ForageCast

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

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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!

ForageCast: Morels in the Month of May

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With only a sliver of sunlight left in the sky, I head for the hills in search of spring’s most coveted wild delicacy. Soon I find myself on hand and knee, scouring the soil beneath a giant ash as my setter howls madly into the twilight. I see a morel menagerie – plump and pickable blacks, yellows, and half-frees – in my mind’s eye, but my fingers find only leaf litter and hollowed acorns on the forest floor. I am hunting with my hands as much as my eyes, as the day grows dim and a silver crescent rises in the mid-May sky.

Suddenly I feel something cool, squishy, wrinkled, spongy, fresh and full of potential. My grip tightens as I pluck this vital object from the forest floor and raise it to my face for closer inspection. I did not need my flashlight – one rancid whiff was all it took to know this was no morel. It may have been a false morel, swallowed nearly whole (and regurgitated in similar form) by an unsuspecting mammal. It may have been something less exotic, a mere dog turd or hairball. Alas, we shall never know, for my repulsion trumped my curiosity as I flung this foreign object into the night. Some things are better left unidentified.

Morel madness is again taking the region by storm, as daytime highs in the mid-60s and rain-soaked nights summon these thoroughly wild and undeniably delicious fungi. Our 2016 workshop season kicks off next Saturday, May 21, with a double header at The Nature Museum in Grafton, Vermont, followed by a Sunday double header at Green Mountain Audubon in Huntington. These workshops, which are nearly sold out, will offer a new format as we learn how to safely, ethically, and fruitfully wildcraft culinary and medicinal spring greens, roots, shoots, fruits and, of course, mushrooms.

Northeastern ForageCast for the month of May!

ForageCast: Falling into Maitake

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After a rainy day at the office, I head straight for the woods to catch the last rays of daylight. It is already too dark to hunt, unless you know exactly where to look.  Maitake is on my mind, and I am jumping from oak to oak in search of a hefty hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa).

I dodge a hailstorm of acorns, wishing I had worn a helmet as I zero in on a grandfather oak tree. It appears empty, but I crawl around the base, cobwebs in my curls, convinced that this tree will not let me down.

As I pull back the freshly fallen leaves, a thriving microcosm of the forest ecosystem reveals itself. A juicy earthworm and a confused newt wiggle away from me, and as I taste a speck of loamy black soil, I am reminded of the quiet wonder of little things.

The old oak was a giver, and soon it had revealed a tiny maitake, one that could not have been more than a day old. I admired the little hen’s tight, graceful form, before tucking it in beneath a blanket of leaves and walking softly out of the woods. My first maitake of the season would stay in the ground, as I know it meant more mature specimens would turn up in the light of day.

Sure enough, 2015 already has proven to be my best maitake year since my formative foraging days in Ithaca. Southern Vermont, it seems, is loaded with older oak trees, and the late September deluge coincided perfectly with the prime window for maitake fruitings. The nutritious and medicinal maitake epitomizes the umami flavor that makes mushrooms unique.

We even have a family of maitake-loving insects that have taken residence in our home, after an enormous hen gifted to me by my father turned out to be laced with a labyrinth of boring beetles. I threw the maitake in our uncovered compost bowl on a dark evening, and within minutes the beetles had been summoned out of their food source and had swarmed our ceiling lamp. That night I feel asleep to a soundtrack of humming maitake beetles, reminding me of the abundance of autumn.

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast: Brimming with Boletes

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Despite a prolonged dry spell, the woods are brimming with boletes. September mornings have found the forest heavy with river valley fog, and host trees are generously sharing groundwater with my favorite mycorrhizal fungi.

The result is a delicious convergence of dry ground and breathtaking flushes, especially in areas with a high water table. I took the pooch for a labor day stroll in our local woodland, expecting to find nothing but mosquitoes in the parched woods. As I descended to the shores of a mucky pond, I saw hundred-strong legions of slippery jacks (Suillus luteus) and long veins of painted boletes (Suillus pictus). Soon, I found myself in a bolete stronghold, flanked by poised and poisonous lilac-browns (Sutorius eximius). The flushes were staggering, but the slippery Suillus and sickening Sutorius did little to whet my appetite.

I let the boletes lead me to a second pond, where I was greeted by a trio of plump, brick-red beauties. I knelt down to take a closer look, and realized I was face-to-face with firm, bug-free bicolors (Boletus bicolor). The yellow pores bruised dark blue upon handling, while the fragrant yellow flesh very slowly bruised a pale blue. The stipe was the deep red hue of the cap, yielding to yellow towards the top. The aroma was, for lack of a better word, boletealicious.

I left the bicolors in the ground and began walking away from the pond, under a mixed canopy dominated by oak and hemlock. I didn’t have to look hard to find the next bicolor, an overripe and pungent behemoth. This specimen, what I call a “flag,” led me to another bicolor hotspot, where I found everything from pristine new growth to larvae-littered giants.

I always love finding bicolor boletes. Though their ID can be slightly tricky, their vivid primary colors, chunky stature, and divine flavor make them a standout species in any forest. If they didn’t taste so good, bicolors could get by on their good looks alone. In fact, there is only one bolete I would rather find – the king, or porcini.

And that is exactly what I found next – a pair of chubby and pristine piglets – underneath hemlock and spruce. Do not be discouraged by the dry conditions – the boletes are having a memorable flush!

ForageCast - September 2015

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