Friday, July 25, 2014

This is Not a Chicken Mushroom

This IS a chicken
One of our favorite wild mushrooms to hunt and eat is the Chicken Mushroom (if yellow pored, Laetiporus sulphureus, if white pored, Laetiporus cincinnatus). When harvested at the right stage of maturity, it has excellent texture and flavor, very similar to actual chicken. For a family of 2/3 vegetarians, like we are, it makes an awesome meat-replacement in any recipe like pot pies, tacos, in garlic sauce, and skewered. We actively search it out staring in the spring, all the way through the summer and into the autumn.

The yellow pored variety (Laetiporus sulphureus) causes brown heart rot in standing or fallen  hardwoods, so it often grows above ground or along a fallen log. Its wild yellow and orange colors are easy to spot at a distance, and the fruiting is often enormous, giving us enough for dinner for a few nights, some extra to freeze, and sometimes enough to make sausages with. They are real show-stealers at public events, when we talk about how delicious and versatile they are as food.

Gillian holding a white chicken, Laetiporus cincinnatus, this IS a chicken

The white pored variety (Laetiporus cincinnatus) causes butt or root rot of hardwoods, often oaks, so is found at the base of the tree. or not far from the tree growing from the underground roots. White chickens are seemingly more tender than the yellow ones, but we don't seem to encounter them as often. Many people claim they taste better than the yellow pored chickens, but we are equally happy to find either.

Personally it drives me a little batty when I hear people refer to them as chicken "of the woods". We already have Hen of the Woods (AKA maitake or Grifola frondosa),  and not everything we find in the wild is referred to as "of the woods". I don't hunt "chanterelles of the woods" or "porcini of the woods". Some people on Facebook groups are proposing we call the white chicken "Crab of the Woods" to differentiate it from the yellow pored variety, and I will not do it. Just because I do find it in the woods, it is not of the woods, and I have run into people at public events who have a misconception that anything titled "of the woods" means it is a choice edible.

NOT A CHICKEN, Black Staining Polypore, Meripilus sumstenei

Which brings us to the topic of this whole post, the black staining polypore, which some want to refer to as "Rooster of the Woods". Its correct name is Meripilus sumstenei and it is closely resembles to the European Meripilus giganteus; some older guidebooks use the European name mistakenly. Like its more-correct common name (which are just terrible to use due to regional misunderstandings and not official or scientific at all, but good when speaking to the public who can't handle the binomials) describes, it often stains black with handling and has many pores (polypore) on the undersides of the overlapping fronds. Older specimens won't blacken as much or as quickly as younger, fresher ones. They grow as overlapping fronds coming from wood, sometimes from buried roots that are not immediately visible. They can be very pretty to see, and are often surprisingly bug-free.

NOT A CHICKEN, A big Meripilus sumstenei

Are they edible? Technically, yes. You will want to try it if you have a really young one, although it will blacken to an unappetizing degree while cooking. One mushroom club member has recommended grinding it and using it in a mushroom loaf application. I say I'll wait until I find something better. As it ages, it gets really fibrous and stringy and I can only imagine it will taste like eating a piece of shredded fabric. Their size also makes you want to eat it, because it would potentially feed a family for weeks!

Still NOT A CHICKEN, a baby Meripilus sumstenei looking deceptively orange

Gillian and a Berkeleys

At this time of year, mid-summer, we start seeing them proliferate. Hiking through the woods in search of choice edibles, we catch sight of the behemoths from the corners of our eyes and initially gasp with delight, for their overall shape resembles a chicken or maitake, but then logic takes over when we realize the color is wrong for a chicken and the season is too early for a maitake. You might even think you found a Berkeleys polypore (Bondarzewia berkleyi), which is another marginal edible, but the Berkeleys doesn't stain and is much less fibrous. Facebook mushroom ID pages are littered with posts asking if these are "Chicken of the Woods" and filled with people desperate to eat them. Even the identification tables at CVMS forays are heavy with the weight of black stainers found on site and brought from afar for hopeful, potentially edible confirmation from our newest members who think they found chickens. Sorry to disappoint, but it's just another Meripilus. But never give up, because the odds are in your favor that by putting in all those miles and hours scouring the woods will eventually yield to you a real chicken, not the lesser pretenders.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Connecticut Boletes

July 2014, all found in one park in one hour
July and August are prime season for finding Boletes in our area of New England. CVMS holds a well attended educational day at the end of August in a local park, and the stars of the show are usually the collections of Boletes. Robert had chosen to study them, and works to identify finds using visual observations, smell, chemical tests, and his books. His favorite way to get to know the large amount of Bolete species in our area includes photographing them.

July is under way, so he'll be out in the field (and forest), looking for the edible, and inedible, beautiful, and sometimes confusing Boletes for the next two months. Wish him luck!

Xanthoconium affine

Likely an Strobilomyces that has been attacked by a Hypomyces

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wintergreen Recipe- Wintergreen Meringues

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is a lovely little perennial, ground hugging plant in our area. The leaves are leathery, but can be chewed while hiking for a refreshing wintergreen flavor. The red berries, also tasting of wintergreen, are abundant in the fall, and can over-winter into spring for gathering. We had a wild foods potluck to attend in June, so we went out to find some of last fall's berries, still clinging to the low foliage. I chopped them finely in the food processor. The berries are not juicy, they are rather dry inside with many seeds, which is why they can last under snowfall all winter. Once chopped, they made a paste, which I folded into the meringue recipe before piping into rosettes and baking. Quite popular at the potluck, I also had a hard time keeping Gillian's little fingers out of the cookie basket before they were served. There should not be too much color or browning on the meringues, if there is you need a lower oven temperature. Try not to bake these on a humid or rainy day, or they will just stay sticky and not really dry out. If you can't find berries right now, wait until late autumn to seek out wintergreen berries in abundance, most often under white pines.

Wintergreen Meringues                   makes about 48

1 c. wintergreen berries
4 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 c. sugar

1. In a food processor, chop the wintergreen berries into a coarse paste, scraping down the sides of the processor bowl. You will end up with about 4 Tbsp of a dry paste.
2. Preheat the oven to 250° F.
3. In a mixer bowl, whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar, then continue to whip to soft peaks.
4. Slowly add the sugar, and mix the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. With a whisk, mix in the wintergreen berry puree by hand, trying not to deflate the whipped egg whites.
5. Using a large star tip, pipe out the meringue into rosettes, leaving about 1/2" between each meringue. Bake for 3 hours until dry and crisp. Store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Burdock Recipe - Burdock Root Pickles

Burdock is a biennial plant, and knowing which year plant is in is necessary before you attempt to dig and harvest the roots.  From the second year's growth, we gather the flower stalk, which is delicious peeled and boiled, tasting like artichokes. By mid-June, you can tell how old your burdock plant is, because that is when the flower stalk will bolt up from the center of the basal rosette. We dig the roots from the first year's plant, since they are less woody and stringy. The roots can be dug in spring, summer, or fall, but you'll get the biggest roots in the fall. Digging in sandy or rocky soil is easier, as is digging after it rains, because burdock roots are long and tough. Often you'll only get part of the root broken off, and that's fine to use for cooking or pickling. We have 2 burdocks in our area, great burdock (Articum lappa) and common burdock (Articum minus), both with edible roots. The Japanese consider burdock root a useful vegetable, and call it gobo. Here's a pickle recipe to make if you ever come across a big patch that was exceptionally easy to harvest, they're tart and make a nice addition to any pickle tray.

Burdock Root Pickles                 makes 1 quart jar

about 2 pounds burdock root, enough to fill a quart canning jar
1/2 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. water
3/4 c. rice wine vinegar
6 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp diced garlic
1 Tbsp diced ginger

1. Peel the burdock root and cut it into uniform sticks. Boil the sticks in salted water for 5 minutes, until tender. Drain the sticks, then pack them tightly in a sanitized quart canning jar.
2. In another pot, add the soy sauce, water, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, garlic and ginger. Bring the brine up to a boil for 2 minutes.
3. Pour the brine over the burdock sticks, and let it sit for 10 minutes. Add more brine if needed to cover the burdock. At this point, you can keep the pickles in the fridge and eat them in about 3 weeks. If you want to make them shelf stable, cap the jar with a canning lid and boil the jar for 20 minutes to seal. The pickles taste best after resting for at least 2 weeks, and will keep in the fridge once opened.

Second year growth with flower stalk

Monday, June 2, 2014

Spruce Tips

It's already June, but it still seems a bit cool this year in southeastern Connecticut. Most plants are a bit behind schedule, extending foraging possibilities for spring plants. One item we have always nibbled but have yet to experiment with has been the new, fresh growth of spruce trees, Picea sp. Spruce trees are your basic Christmas tree, and we mostly have red spruce growing in the wild, along with lots of ornamental blue spruce and Norway spruce having escaped cultivation. By this time of the year, the new growth has usually gotten too large and toughed up for nibbling, but we are still finding tips in some areas. The flavor is slightly resinous and piney, citrus-y, and rather refreshing. Gillian will often keep a few tips in her pocket to chew on while we hike. Maybe next season we'll get a chance to do some of our own experimenting with this spring edible, but for now I can just share some recipes on the internet.

Punk Domestics is a greats site I contribute to, it collects recipes and methods for all kinds of preserving, pickling, charcuterie, recipes, and some foraging. I usually head over there to find tested, quality recipes made by experienced cooks with lots of love.

Spruce Tips Recipes

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Morels Recipe - Morels and Ramps Biscuits

Living in Connecticut, we generally don't find too many morels. The soil is not right, the trees are not right, and historically, there just are not that many here. Last year it took six adults a few hours to find 27, this year those same six adults found only 12. On our forays with Connecticut Valley Mycological Society, most of the hunters return to the display table with a few specimens, rarely a dozen, and often the only morels in attendance were found off-site a few days before the foray, and brought out for observation and bragging rights. Last week I came home from work one afternoon to find Robert grinning like a fool, and he asked me to guess how many morels he found. Five? Ten? Nope, he found one hundred and forty nine. 149. He was out picking feral asparagus in one of the few patches we frequent in the spring, and realized he was surrounded by beautiful Morchella americana, the blonde morels. Since we had never had so many to deal with before, we wondered how to cook them up or preserve the precious harvest. Most were dried, some were added to scrambled eggs, some went into an asparagus and cream sauce, and the ugliest ones were chopped up and made into biscuits with ramps leaves (Allium tricoccum).

Morel and Ramps Biscuits                 makes 1 dozen

2 Tbsp butter
5 oz. chopped morels (by weight)
2 1/2 c. flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp cold butter
3 Tbsp chopped ramps leaves and stems
1 c. buttermilk

1. Over medium heat, slowly sautee the chopped morels with 2 Tbsp of the butter for 10 minutes, until the morels are browned. Chill the butter/morel mix in the refrigerator until cold and re-solidified. 
2. Heat the oven to 425° F.
3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and chopped ramps together. Slice the 4 Tbsp of cold butter thinly and add it to the flour, and crumble in the cold butter/morel blend. Mix it all gently, making sure there are still pea-sized bits of butter in the mix.
4. Pour in the buttermilk and gently mix together, just until it forms a crumbly ball.
5. On a generously floured surface, dump out the dough and press into a ball. To get lots of flaky layers, roll it into a rectangle, then fold it into thirds like a business letter, pressing it together. Make a quarter turn, and roll it back out into another rectangle. Fold it again into thirds like a letter, and roll it into a rectangle about 6" x 8". Using a knife or biscuit cutters, cut out 12 biscuits and place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
6. Bake at 425° F for 14-17 minutes, until lightly browned on top. Serve warm, preferably with gravy.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Foraging and Wild Mushroom Hunting 2014

A new camping season with friends has started, beginning with our first outing of the year, this past Mother's Day weekend. Sure, I didn't get flowers and breakfast in bed, but I did eat morels around the campfire and woke up to birdsong in the woods. Dinners were fantastic again, with communal cooking for the meals, our cooperation made mealtime easy and abundant. We had vegetarian chili, venison stew, beans and rice, fried dryad's saddle, and fresh bread for dinners. Potato pancakes, ramps and wild rice hash, and toad-in-the hole, plus bacon and toast filled our tummies in the mornings. We fished for a couple small brook trout, and gathered fresh ramps greens in the woods.

While our actual hunt only yielded 11 morels, 6 Morchella americana and 5 Morchella punctipes, we did find a good amount of tender Dryad's saddle (Polyporus squamosus) to slowly cook until browned and crispy. The season is late and chilly where we were camping, even the ferns were not yet unfurled and many trees were still leafless. Even with a thunderstorm and some night time rain, plus a flood in the screen house that needed to be drained, we still had a great time and look forward to the 2014 camping season with our fellow mushroom hunters and foragers.

Potato pancakes for breakfast