Yellow Foot

Mountain Kings

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As I entered the woods with my childhood best friend on my 30th birthday backpacking adventure, my attention was fixed on the ground as we followed a languorous river. Lipstick­-red, vomit­-inducing emetic Russulas lined the trailside, and acrid peppery milkies were sprayed about the flat forest floor. Deadly destroying angels were everywhere, menacingly elegant and dangerous. Yet a three-­mile, flat riverside walk into the backcountry did not reveal a single gourmet mushroom, and the soil seemed drier with each step.

Then, the trail turned and we started climbing steeply. Our legs burned and we began to shed layers as the mid-­day sun beat down upon our shoulders. I was no longer looking as intently for mushrooms, my hopes of a hearty harvest shriveling.

The first hedgehog mushroom just presented itself to me, its distinctive pale peach cap leaving no doubt that I would find teeth, rather than pores or gills, below. A first find of the season is always glorious, and a quick scan revealed five more juicy Hydnum repandum within a ten­-foot radius. I pulled a paper bag out of my backpack and harvested a handful of plump hogs.

The hedgehogs were soon followed by my season’s first small lion’s mane (Hericium coralloides), and I began to realize that the cold nights and morning mountain mist had invigorated the mushrooms at the higher elevations. Often I look to low bogs and valleys in search of moisture during drought. But higher does not always mean drier, and it is easy to overlook the cool mushroom havens that can be found if you climb into the clouds.

Trailside porciniI had a smile to my face as I sauntered higher up the mountain, backpack on my shoulders and paper mushroom bag coddled carefully in my hand. Without even trying, I spotted the prettiest porcini (Boletus cf. edulis) I have seen since my Ithaca foraging days. It stood out like an alpine beacon, a quintessential King with massive, blemish-­free stem. The cap was firm and picturesque, and needed no preparation to make a nutty trailside snack. All mushrooms should be cooked as a general rule, but a notable exception is a bug-­free King. How could one improve upon such perfection?

As we marched higher still, the trees becoming stunted and misshapen, I was surprised to see the chunky hedgehogs continue to fruit along the trail, and I picked up another season’s first – yellowfoot chanterelles (Craterellus tubaeformis) – just below treeline. We arrived at camp late, too tired to cook or set up a tent, and promptly fell asleep upon a bed of moss and rosy red Russulas.

The next afternoon, on our hike out of the forest, we cleaned and cooked the wild mushrooms (minus the porcini cap) along with sliced summer sausage. Though we had no oil, butter or salt, the result was outstanding and imbued with an exquisite mountain terroir. I typically don’t mix porcini (nutty, earthy) with chanterelles (fruity, floral) in the same pot, but for this wild backcountry one­-pot wonder, the medley of mountain mushrooms was balanced and delightful.

ForageCast: Week of August 30, 2011

A taste of the recent bounty: yellow feet, lion's mane and smooth chanterelles!

Now is the time to be a mushroom forager. I thought this to myself yesterday as I followed an epic vein of porcinis down a moist wash at the forest’s edge. While Hurricane Irene wrought havoc upon many parts of the Eastern seaboard, in Ithaca all we got was rain. This rain, on top of plentiful August showers, has awakened the legions of fungi in the forest.

With cooler temperatures, we are seeing a whole new set of species begin to emerge. As new species come, those that prefer milder weather go; in fact, this week I have removed the chanterelle from the ForageCast since I am only seeing the occasional rotting specimen. But nature is all too kind – those of us who cannot part with the chanterelle’s singular apricot aroma and delicate floral notes have been provided with a new cluster of chanterelles to pursue.

After almost getting lost following my porcini path, I decided it was time to get back on trail and see if there were any mushrooms waiting for me ahead. At that point I realized my luck with the porcini was no fluke – the forest was littered with mushrooms. It didn’t take me long to find a nice flush of mature smooth chanterelles (featured in last week’s ForageCast), followed by an even nicer crop of yellow foot chanterelles.

There are two types of chanterelle often referred to as “yellow foot” – the orange-capped Craterellus ignicolor (what I found) and the brownish-capped Craterellus tubaeformis. Both have semi-hollow stems, well-developed false gills, and the fruity scent and flavor of their bigger brethren. Newer foragers should stick to the smooth chanterelle, which is safer to ID because of its larger size and distinctive, slightly wrinkled underside.

The safest chanterelle-like mushroom of all to forage is definitely the hedgehog, featured in the ForageCast for the week of August 15. With its orange-yellow cap, toothed belly, and chanterelle-esque aroma, the hedgehog is difficult to mistake for anything else. It comes in two sizes: big (Hydnum repandum) and small (H. umbilicatum). I still have not seen any this fall, but people have reported sightings to The Mushroom Forager.

Even without any hedgehogs, by last night my fridge was stuffed with wild mushrooms. To top it all off, this morning before work I took Judah for a quick hike only to find a downed tree covered in lion’s mane – my first of the season. With so many gourmet mushrooms popping up across the Eastern seaboard, I urge you to seize the day and go for a jaunt into the woods.  Let me know what you find!

Northeastern ForageCast for the week of August 30, 2011!

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