Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Last summer Gillian went off to Colonial Survivor summer Camp at the Connecticut River Museum and had a great time building stone walls, tending the chickens, erecting a post and beam structure, and dying textiles with plants they collected on site. One thing they did not try was making bayberry candles from real bayberries. Bayberry candles were made by the colonists because they were cleaner burning and better scented than the candles made from tallow, or animal fat. Colonist folklore states that if you light a new bayberry candle on Christmas Eve or New Year's, you’ll have health, wealth and prosperity in the coming year. The adage reads: A bayberry candle burnt to the socket brings food to the larder and gold to the pocket.
On a recent trip over to Long Island, we were picking beach plums and I noticed the bayberries seemed especially abundant, and I gathered a gallon of them to take home. My hands were coated with their wax and fragrance for the rest of the day, as I just grabbed the clusters of berries and pulled them into a bucket.
It takes about 15 pounds of bayberries to render 1 pound of wax, so I knew I would not get too much wax from my one gallon. I shook the berries in a mesh sieve to get some of the smaller debris out, then placed them in a large pot with some water. I brought the pot up to a boil, and then simmered the berries for 15 minutes. The berries and most of the sticks and stems will sink, while the wax will float up to the surface of the water. I then ladled and strained the hot wax through an old jelly bag to remove more of the debris and dirt. I let the wax and some of the hot water cool in a plastic container, where the wax floated to the top and hardened. The wax block was easy to pop out and dry off, and there was about 1/3 cup of fragrant, green wax. Off to the craft store, where I purchased some votive molds, wicks, and unscented candle wax to mix with the bayberry wax. The bayberry wax is a bit weak and prone to discoloration and warping over time, so I chose to make short votives and fortify the wax with plain wax. With my little bit of bayberry wax mixed with plain wax, I managed to pour three candles which we will burn on Christmas Eve into Christmas Day day for abundance and blessings, and for the memories of a summer day on Long Island gathering bayberries in the sun.
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
|The foray table, loaded with mushrooms for the ID session|
Weekly forays with Connecticut Valley Mycological Society have us out in many locations throughout the state of Connecticut looking for fungi. We particularly like the edibles (of course!), but most of the mushrooms that come back to the identification table are not edible, some will make you sick, and a few can kill you, and those are definitely the ones you want to learn and avoid.
|Lactarius volemus, close and creamy-white gills, mildly fishy smell, large volume of white milk|
|Lactarius hygrophoroides, wider|
spaced gills and white milk
|Gillian with an exceptionally nice specimen of Lactarius corrugis, showing its darker cap color|
|We love Connie!|
|Brined Lactarius and milkweed filling|
members when it comes to cooking, eating, or preserving the fungi. One club member, Connie, told Robert about salt-brining the Lactarius mushrooms for long term storage, a technique he now uses every year. We can sometimes find more than a dozen large, bug-free specimens on a foray day to bring home and begin the brining process. Robert begins by cleaning the Lactarius gently, then cutting them into quarters. He boils them about 10 minutes, lets them cool, then drains the cooking water. Sometimes we don't collect enough for a full jar, so he stores the cooked mushrooms in salted water in the fridge until we can collect enough for the brining process. Once we have enough, he layers them in a non-reactive glass jar, adding a few spices like garlic, peppercorns, or onions between layers, and salts each layer liberally before adding more cooked mushrooms. He allows the jar to sit a day or so, to see how much more liquid the mushrooms will exude under the salt, then adds enough clean water to cover the mushrooms entirely. They then can be stored in a cool place until we need them, and he has successfully stored them in this manner for about one year without mold forming. To use the preserved mushrooms, we remove them from the salt brine, rinse them, and soak them in fresh water overnight. They are then ready to be used in recipes, like Mushroom Paprikas, or I used them mixed with milkweed flower buds and ramps bulbs as a stuffing for steamed buns for a CVMS potluck picnic.
|Lactarius corrugis, showing darker corrugated caps, darker tan-colored gills, and white milk|
Becoming familiar with an edible mushroom that can produce a crazy and weird milk-like substance really opened our minds to the culinary possibilities of fungi in general. Previously, I was terrified of wild mushrooms, a real mycophobe, and it was my insistence that we learn mushrooms from people and not books that led us to CVMS and its wonderful members. I cannot stress enough how important it is to seek out and find wild food mentors to teach you the hands-on knowledge that can't be gained from a guide book, whether plants, fungi, or other foraging skills. While we are still not comfortable teaching in a commercial manner yet, we are always interested in learning and are willing and able to pay dues and for classes to further our education and experiences. Forage on!
Sunday, August 3, 2014
|Black trumpets (Craterellus cornucopiodes), also known as the trompette de la morte, the trumpet of death. They are actually quite delicious.|
There are so many colors of summer for which we forage; deep green leaves, blueberries, red wineberries, orange daylily flowers, light green milkweed pods, yellow dandelions. Hunting for fungi, we see red and green Russulas, bright yellow Hygrocybe, purple Clavaria zollengeri, and plenty of little brown mushrooms. It's the absence of color that is often the most striking, the black hole on the forest floor, that stops us in our tracks. While not all are edible, they are certainly beautiful.
|Inocybe taquamenonensis, they love a wet area with moss and skunk cabbage nearby|
|Bulgaria inquinans, black and squishy|
|Resupinatus applicatus, these are only 3-8 mm wide|
|Inonotus obliquus, chaga, the tinder fungi|
|Strobilimyces bolete, Old Man of the Woods|
|Geoglossum species, Ascomycota, black earth tongues|
|Tylopilus alboater, the black velvet bolete, a dense and delicious bolete that is often blissfully bug-free|
|Another gorgeous black trumpet|
Friday, July 25, 2014
|This IS a chicken|
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 closely resembles 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 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|
|Still NOT A CHICKEN, a baby Meripilus sumstenei looking deceptively orange|
|Gillian and a Berkeleys|
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
|July 2014, all found in one park in one hour|
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!
|Likely an Strobilomyces that has been attacked by a Hypomyces|
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Wintergreen Meringues makes about 48
1 c. fresh 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.