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: Fall Fungi


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!


Northeastern ForageCast for next two weeks!

ForageCast: Chanterelle Gold Rush Continues

Black Trumpets - Hands

We parked our car at the Great Gulf Wilderness lot and headed into the White Mountain foothills for a pilgrimage to a favorite camping retreat during our high school and undergraduate years.

Hearty flushes of hygophorus milkies and painted suillus welcomed us into the wilderness, and scattered bands of chanterelles drew us deeper into the coniferous woods. After a sweaty couple mile trek in, we arrived at the majestic campsite in the shadow of the Presidentials and laid down our packs. We could hear the river rushing below, so we headed down for a swim. We were delighted to find the shores lined with gold, and we enjoyed a frigid dip alongside the chanterelles.

photo (3)Soon the sky grew dark, and we lamented the fact that we had not brought olive oil into the woods to cook up our treasures. We lovingly tucked them into the pocket of our tent, and spent a restful night dreaming of chanterelle omelets.

The next morning I stumbled out of the tent and brewed a pot of cowboy coffee as Jenna walked into the dense spruce and birch woods with toilet paper in hand. She emerged a few minutes later, just as I was taking the first sip of coffee straight out of the metal pot, with a glowing smile: “Chanterelles!”

I felt like a gold prospector as I bushwhacked my way into the evergreens with my pot of coffee. Jenna’s find was stunning – a long, winding band of chanterelles that almost glowed against the dark ground. I sprung into action, heading deeper into the wilds in search of additional golden nuggets. More chanterelles punctuated the forest floor, as well as my first yellow foot chanterelles and black trumpets of the season.

I even found a few pristine looking early porcini, but upon closer inspection their savory flesh was already squirming with life. Unable to resist the season’s first ceps, I detached the maggot-infested stem, peeled off the pores, and carefully selected a couple relatively maggot-free bites. There are few mushrooms that I eat without cooking but, like the maggots, I find raw porcini to be a divine trailside snack. Its nutty, bolete-alicious aftertaste lingers on the tongue long after the fear of having consumed raw maggots subsides.

The hills are alive with the mushrooms of summer – now is the time to find your own forest feast!

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast: Flooded with Mushrooms

IMG_2865In the wake of a deluge of Biblical proportions, the mycological landscape is exposed and naked. Well-concealed secrets have been pushed to the surface in a rare tipping of the mycelial hand. Knowledge of the underground mycelial layout that would usually take decades to develop is readily available to anyone with a keen set of forager’s eyes.

For the mushroom hunter, this is all very overwhelming. The forest is erupting with fungi. New species are stepping into the scene daily, from bicolor boletes to black trumpets. It is only mid-July, but it has already been an epic chanterelle season – even in unknown territory, I am finding new patches on almost every outing. Just follow the yellow brick road.

In a gleeful celebration of the rain, Jenna and I headed out into the wilds of Hinesburg. On the drive over, we eagerly listened to a VPR story about the unprecedented early summer rainfall, before setting out into the woods under partly cloudy skies.

Soon we had gathered a satchel full of chanterelles. The distant grumble of thunder, slowly closing in from all directions, felt oddly comforting to these rain-dependent mushroom maniacs.

As the grumble grew to a rumble, the sky turned black and heavy, enveloping us in its dark grip. “Ari, we’re going to get rained on,” Jenna exclaimed, stating the obvious with an uncharacteristic warble in her voice.

Before I could even respond, we heard a sharp snap of thunder, as the sky opened up in all its glory for the tenth day in a row. We might as well have been swimming. “Make sure you keep those chanterelles dry,” I quipped.

The rain was relentless, saturating anything and everything. Soon it had made victims of our iPhone and camera, handily penetrating the plastic bag we’d brought as a contingency plan. Even the mycelium was probably overwhelmed. We were in too deep but we boldly marched on, as our fingertips became prunes and the trail became a river.

As we neared the end of our hike, we arrived at a raging rapid. It was quite the sight to behold, the kind of whitewater that could drown dog, deer, dromedary or dragon. However, the sheer grandeur of the rapid was less inspiring once we realized that this was no river – this was the road we had driven in on!

The landscape had been transformed beyond recognition. The 8-foot diameter culvert that we had driven over into the parking lot had been swept downstream, leaving a muddy ledge that was rapidly eroding as the violent waters slammed up against its shore.

And there, across the divide on a quickly shrinking spit of land, was our Volkswagen.

A friendly family took us in and offered us towels and a change of clothes. When Judah sank his canine teeth into the rear end of one of their chickens, they graciously laughed it off as they saw me tackle him, throwing the traumatized bird out of the ravenous setter’s mouth just in time for it to walk away with a raw, bloodied behind.

We made it out by evening, walking over the closed town roads and meeting a friend on the other side. Our car was stuck on its lonely spit of land for nearly a week, but the floodwaters narrowly spared it. Even the iPhone and camera magically came back to life. Most importantly, though they sweated a bit in the frying pan, the chanterelles we had gathered held up beautifully.

ForageCast - 8-23-11

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