ForageCast

ForageCast: First Morels of the Season

Our first morel find of 2017 – pictured is one of two chubby yellow morels we spotted yesterday morning in downtown Burlington, VT.

The season’s first morels, even if growing in highly questionable soil in downtown Burlington, always are a true sight to behold. Jenna, right out the passenger seat window as we were parking, spotted two plump yellow morels on woodchips among dog-doo and debris.

We gazed out the window at the majestic morels, knowing we would not eat these urban fruits but that their presence was a sign of a delightful season to come. Morels have burst into season with gusto, with Vermont flushes reported from Barre to Burlington to the Northeast Kingdom. In higher spots or mountain areas throughout New England you should not expect good flushes for another couple weeks. But in warmer microclimates, even up through New Hampshire and Maine, we’re again reaching the season when we foragers begin our pursuit of the elusive and exquisite morel.

Of course, it’s not just one species of morel we’re looking for – yellows and blacks are equally delicious, and rare and diminutive half-frees are tasty, too. Michael Kuo and collaborators describe 19 DNA-distinct species of North American morels in their 2012 study, an impressive number of outstanding morel variations. Region of harvest is an important factor in keying out morphologically similar morel specimens. It makes the wildcrafter wonder about terroir and flavor, and the need for further studies (sign me up!) exploring the taste of the myriad species and sub-subspecies of gourmet wild mushrooms in North American forests.

But don’t forget – diversity of false morels is also phenomenal. As a rule, do not eat false morels, or any “morel” which does not have a completely hollow, contiguous cavity from tip to tail. The Verpa and Gyromitra false morels may be most likely to confuse foragers – neither has the signature hollow cavity of a true morel.

The stakes are high, but morels are unbelievably good and maddeningly fun to find. True morels are distinctive once you find them in the field with an expert forager and master a few key ID characteristics including the hollow stem. And if you’re ever in doubt, morels are one mushroom any forager would be happy to take off your hands for you!

 

By |May 5th, 2017|ForageCast, Morels|Comments Off on ForageCast: First Morels of the Season|

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!

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