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The Hunt for Wild Mushrooms

General Posts
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This article first appeared in the East End Food Cooperator in August, 2012 (I think it was August). Unfortunately I can’t find the link to the article, but you’ll get to the Coop’s website with the link above. I added the pictures below. :-)

The Hunt for Wild Mushrooms
by Melissa Sokulski

morel mushrooms, early spring

morel mushrooms, early spring

Mushrooms are an interesting entity: neither plant nor animal, fungi are their own kingdom and upon close examination actually have more in common with animals than plants. Their cell walls contain chitin, found in shells of crabs and exoskeletons of insects but absent from plants. Plants make their own food but like animals fungi digest their food with enzymes they produce. Fungi also take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide like animals, while plants do just the reverse.

Nevertheless, as a vegetarian I am comfortable eating mushrooms and wild mushrooms are a true culinary delight - a feast for the forager - if you know what you are looking for.

When my husband and I first decided to learn about wild mushrooms, we were extremely fortunate to stumble upon the amazing and generous Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club. We decided to go on one of their free weekly walks, open to members and guests. They meet at parks all over Allegheny County and beyond, there are now chapters of the club in Indiana county and Washington/Greene counties. Usually led by club mycologists and attended by experts as well as amateurs, this is a great way to learn about the fungus among us (I just had to!)

chicken mushroom

chicken mushroom

On our way to Deer Lake to meet the club one Saturday in August, my husband Dave and I promised each other that no matter what they said we would not eat any wild mushrooms. Wild mushrooms are dangerous, I proclaimed, mimicking the warnings of my herbal mentor who told me, “Native Americans didn’t even eat wild mushrooms,” (untrue) and “The number one cause of death among mycologists is mushroom poisoning!” (also not true.) But apparently a promise made is a promise broken in our household because before long we were filling our basket with golden yolk-colored chanterelles, a prized culinary mushroom.

a member of the western pa mushroom club with a basket of chanterelles, on our first mushroom walk

a member of the western pa mushroom club with a basket of chanterelles, on our first mushroom walk

One mushroom expert pointed out the false gills of the mushroom, and further explained that chanterelles grow singly from the ground unlike the poisonous (but rarely deadly) Jack O’Lantern, a common look-alike which often grows in clusters on wood. “But sometimes the wood is buried,” he warned, “like an underground root, so you have to be careful.” Another distinction is that Jack O’Lanterns are bio-luminescent, they glow in the dark. I was beginning to learn that edible or not, mushrooms are endlessly beautiful and fascinating.

We got the mushrooms home and prepared them, slicing them and noticing the apricot smell. We sauteed them (most edible wild mushrooms need to be cooked or can make you sick) and were hooked.

Filling out the application to join the club, one question asked, “How many wild mushrooms can you confidently identify?” I confidently filled in the blank with a zero. The thought of being able to identify wild mushrooms daunted me. Now I can identify over thirty, from delicious morels to the deadly Destroying Angel, both of which do indeed grow in this area.

Giant Puffball Mushrooms

Giant Puffball Mushrooms

The late summer into the fall is a great time to learn about wild mushrooms. There are a lot of beginner-friendly edible mushrooms to identify all throughout the city parks including the chicken mushroom or sulfur shelf (one of my favorites), chanterelles, giant puffball, black trumpets, lions mane or bear tooth, and the hen of the woods. The best way to learn to identify these mushrooms is by walking with experts like those in the mushroom club and attending their monthly meetings at Beechwood Farm Nature Reserve, which are also free and open to guests. Their annual foray is in September. There are walks and talks by experts, as well as a mushroom feast: dozens of dishes made with wild mushrooms by members of the mushroom club.

You can also find identification information and wild mushroom recipes on this website. Adding mushrooms to your foraging basket is as fun as it is delicious, and can be safe with care and knowledge. As I’ve heard many times from many people in the mushroom club, “There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old bold mushroom hunters.”

This article and all pictures copyright Melissa Sokulski

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Week 10 Community Supported Foraging

CSF Newsletters, General Posts
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Welcome to week 10 - the halfway point! What I think is so remarkable about this csf is that you have already have had the opportunity to sample nearly 50 different wild edibles so far! (They are all listed below.) That is fifty new foods which grow right around your home that you may never have even tried…you have now prepared wonderful meals with! I think that is awesome!

This week’s share includes:

  • lambsquarters *NEW
  • day lily buds *NEW
  • lady’s thumb *NEW
  • milk weed buds *NEW
  • yellow dock seeds *NEW
  • mallow leaves
  • purslane

Day lily buds and flowers

Day lily buds and flowers

Day lily buds are (yet another) one of my very favorite edibles. My favorite way to eat these is to saute them in olive oil with garlic and tamari. They cook fast…in 5 minutes you’ll have a delicious addition to any meal (I especially like to serve with brown rice, tofu, greens, that sort of thing.) The flowers are also edible: I usually pull the petals apart and add them (and the stamens) to salad. Also the old wilted flowers can be dried and later added to soups. They are very flavorful and this is quite a popular food in Asia.

lamb's quarters

lamb's quarters

Lambs Quarters (Chenopodium album) is excellent raw or cooked. Some people refer to this as wild spinach. It can be used anywhere you use spinach. I like it in salads, smoothies, stir-fries and soups.

lady's thumb

lady's thumb

Lady’s Thumb (Polygonum persicaria) is another edible that is popping up now. Sometimes the leaves have a darkened area in the middle that people call “the lady’s thumbprint”, which is where the plant got it’s common name. It has a cluster of pink flowers. Both the leaves and flower are edible either raw (salad, smoothies) or cooked in stir-fries or salad. It is in the buckwheat family (like Japanese knotweed) and you’ll notice the stalk has little “joints” like the knotweed did, which is reflected by the genus name “Polygonum”.

milkweed

milkweed

The best way I know to eat the unopened milkweed blossoms are to steam them and serve with butter. We harvest milkweed blossoms very sparingly…these are a native plant that is very important to the monarch butterfly. It is where she lays her eggs and the little caterpillars grow eating milkweed flowers. They make their chrysalis on this plant and emerge to monarchs.

yellow dock seeds still on the stalk

yellow dock seeds still on the stalk

Yellow Dock Seeds - you’ll start seeing these bundles of brown seeds along the roadside now. They are high in protein and very easy to incorporate into cooking. Strip the seeds from the stalk (we’ve done that for you.) You can use them as is in oatmeal or bread, or grind the seeds into flour and incorporate with your regular flour. Here is a recipe shared on our facebook page by our facebook friend Susan Dummet Martin from 2010:

Yellow Dock Seed Crackers, photo credit: Susan Dummett Martin

Yellow Dock Seed Crackers, photo credit: Susan Dummet Martin

  • ‎1 cup dock seed flour(use blender, remove stems and leaves)
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour,
  • 1 tea salt,
  • between 3/4 and 1 cup water.

Knead, roll thin, cut, bake on well oiled cookie sheet 350 oven. Turn once while baking. Cool on racks. Easy! To me tastes like well done deep-fried zucchini. Great with cheese. Very high fiber. My dog loves them too!

~ Recipe by Susan Dummet Martin, submitted by facebook

Remember: Next week we will be away and there is NO SHARE PICKUP!!

The next pickup will be Thursday, June 21.

And now here is a list of all the amazing wild foods you’ve had so far in this csf:

  1. Dryad’s Saddle mushroom
  2. Morel Mushroom
  3. Dried Reishi mushrooms
  4. Nettles
  5. Deadnettles/purple archangel
  6. Garlic Mustard
  7. Onion Grass
  8. onion grass bulbs
  9. Creeping Charlie
  10. broad leaf dock
  11. yellow dock
  12. cleavers
  13. violet flowers
  14. Japanese knotweed
  15. violet leaves
  16. cattail stalks
  17. cattail flowers
  18. chickweed
  19. wild mint
  20. peppermint
  21. apple mint
  22. lemon balm
  23. catnip
  24. ramps
  25. trout lily
  26. burdock leaf stalks
  27. red clover flowers and leaves
  28. black locust flowers
  29. white clover flowers
  30. white clover leaves
  31. burdock root
  32. plantain leaves
  33. wild carrots
  34. day lily tubers
  35. chicory leaves
  36. chicory root
  37. mulberries
  38. serviceberries/June berries
  39. mugwort
  40. comfrey leaves
  41. purslane
  42. mallow
  43. quickweed
  44. wood sorrel
  45. lady’s thumb
  46. lambs quarters
  47. day lily buds
  48. milk weed buds
  49. yellow dock seeds

WOW! That’s a lot of new stuff!!!! I hope you’ve enjoyed the share so far. I also hope that with the repetition and use of some of these common edibles that you feel more confident going out and collecting on your own.

Have a great week with these lovely edibles. Have a nice week off, and we’ll see you again on Thursday, June 21.

yellow dock seeds shaped into a heart

yellow dock seeds shaped into a heart

Love and yellow dock seeds,

Melissa


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Book Review: The Wild Table

General Posts, Raw
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I’ve been reading a lot of wild edible foraging and recipe books lately, and I figured I’d share them with you.

Most recently I have been reading The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food and Recipes by Connie Green and Sarah Scott. Although some of the recipes in this book aren’t a gluten-free vegan’s cup of tea (Stir fried dandelion greens with duck fat and garlic), the descriptions of the wild edibles and the stories she tells about them are fabulous.

In fact, just her introduction alone is worth the read: how Ms. Green got into foraging foods for restaurants. Ms. Green explains that in the 1980s it was hard to sell anything foraged to any restaurants: the only two chefs who acknowledged her chanterelles were French - one denied they could even be chanterelles because he felt they didn’t grow in this country, the other preferred his tinned chanterelles from France, feeling they were superior to fresh American chanterelles.

I love Ms. Green’s and Ms. Scott’s out of the box thinking when it comes to using the wild edibles such infusing vodka with evergreen needles and the incredible sounding: “Connie’s Favorite Persimmon Pudding with Brandy Hard Sauce.”

Many of the recipes are certainly from and for gourmet kitchens…and I have a few friends who I know would love to get their hands on these recipes and work their culinary magic!

For me - who loves simple plant-based cooking and wild edibles foraging - there is plenty for me in this book. I can’t wait to try the basket-grilled morels over a fire this spring - a simple recipe of butter, garlic, salt and pepper which Ms. Green describes as “simply the best way to cook morels” and the Fresh Mulberry Ice Cream, though I will adapt the recipe replacing the sugar with a natural sweetener like agave or maple syrup, and the half and half with home-made cashew milk, though I have no doubt her original recipe is divine.

The pictures in the book, both of the wild edibles and the recipes, are gorgeous. Full page spreads of morels roasting over a fire, freshly picked lobster mushrooms, huckleberries flowing out of the bag and onto a plate.

I can’t get enough of this book: reading about her experiences and what she has to say about the plants, drinking in the color pictures, ruminating over the recipes.

This is definitely a great one to have on the bookshelf!

Happy Foraging!

~ Melissa

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Autumn is Here!

General Posts, Identification, video
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Autumn is here! And with it come two of my favorite wild edibles: Black Walnuts and Paw Paws! We were lucky enough to find both yesterday (and me without my camera!), but I’ll get some pictures and post them as soon as possible. (Below are some pictures of the paw paws we found last year.)

For now, please enjoy the video below from last year, which shows Ella and me cracking (and eating) black walnuts. The walnuts in the video have already been hulled (they have green hulls, when you find them on the ground, they really look like tennis balls at first glance) and dried.

To hull them, step on the walnut with your foot (wear shoes!) and then take the walnut out. You’ll want to wear gloves! The yellow stain will turn black and will stain your hands and anything else you get it on. (We’ll post pics of how to do this.)

Sometimes you’ll find worms under the hull, I usually discard these walnuts! Also, get the hulls off when they are still green - they’ll turn black eventually and give the walnuts a bitter taste.

Then, just set them out to dry, but don’t leave them outside or the squirrels will make off with your stash!

When they’re ready, you’ll have to crack into them and eat them, and that is what you’ll see below.

Enjoy!

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