ForageCast

ForageCast: Fall’s Fleeting Mycological Treasures

Lion's mane and maple leaves

Lion’s mane and maple leaves

Camouflaged among the freshly fallen maple leaves, autumn mushrooms are thriving in the wet woods. The long-awaited rains – slow, steady, and abundant – arrived just before a looming frost that threatens to put the mushrooms to bed for the season.

Fall foraging has a different tenor and flavor from summer hunting – diversity of gourmet edibles is down and with splashes of color everywhere it can be easy to overlook mycological treasures. No longer can you traipse through the woods with a broad, sweeping gaze, waiting for the signature golden hue of chanterelles or the fiery orange of a lobster to jump out from the brown duff.  You may walk a mile only to spot a few pithy entolomas, when suddenly a thousand-strong legion of honey mushrooms or a heavy, bug-free trio of king boletes sends you reeling.  You might check one hundred ancient oaks and find nothing but slippery acorns, but keep pressing on – the next oak tree, seemingly no different than the rest, could hold enough maitake to carry your family through the winter.

I love late season hunting; you can taste the crisp, starlit nights and heavy morning dew in each bite of blewit. You can smell clean October air and fresh mountain mist in every morsel of lion’s mane. Each hunt carries the weight of knowing it might be the season’s last as the daylight dwindles and winter falls upon the land.

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast: The Ox Tongue on the Oak Tree

Beefsteak mushroom

Like a crimson tongue shooting up from the scorched earth, scouring for moisture, the beefsteak polypore commanded my attention. Also called the ox tongue, the beefsteak (Fistulina hepatica) is a beguilingly beautiful polypore that I almost never find, let alone on a bone-dry August afternoon.

But there they were, two vibrant slabs of red meat at the base of a dead oak, undeniably resembling fresh cuts of their bovine namesake. Candidly, I have never tried the beefsteak – I rarely see it and, when I do, I typically prefer to leave it on the tree.

This time, though, the timing was just right, and I took an ox tongue home with me. Opinions as to the culinary merits of this species vary – I will be experimenting with a few different preparations and will report back.

In the meantime, the weather is shifting. Yesterday’s rains triumphantly broke the drought, and the coming week promises bucketsful of rain and mushrooms!

ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast for the next two weeks!

 

ForageCast: Veins of Golden Chanterelles

Chanterelles

The forest is flush with veins of gold that cut through dark hemlock stands and weave their way around towering spruce. A week of powerful afternoon thunderstorms broke the early July dry spell, receding to reveal a bumper crop of chanterelles flanked by porcini. Watch your step, because lobsters are lurking underfoot, and baby black trumpets are sprouting between the beech trees. The slugs have already arrived at the great woodland feast, and I invite you to join them!

July hunting can be muggy, buggy, and inconsistent, but don’t let the horseflies keep you away from the harvest. If your favorite local forest proves fruitless, try a different patch of woods. You don’t need to go far to shake things up.

I led a private guided foray on Sunday that started slow as I crawled around beech trees scouring the moss for black trumpets still too tiny to reveal themselves. A flush of pristine oysters brightened the mood, but I knew we could do better. We crossed over to the other side of the driveway and found a glistening handful of chanterelles. But it was not until we reached the edge of a dense tangle of spruce and birch that a participant, taking a cigarette break, stumbled upon an inspiring flush. We left plenty of the chanterelles to spread their spores, and walked back to the camp with a brimming basketful.

ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast: Chanterelles, Boletes and their Brethren

Chanterelles - Hands

It rains as I write, a good slow and steady soak that is sure to summon great flushes of gourmet and medicinal fungi. After a dry start to the summer season, golden chanterelles and boletes – from painted to porcini – are poking their familiar faces up from the warm July soil.

Boletes and chanterelles can be divine, but these charismatic fungi should not be mistaken for beginner species.

The jack-o’-lantern is a common, highly poisonous mushroom that is all-too-easily confused for the supremely edible (once cooked) chanterelle. Though not deadly for healthy adults, a jack-o’-lantern dinner is likely to leave you clinging to the toilet bowl for well over 24 hours. The differences between jacks and chanterelles are obvious to experienced foragers, but can be indiscernible to beginners. Once you can have mastered recognition of the golden chanterelle’s attached, forking gills and scattered fruiting habit, you can enjoy a handful of equally delicious, vibrantly colored chanterelle relations as well.

Boletes, pored fungi that grow in mycorrhizal association with plants, are generally safer than gilled mushrooms. No North American boletes are recognized as deadly, but this can lend beginners a false sense of security. Boletes are fairly simple to ID to genus, but identifying to species can vary from straightforward to extremely difficult without microscope and spore print. There are myriad North American boletes known to be edible, a handful of which rank among the most exquisite and savory of all wild mushrooms (such as the Boletus edulis group). There also are “edible” (ie non-poisonous) boletes that are repulsively bitter, and mild-flavored boletes that are highly toxic. Be weary of any blanket rules – you have to know each mushroom, in all its nuance and wild glory.

I had an inspiring morel season, but the June mushrooming dry spell has left me craving the persistence, passion, and abundance of the peak season mushroom hunt. We have not seen peak yet, but I anticipate promising conditions and invigorating surprises for our guided forays this coming weekend!

ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast: Morels in the Month of May

IMG_2749

With only a sliver of sunlight left in the sky, I head for the hills in search of spring’s most coveted wild delicacy. Soon I find myself on hand and knee, scouring the soil beneath a giant ash as my setter howls madly into the twilight. I see a morel menagerie – plump and pickable blacks, yellows, and half-frees – in my mind’s eye, but my fingers find only leaf litter and hollowed acorns on the forest floor. I am hunting with my hands as much as my eyes, as the day grows dim and a silver crescent rises in the mid-May sky.

Suddenly I feel something cool, squishy, wrinkled, spongy, fresh and full of potential. My grip tightens as I pluck this vital object from the forest floor and raise it to my face for closer inspection. I did not need my flashlight – one rancid whiff was all it took to know this was no morel. It may have been a false morel, swallowed nearly whole (and regurgitated in similar form) by an unsuspecting mammal. It may have been something less exotic, a mere dog turd or hairball. Alas, we shall never know, for my repulsion trumped my curiosity as I flung this foreign object into the night. Some things are better left unidentified.

Morel madness is again taking the region by storm, as daytime highs in the mid-60s and rain-soaked nights summon these thoroughly wild and undeniably delicious fungi. Our 2016 workshop season kicks off next Saturday, May 21, with a double header at The Nature Museum in Grafton, Vermont, followed by a Sunday double header at Green Mountain Audubon in Huntington. These workshops, which are nearly sold out, will offer a new format as we learn how to safely, ethically, and fruitfully wildcraft culinary and medicinal spring greens, roots, shoots, fruits and, of course, mushrooms.

Northeastern ForageCast for the month of May!

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