ForageCast: Falling into Maitake


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



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

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!

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