Ari

About Ari Rockland-Miller

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So far Ari Rockland-Miller has created 73 entries.

Springing From Within

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The Vermont landscape is raw and rugged, the backcountry blanketed in deep, wet snow and the city streets sullied by slush. Though my calendar tells me today is the first day of spring, outside it is undeniably winter. Yet life is springing from within, kicking and twirling with the lengthening days. She is the first sign of spring, and the sweetest. When the morels begin to fruit, I’ll know our baby girl will be here soon.

When the days grow long and sticky, and the chanterelles and trumpets rise up from the duff, she will be there with me as I gather the harvest. When the soil cools and the porcini pop, I will slice into their nutty flesh and let her smell the little piglets. When hefty hens roost on the aging autumn oaks, we will do the maitake dance together. When the matsutake push their fragrant caps just above the sandy soil, I will smell the cinnamon on her cheeks. As she crawls beneath the pines, the mycelium will quiver in delight.

She will bring light to the darkest forest; fruit to the driest pasture. My basket is already brimming.

ForageCast: Season’s End

Matsutake 2013

Frostbitten reishi and morsels of maitake still sit in paper bags in my refrigerator – the last vestiges of an abundant foraging season.

I hike my red setter underneath the towering hemlocks on our land, the air heavy with the musty spice of red-hot candies as he smashes into frozen white matsutake. These regal fungi lose value as soon as they break free of their silky partial veils, but specimens that elude the forager’s knife blade can reach epic proportions before they meet their frosty fate.

In southern New England and coastal microclimates, foragers are still filling their baskets with hens, honeys, abortive entolomas, oysters, porcini, matsutake, manes (shaggy and lion’s), and other hardy fall fruiters. More intrepid foragers are harvesting Central Park big laughing gyms by the handful. 

We can thank the mycophilic Japanese for whimsical common names like maitake – the dancing mushroom; matsutake – the pine mushroom; and waraitake – the laughing mushroom. As the story goes, the laughing mushroom’s unusual properties were discovered when a formal Japanese dinner party went awry after the hosts inadvertently served waraitake. Soon, the hostess had stripped off her kimono and the party devolved into riotous laughter.  

Meanwhile, in Vermont I am hardly laughing as I slip on sheets of ice while carrying the woodstove ashes out to the compost. The mushrooms are all but gone, with the exception of ultra-hardy velvet foots (enokitake), brick caps, and late-fall oysters.

Yet it was a glorious season – only my second in Vermont – and I garnered new spots that should produce chanterelles, yellow-foots, and other mycological delicacies for years to come. The trees have lost their leaves, and chaga is now easy to spot against the bare birch branches. There is already a sprinkling of snow in the mountains, and the mycelium is taking a well-deserved rest.

ForageCast: Seize the Mushrooming Season

Destroying Angel - Ari 2‘Twas a sunny Sunday morning, and I led a group into a dark, dank coniferous forest. From the moment we entered the woods, we all knew we had hit peak fall foraging conditions.

Almost immediately, I spotted a thread of dainty yellow foot chanterelles woven into the mossy ground. I knelt down and plucked a few mature specimens of this exquisite, cold hardy chanterelle relation. Before I could stand back up, I had spotted several pristine hedgehogs, and someone else was marveling at a regal chrome-footed bolete (Tylopilus chromapes).

The group could barely stay together, overwhelmed by the abundance. Our forager’s eyes were on, and there was no ignoring their primal call. I tried to reel the hunters in, but one participant had already shimmied up a steep, craggy hillside. Even from afar, I spotted the bright orange flash of a lobster mushroom coddled in his hand. Like a mountain goat, he jumped from rock to rock, gathering lobsters lurking among peppery, white Lactarius piperatus host fungi.

After the foray, Jenna cooked up each species separately. The hedgehog quickly emerged as a crowd pleaser with its sweet, piney flavor and firm texture. The gem-studded puffball, “tastes like dirt, but I like that flavor,” a participant noted. The chrome-footed bolete, a member of the often bitter Tylopilus genus, emerged as the unexpected group favorite with its nutty, meaty flesh.

We found one mushroom on the foray that is better kept a safe distance away from the frying pan – the deadly destroying angel (Amanita bisporigera). This ubiquitous Amanita is so white it almost glows (see photo!), and with its resemblance to the common button mushroom it almost begs to be eaten. It is the first mushroom we teach beginners, since it is responsible for the majority of mushroom-related fatalities every year in the United States. One Cornell student was lucky enough to survive a destroying angel poisoning in 2006 – read his story by clicking here. Once you take note of its volva – the swollen base that remains from the universal veil – it is easy to recognize and steer clear of this blindingly white fungus. Know your Amanita anatomy!

In our Central Vermont pastures, we are already waking up to frost hovering on the blades of grass. Soon the Amanitas, along with the last golden chanterelles and lobsters, will disappear with the dimming days. Yet hardy fall favorites like yellow foots, maitake, lion’s mane, oysters, porcini, enokitake, matsutake, honey mushrooms, and aborted entolomas are only invigorated by the cool nights, and will likely continue flushing into early October. Seize the season!

ForageCast

ForageCast: Fall Fungi

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As a memorable golden chanterelle season winds down, a legion of fall fungi has arrived. Yellow foot chanterelles (Craterellus ignicolor and C. tubaeformis) and hedgehogs (Hydnum repandum and H. umbilicatum) thrive on the cooler days and crisp late August New England nights. Yellow foots and hedgehogs pick up where their golden relations left off, extending the season for singular chanterelle risottos right into October.

Lion’s mane, honey mushrooms, and aborted entolomas made an early appearance this fall, especially in colder pockets of the region. Meanwhile, scattered maitake sightings have been reported throughout the Northeast, and I have started my annual autumn ritual of compulsively checking older oak trees.

Two weeks ago, the pup and I spent a boys’ night camping in the Vermont wilds. I brought our camping stove, a pot, dried polenta, freshly grated Parmesan, dried log-grown shiitake, and a small mason jar with a sprig of rosemary infusing in a pool of salted extra virgin olive oil.

I could not help but stare at the ground as I marched into the moist woods, finding a lovely collection of mature golden chanterelles within minutes. As I climbed higher, I stopped every few minutes to gather oyster mushrooms from downed sugar maple and beech alongside the trail.

Soon the forest was strewn with dead and dying beech, and lion’s mane mycelium feasted on the carnage. I plucked a few choice, icicle-like clusters of Hericium coralloides, and my mushroom medley was complete.

Later that evening I sat by the light of my gas camping stove, stirring the oysters, lion’s mane, and chanterelles into the creamy polenta and inhaling the divine aromas. Even my Irish setter, no great lover of mushrooms by any means, sat in perfect reverence as I tossed salted wild mushroom morsels onto his 14-inch tongue.

I didn’t even need to use the dried shiitake I had packed in, as the fresh harvest was more than enough for a rich wild mushroom polenta dinner and a backcountry breakfast of crispy oyster mushrooms!

This week’s rain showers have renewed the forest, and the ForageCast for this weekend holds an excellent mix of summer and fall species. As you delight in the abundance, watch out for the piercingly white destroying angel (Amanita bisporigera), responsible for the majority of mushroom fatalities every year in the U.S. If you are a beginner, the only all-white mushrooms you should be eating are lion’s mane and the giant puffball!

ForageCast

Northeastern ForageCast for next two weeks!

Cinnabar-red Chanterelle: As Good as Gold

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Ranging from flamingo pink to a deep autumnal orange, the cinnabar-red chanterelle’s vivid color demands the forager’s attention. Its flavor is classic chanterelle – piney, fruity, floral – and its red hue holds up well to a six minute sauté.

Yet somehow, the cinnabar-red (Cantharellus cinnabarinus) remains an oft-neglected edible that lives in the culinary shadow of its celebrated golden relation. Even at Misery Loves Company, Winooski, VT’s gastronomic gem, the mycophilic chefs had never heard of the exotic “red chanterelle” until an employee (and mushroom apprentice) called us in for ID confirmation before sharing cinnabars with the staff.

Last weekend we were back in our childhood stomping grounds around Amherst, MA to present at the NOFA Summer Conference and lead a guided foray. Just before heading back to Burlington on Sunday, we stumbled upon a seemingly endless patch of cinnabar-reds.

Along with Jenna’s mother, we gleefully followed the long and winding cinnabar road, quickly gathering a few handfuls of these dainty red mushrooms. Cinnabars are rarely even half the size of goldens, but this only increases the pleasure of picking.

Right as we thought we had reached the limits of the patch, Jenna called out from the bushes: “Tons more cinnabars! And goldens!”

The rush of the epic mushroom hunt invigorated me. But before I could start running in Jenna’s direction, I heard a sharp howl and looked up to see her running back towards me. “Swarm! Swarm!”

I felt a yellowjacket sting me as several more ganged up on Jenna, and soon both of us were running madly out of the woods as I swatted yellowjackets off Jenna’s head. Aside from the one minor sting, I was unscathed. It was Jenna they were after, and she was left with eight smoldering welts. But with a basketful of cinnabar reds in hand, how can one complain?

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