ForageCast

ForageCast: The Fall Hunt

After a dry August, punctuated by the occasional downpour, the foraging is hit-or-miss. Now is the time to head for the deep, dank belly of the forest and discover explosions of yellowfoot chanterelles and hedgehogs in mossy glens and bogs. Follow a streambed, or visit a vernal pool. Pursue pockets of moisture beneath the shelter of cliffs, gorges and waterfalls.

Or, focus your hunt on saprophytes like lion’s mane and oysters. These species colonize dying trees or downed logs, and their woody substrate can hold moisture longer than the leafy forest floor.

If you find the right microclimate, you will be rewarded with a spectacular flush of fall fruiters including blewits, black trumpets, yellowfoot chanterelles, hedgehogs, lion’s mane, lobsters, oysters, and a panoply of boletes. Maitake, an unsurpassed and prolific delicacy, will be arriving with the next cool rain at an oak tree near you. My nostrils are already primed for the musty cinnamon aroma of matsutake.

As our regular readers may have gleaned, I have been unusually busy this August between guided forays, a move, and new job. I must confess that I have not spent as much time in the woods this summer as I would have liked.

If you have befallen a similar fate, be assured that fall is my favorite time to forage. As the air grows crisp and fragrant, and yellow maple leaves curl up among yellowfoot chanterelles, only the hardy and hearty species remain.

ForageCast - September 2015

ForageCast: Primed for Porcini

IMG_2594Sauntering through a deep hemlock forest in the foothills of Camel’s Hump, I am scrambling to beat the slugs to June’s bumper crop of reishi. Chanterelle buttons glow on the soaking wet forest floor, the beginning of what should be a memorable July fruiting. Still, it will be at least a week before these golden beauties fatten up and find their way into an omelet.

Summer porcini have arrived early, too, soaking up the moisture and thriving in the cool nights and warm days. Unlike the slow growing chanterelle family, porcini and their bolete brethren are rapid growers. We already are seeing chunky kings in Vermont, and my eyes scan the coniferous duff for the first flush of summer piglets.

Soon, I spy a stately bolete growing on the other side of a raging river. The chubby stem and regal stature suggest I might be looking at a king. Unfazed by the swollen river, I plunge in – shoes and all – pining for porcini. I make it across in one piece, but my prize turns out to be an inedible, blue-staining Boletus subvelutipes.

The summer fruiters are here, and we are poised for a spectacular July flush. Soon, I will be eating chanterelles for breakfast and porcini for supper.

Notheast ForageCast for the next two weeks!

Notheast ForageCast for the next two weeks!

 

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!

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