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!

ForageCast: Morels, with a Side of Arsenic

© Monica Donovan via 2013 photo shoot with Ari and Jenna

This proud forager has a confession to make – the closest I’ve come to a morel this spring was inadvertently stepping on a lone Gyromitra esculenta. It was a gruesome site, too – the convoluted, wrinkly flesh squished like a false morel pancake on the ground.

Up here in northern Vermont, peak morel season is only beginning. Veteran local forager Moore Mushrooms reported the region’s first black morel on May 7, but blondes are just starting to ripen this week. We were rained on heavily last weekend, and this week we have been blessed with the type of stunning, seasonal weather that summons morels and mosquitoes alike. Ramps are retreating, as Jack-in-the-pulpit, trout lily, trillium, and yellow lady’s slipper orchids bring sumptuous splashes of color to the sylvan stage.

But the big game is hiding in the shadows, at least for now. This is my third spring in Vermont, but as far as the morels are concerned, I am still a flatlander, a fledgling. I have an epic Vermont ramp patch, a chanterelle goldmine, even a riverside matsutake stronghold.

A good morel patch, however, can take years to find. Last spring I thought I had found my honey hole, a spectacular showing that made me feel like a morel millionaire. But as much as I love morels, I prefer them without a side of arsenic. My morel Mecca, it turned out, was uncomfortably close to a superfund site. And so it goes.

How does it feel, you might ask, to return your hard-earned treasure to the dank May ground? I submit to you that it feels better than suffering arsenic poisoning. While classic mycorrhizal fungi like chanterelles, black trumpets, and porcini tend to favor pristine woodland habitats, morels often pop up from disturbed ground. The well-known affinity of yellow morels for old apple orchards is particularly concerning. Fruit trees were routinely sprayed with lead arsenate throughout the 20th century, until it was replaced by the equally unsavory DDT in the ’50s and ultimately banned from orchards in 1988.

More research is needed to determine the extent to which morels and other fungi uptake heavy metals from contaminated soils. In the mean time, my quest for a pristine and plentiful Vermont morel patch continues.

ForageCast - 5-14-12

Northeastern ForageCast through mid-June!

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!

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