Tag Archives: Mushrooms

Mushroom drought

This drought. It is not just the corn. It is not just the trees.

I have no pictures from my recent reconnaissance at Picnic Point. If I did, you might weep.

I know of a stump right next to the trail which, for the past two years, has overflowed with honey mushrooms and maitakes. Nearby are several trees which have been reliable sources for more maitake than most enthusiasts could even fit in the freezer.

What I saw on this trip was a single bloom of maitake, as brittle as crackers; a couple sparse bunches of honeys, already too old. Hard to imagine that honeys are some of the biggest organisms on the planet, looking at these sorry specimens. Some of them had been taken. Normally I’d pout, but in this case I was glad that someone had gotten something.

I have never seen a fall this dry.

The Year in Foraging

The climax of the 2009: tiny little fish, pulled out of the fish hole.

It was a very good year. This will catch you up on all the things I put in my mouth this year, and a few that escaped:

1. While covering a Coast Guard winter survival school in Juneau, learned to eviscerate and eat the roe of a sea urchin, and also where to find sea urchins. Terrible ambivalence introduced to deep love for otters.

2. Ate eggs from variety chickens of a northern chicken coop. Tasted exactly like eggs. Also saw a Ziploc bag full of all the eggs a chicken has inside itself. There were eight yolks of varying sizes, down to the tiniest youngest egg. The white isn’t put on until just before it’s about to get laid.

3. In spring, pried various creatures off the rocks and ate them. Also sampled every kind of kelp on rocks. Made W. eat a sea urchin. Forwent eating a chiton longer than forearm, on account of it oozing eggs and trying really hard to reproduce.

4. Acquired pink Disney Princess plastic fishing pole from Fred Meyer. Fished like heck all summer. Learned to carry salt on me. Fished during lunch at work, and from every place you can fish off the road in Juneau.

5. Entered, with brewmaster W., a brown ale in the Haines Beer Festival. Gusher. Oops. Good though.

6. Bought kayak, learned to net dollies while paddling.

7. Came home with sixteen brook trout. Later learned limit was ten. Ate fish for more meals than desired. Gave fish to cats. Learned cats do not like fish. Wrote short history of said brook trout.

8. Worst meal of year: pad thai while camping.

9. Dug clams with a master. Ate none of the clams. Meanwhile wrote about new frontiers in paralytic shellfish poisoning detection.

10. Wreaked revenge on devil’s club by eating it. Coworkers preferred it to sea cucumber.

11. Killed (well, W. killed), butchered with kitchen knives, made posole of and ate a Mount Roberts porcupine.

12. Picked red and orange salmonberries, raspberries, nagoonberries, cloudberries, thimbleberries, blueberries, huckleberries and at least four kinds of currants. Made mental map of underexploited currant bushes in Juneau, and preserves.

13. Moved to Madison. Found wild places hiding in the urban zone. Started blog.

14. Worked a month at the West Madison Agricultural Research Station. Consciousness expanded regarding varieties of apples, grapes, peppers, raspberries, what have you. Epic canning and pickling sessions. Trauma from late blight.

15. Things that fall from trees or bushes: Walnuts, apples, blackberries, wild grapes, seaberries.

16. Fungi: Oysters, late oysters, angel wings, hedgehogs, honeys, velvet stalks, puffballs, corn smut, boletes, chickens of the woods, stinkhorns (not eaten). Etc.

17. A turtle. Not eaten.

17. Drove motorcycle from San Francisco to Madison via Yuma. Date shakes, tamales, chorizo and eggs, Hal’s horseradish, a 72 oz. steak I didn’t eat.

18. Before the snow hit, the cranberries finally ripened.

19. Raccoon. From a butcher. With a foot. As goulash.

20. Ice-fishing. A dream realized—with tiny little fish.

Theory: If highbush cranberries were any good, they would have been eaten by now.

Hard times, people. Were we relying on the woods for substantial calories, we would be starting to eye those wiry jackrabbits that run across the Capital City Bike Path.

Regarding mushrooms, checked the old mushroom log near my house, the one that’s been producing food since August. Provider Log, we call it. Pocketed a last few old oysters, now dried out and frozen, old holdouts. Shivered. No velvet stalks; I have been wondering what the limits of these so-called cold-weather Flammulinas are, but they are gone from the logs where they were a month ago. Perhaps they went to Florida.

Cat inspects cranberries ...

The only berries left are the ones nobody wants, not even the birds. Highbush cranberries. They still line the Yahara River, and many other places. W. and I started picking them, optimistically, in Cowee Meadows, north of Juneau, in July, when they were peach and blush and hard as rocks. We have tried them every now and then ever since. W. made some gorgeous ruby jam in September. Recipes often call for more sugar than berries—anything that requires that much sugar is a stretch to call edible—and these were not ripe. We had trouble admitting the jam’s terrible bitterness and it stood for weeks in the fridge, beautiful, untouched.

... and decides an empty paper bag is more interesting.

Finally the cranberries are ripe. But still troubled: “Highbush cranberries have a single seed which is not eaten,” says the Internet, far too late to warn us. Our downfall here is that we despise the act of straining food. Over here we are closer to the Campfire than the Haute school of cuisine. This winter we plan to extract fish from the frozen lakes and sap from city maple trees. We will shoot rabbits, if we find we are up to the violent task. But what is out there now? I mean, outside grocery stores and restaurants. Highbush cranberries, as far as I can tell. I suppose I should get a sieve, and a whole lot of sugar, and try again.

Thanksgiving: Mushroom stuffing, naturally

Happy T-Day, everyone. I’m thankful for a lot of things. Number one is health, at least enough of it to go pick some oyster mushrooms yesterday in my parents’ part of the Midwest. A corollary is that I’m thankful this year not to have eaten, despite the dangerous combination of adventurous spirit + paltry knowledge, the wrong mushroom. Yet. A secondary corollary is that I’m thankful the maggots aren’t up to eating the oysters in this kind of weather.

Number two, family. They made the leap of faith last night to eat those mushrooms, even if it scared them. Nobody even mentioned it last night. Or did you know Mom put them in? Well, now you do. And see? You’re fine, right?

Number three, I am thankful for the power of digestion to erase, more or less, all that turkey. Oh god yes.

A little-hailed benefit of exercise

Those of you who know me, prepare for a shock: I love running.

It’s a newfound love. I still, mind you, find the actual stepping one foot in front of the other not only painful but awkward, as if those were somebody else’s legs down there. But yesterday’s experience gives me a major incentive to do it anyway.

I do manage to force myself to run at least once a week. The old pant-and-shuffle. And yesterday was as glorious a day as any to waste by causing myself pain. I took a little detour to a certain log in my neighborhood, just to see whether anything interesting had come up. Six weeks ago I found it blooming with oysters, but the last time I’d gone back I’d found just a few babies plus a few of the now-ubiquitous cold-weather Flammulina velutipes. I figured they were done for the year. After all, I’ve already mourned the waning of mushroom season.

As so often happens, I was wrong. The first oysters from the log had been white; the next batch had yellow caps; these were darker-capped. But still obviously oysters—a lot of them, and in good shape. I shivered as I stripped down to my tank top to swaddle my haul in my long-sleeved shirt, and carried it home like a baby.

It’s like having a fungus for a coach. I may even go running again today.

Know Your Audience: Mushroom-seekers and chicken-killers

As an old-media reporter who’s used to sending my stuff out into the ether and forgetting about it, it’s a whole ‘nother world to have all this intel on you people, my readers. Please, no paranoia; I’m just talking about the search terms you use to find me, which WordPress saves. I know it’s probably rude to go into this, but some of these terms just kill me.

I’ll skip over the largest group, those of you who know me or my blog already.

I feel a certain affinity with the next-largest category of seekers: You have found a mushroom or a berry. You are trying to identify it, or decide whether to eat it. “Pholiota squarrosoides edible?”, for instance.

This is how I spend many days, so it is nice to know you, too, are out there. I can only hope I’m not contributing to the Great Internet Stash of Misidentified Mushroom Photos.

Among the natural-world seekers came a personal favorite for its illustration of two feelings I so often have: a dearth of precise botanical descriptives, and a hope that the tubes’ great wisdom will somehow know what I mean anyway. The search: “what is the name of the little red berry.”

A few seem already to have decided their bias before they arrived: “freaks in madison”; “huitlacoche slimy excrement.” Well! As you like. I’m ambivalent on the huitlacoche, personally. And an ambiguity: If you found me by searching “i kill chickens,” were you, as I imagine, declaring a secret to Google and wondering what kindred souls it would return to you? I have never killed a chicken, to be honest. Perhaps you will find happiness in a chicken-killers’ Meetup group, whose members are mostly foxes and minks?

Finally, I am afraid I have been no help to those who came here seeking knowledge of how to cook stinkhorn eggs, or on a completely unrelated note, of spinal-cord lesson plans. But stay tuned.

The Forager gets the Halloween spirit: Food that glows

glowing mycena lucentipes credit cassius stevani

Mycena lucentipes. Credit Cassius Stevani of the University of Sao Paulo. Via http://www.nsf.gov.

Science Mag reports that San Francisco State University’s Dennis Desjardin discovered some new green-glowing mushrooms, Mycena luxaeterna, in Brazil. While Desjardin et al have been night-hunting Brazil for glowy mushrooms for several years, we norteamericanos could likely track down some foxfire here, too, if we stayed up late enough.

Those liver-flavored honey mushrooms I’ve been telling you about — Armillaria complex, common around here — glow in the dark. Not the fruiting bodies, but their root-like rhizomorphs. So do the fruiting bodies of various species of delicate little Mycena mushrooms. And the well-named jack-o’-lantern mushrooms, Omphalotus, which Madison has plenty of, and various other fungi that are busy consuming rotting wood.

I have always loved the bioluminescence. Who wouldn’t? In the Chesapeake Bay, I dove into black water only to be surrounded by the green glow. On Coronado Island off San Diego, the waves crashed green and any disturbance of the sand, e.g. throwing it at someone, produced a brief, exciting flash. And in central Africa, a fungal glow kept me company on a fearful dark night when I was stuck in the forest.

A brief biology lesson. Continue reading