ForageCast

ForageCast: Nettles Before the Storm

IMG_5712Wheezing uncontrollably in the pollen-laden air, I make a sunset run to the nearest nettle patch at the city’s edge. I park my car on the side of the dusty dirt road and enter the woods beneath cottonwood and box elder. I walk past sprawling patches of denuded ostrich ferns, crudely cut stumps deprived of the chance to unfurl. Located just beyond the urban fray, this patch of ferns falls victim to the tragedy of the commons each spring as commercial foragers make their rounds and leave no fiddlehead behind.

Soon, I reach the sandy banks of the Winooski River and find myself surrounded by stinging nettles – abundant and overlooked. More resilient and less fetishized than fiddleheads or ramps, the lowly nettle is a natural antihistamine that makes a cleansing and mineral-rich tea or spinach substitute. Nettle supports healthy digestive system and kidney function, and even fosters milk production in lactating mothers.

Cooking or drying neutralizes the formic acid, the source of the sting that lends the plant its common name. If you’re not careful, though, the nettles will get you before you get them, their tiny hairs leaving you with a harmless but memorable sting that can sizzle long after you have left the patch. Having forgotten my gloves at home, I pull off a sock for protection and quickly clip a basketful of gorgeous greens. My forearms get a bit stung, but it’s a welcome distraction from my allergies.

Arriving home, I put a pot of water on to boil, rinse the nettles, and throw them in to simmer for several minutes. The tea tastes like asparagus – fresh and vegetal, almost sweet. As I sip nettle tea from my favorite mug, the heavy sky cracks open and a much-needed rain falls down upon the land. I step out onto my porch and watch rivers of pollen rush down the street and into the sewer. The temperature quickly drops down into the sixties.

It is a perfect storm. Welcome back, morels.

Northeastern ForageCast for the week of May 14, 2012!

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast: Back in the Ramp Patch

© Eve Event Photography

As I walked the woods today with family and friends, spring was everywhere. Northern Vermont’s soils, frozen five feet deep in March, are bursting with new growth. Thousands of trout lilies poked out of the saturated soil. Trilliums, already bearing white buds, brushed up against blue cohosh and tangy wood sorrel.

The ramp ritual, my favorite sign of spring, is upon us once again. Today I checked an old patch and found carpets of wild alliums soaking up their fleeting share of sunlight. I picked just a handful of greens, knowing the plants will quickly double in size. That handful was more than enough to elevate tonight’s dinner. Pungent and earthy, the ramps were divine atop melted cheddar on toast.

Meanwhile, morels are pushing their way into Pennsylvania and creeping closer to New York. Spring is behind schedule this year, so Vermont foragers will need to hang tight for another few weeks before morel madness gets underway. In the mean time, we can drool over photos of juicy yellows on the Missouri Mycological Society Facebook page.

2015 promises to be our most exciting workshop and foray season yet, as we partner with venues including Green Mountain Audubon, Shelburne Farms, and The Nature Museum. It all kicks off on May 3, with “Mushroom Cultivation for Garden and Forest” at New Haven, CT’s Common Ground. Stay tuned – we will be announcing the full 2015 workshop lineup soon, including a few special events and new formats that pair foraging and feasting. If your basket is empty, it won’t be for long!

Northeastern ForageCast for the next few weeks!

Northeastern ForageCast™ for the next few weeks!

ForageCast: Mycelial Memories

Ari contemplating a parasol mushroom.

Ari contemplating a parasol mushroom.

Every October as the wild mushroom season nears its inevitable end, a feeling of desperation sets in as I scramble to get out and collect the last of the harvest. My approach to foraging, usually patient and calculated, becomes decidedly more frantic as I find myself sprinting from oak to oak, fueled by visions of a well-stocked larder. As I check each and every oak for a roosting hen, I envision Thanksgiving turkey stuffed with maitake and lion’s mane – the grandeur of the harvest illuminating the darkest days.

We have grown spoiled, numbed, by the fossil-fueled supermarket and its endless supply of mediocre and chemically-laden produce. Perhaps it is just a primitive reflex, a relic of my hunter-gatherer heritage, but as we enter October I am beset by an instinct to hunt, harvest and preserve before I hunker down aside the woodstove and sip on chaga tea.

Sometimes my late season hunts have been wildly productive – a matsutake revelation, a maitake on Main Street, a beech graveyard and a lion’s mane lair. Back in Ithaca, New York – hen and lion country – the sheer volume of the fall harvest could be staggering. We lived like mushroom kings, savoring cream of maitake soup and hosting tasting parties to share the panoply of fall flavors – earthy, nutty, buttery, fishy, fruity, floral, herbal, umami.

This fall I have been busy training a fledgling forager, one who has not yet graduated to solid foods but already gazes out at the forest with the whimsy of a woodland sprite. As I stroll down a sandy riverbank, past honeys, late-fall oysters and turkey tails, I am quiet and contemplative as I reflect on a year marked by the loss of one family member and the birth of another. The mycelium beneath my feet, a vast and enigmatic web connecting life and death, silently readies itself for winter.

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast: Fall Feast

IMG_2112With crispy autumn leaves underfoot and newly naked branches overhead, we took the little one to climb her first mountain. Winter is the longest season in Vermont, a sprawling and frigid affair, and autumn the most ephemeral. But when the leaves are peaking, and the harvest heavy, we are overwhelmed by abundance and undaunted by the coming cold.

After a prolonged dry spell, the recent rain will give foragers one last chance to find fall favorites like hedgehogs, yellowfoot chanterelles, matsutake, maitake, and lion’s mane. Even the most conspicuous fungi are hard to spot beneath the freshly fallen leaves, so the fall forager must rely on an intuitive knowledge of the landscape to guide her gaze. Subtle cues, from the age of the forest to the structure of the soil, can make the difference between an empty basket and a full frying pan.

I look at baby Eliana, riding in the snuggly with Mama, her wide eyes fixed on the canopy of beech. Those eyes seem to be absorbing everything, missing nothing. It occurs to me that a forager’s eyes are not unlike a child’s eyes, forever open and awaiting the next surprise. Foraging is, fundamentally, the art of seeing.

And even on this dry October afternoon, I see a cluster of lion’s mane on a downed beech right along the path. Just a little lion, but pristine and fresh, and accompanied by several others flashing their pearly white teeth. I leave the emergent pink fungi to ripen in the log’s cavities, and pick just enough for Jenna to make an all-local fall feast – pan seared chicken breast topped with poblano peppers and caramelized  shallots, served with a winter squash stuffed with lion’s mane and a side of roasted Brussels sprout tops. Behold the harvest!

ForageCast - 10-12-11

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast: Golden Hours

Golden Hours - Chanterelles

I’m eating black raspberries for breakfast, watching them turn from ruby red to a luscious purple as they ripen under the summer sun. Nothing summons memories of summers past like the blackcap – my favorite bramble. My tongue tingles as their zingy burst of flavor finishes with dark, mysterious cloves.

Papa LoveJust overhead, the staghorn sumac’s Dr. Seussian fruits are nearly ready for sumac lemonade. Completing the feast, wild alpine strawberries – compact bundles of strawberry essence – are ripening as the last of their cultivated cousins ferment in the fields.

The July sun is beating down as I wander beyond the periphery and into the damp forest. A destroying angel welcomes me into the woods, and my eyes begin to scan the ground for golden streaks. My yellow eyes are on, and they are finding me the season’s first fly agarics, ochre Russulas, and crown-tipped corals, along with a fragrant fistful of dense, bug-free chanterelles.

The colorful cast of summer fungi has arrived, and the woods are growing wetter and more alive with each passing thunderstorm. Baby Eliana Mina is here too, though for now she is spending more time in the bassinet than in the backwoods. Soon, she will ride in the snuggly and join us as we delight in the abundance of summer.

Northeastern ForageCast for the upcoming week!

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

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