so dang hard to find the things in the wild:

Nearly every morel hunter has a ready list of excuses why no morels are being found: too hot, too cold, not enough rain, too much rain, not enough humidity, too humid, the tree hasn’t been dead long enough, the tree’s been dead too long, the may apples aren’t blooming yet, the oak leaves aren’t yet the size of a squirrel’s ear, and so on. The apparent lack of identifiable consistent conditions that lead to wild morel fruiting has been a major deterrent in establishing protocols for artificial morel cultivation.

… It is precisely this frustration and overall lack of knowledge as well as the general “mystique” that envelopes the morel, that has generated the excitement of the patenting of a process to grow morels (Morchella sp.) under controlled conditions (U.S. Patent nos. 4,594,809 and 4,757,640).

I believe in W.

Success at last!

What with the chickens, the full-time job and the endless fruitless searches for mushrooms, I haven’t had time to write much.

My evolution as a mushroom hunter began with serendipitous finds on walks, and having to get a mushroom book to answer the question, “What IS that thing, and can I eat it?” Later I went back to the same spots to see how things had changed, and by then I was armed with much more Latin. Still, because I never went out looking for anything specific, I was never disappointed.

But this spring I was on the hunt. Continue reading

Nary a morel, but a consolation prize

Foraging has begun in earnest. Everything popped up so quickly. I now get why everyone is into the rain gardens, or at least have a theory. Those prairie grasses start as gorgeously strange babies peeking out of the dirt, and people fall in love with them and that parental attachment sticks around in August, blinding them to the lanky unkempt weeds their babies have become. Continue reading