Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Foraging Report 08/31/2011

One might think there would be large amounts of harvesting going on right now, but there is not. Our cold, late spring and very dry, hot summer has messed up our usual schedule of picking and preserving. The recent abundant rains have provided us with a large distraction of mushrooms to hunt and learn about, but we have missed several fruits. One discussion thread I have been following with interest on Yahoo groups, Forage Ahead, is about the poor autumn harvest as a harbinger of a hard winter to come. It seems that many fruits were damaged by bad weather in spring and drought in summer, and nuts are absent or empty in several parts of the US. Animals have been observed nesting earlier, and deer are already fat and losing the velvet from their antlers. Some birds and insects are already absent. Is the fauna aware of a problem with the flora for the season?

elderberries from last year
We somehow completely missed the elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and wild black cherry (Prunus serotina) harvests. We gathered flowers of the elderberry to eat, but never saw any berries. I can find very few black cherries, maybe a handful for an entire tree. The birds seem to have gotten most of them, and the stems are all bare. We have been out searching for some beach plums (Prunus maritima) at the shore, but have seen very few. It also seems to be an off year for white oak acorns (Quercus alba), the less tannic nuts they produce are what we like to gather.

Some of our recent foraging successes have been with glasswort (genus Salcornia), also known as sea beans or samphire. Robert has found them on several occasions, and we have brought them home for pickles, and he is trying to lacto-ferment some with cabbage. They are quite salty, so a little goes a long way in a recipe. This late in the season, they can be tough and only the very tips are tender enough to eat. They compliment a salad or dish with a nice, salty crunch when used raw.

Spicebush berries
Black walnuts
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is producing berries, although they are not red yet. We are trying to make an extract with the leaves, twigs and grain alcohol. It is strong and deep green, but I think it may be too alcoholic and not spicy enough. We'll wait for the berries to ripen, as they are the spiciest part of the plant. Robert may end up adding it to his black walnut (Juglans nigra) liqueur that he made with the green hulls for a more herbal taste. One good thing to come from the recent hurricane is that most of the black walnuts were blown from the tree next door already, making it easy to gather a few bucketfuls.

Surf clam
Another timely success as a result of the same hurricane was our windfall of surf clams (Spisula solidissima). We went back to Horseneck Beach in Massachusetts and came home with a 5 gallon bucket full of the 5" wide clams in mere minutes. The beach was littered with them, freshly tossed up by the high surf. After a quick rinse and freshwater purge, I cooked them up, cleaned them out, and made some delicious clam chowder. I ended up freezing another pint of the chopped meat and about a quart of the clam juice for future use.

Our upcoming days will be filled with preparations for our own letterboxing party, Foraging for Letterboxes, in mid-September. We are keeping our eyes open for grapes, apples, nuts, and more mushrooms. We can still gather rosehips and look forward to a second flush from some of the greens like lamb's quarters and dandelion.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Our Long Letterboxing Weekend in Maine

Thomas Point Beach stage
August 10-14 found us in Maine and surrounding areas for a letterboxing gathering. This was our second year, and we finally are well equipped to camp, with a machete, hammocks, a hammock mosquito net, tent, home-made tripod, bogracs (a Hungarian pot for cooking over the campfire), and excitement. We were located at Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick for most of our time, with some letterboxing in Topsham, Freeport, and Orr's Island.  The event was held by Mudflinginfools, a hopefully annual gathering of insane letterboxers and their talents and personalities. The site letterboxes were fantastic, getting us to visit our fellow campers and their sites. The theme was Dream Vacation Spots: Tropical, Foreign, and U.S. We carved Tahiti, Ireland, and Alaska for our site.

Maine is a new environment for us to explore. We love that letterboxing takes us to places most people would not find, including preserves and nature trails throughout the area. On one of the hikes to find The Lights By the Night in Harpswell, we came across many mushrooms on this trail, along with a bonus of ripe and delicious huckleberries (genus Vaccinium) at the end of the penninsula. We picked several handfuls, and ate them on the spot, sweet and a bit tart, crunchy with their large seeds, or technically nutlets, it was a quick and simple snack.

Driving to Orr's Island, we noticed the abundance of red chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) trees and crabapples lining the roadways. We picked a few branches of cherries and some small apples, making a cooked compote for our morning oatmeal back at camp. Gillian loves the tart and astringent cherries, I wish we had planned ahead and brought some buckets! While hiking in Topsham for the wonderful series Nautical in Nature, we disturbed a trio of female pheasant. We also came across thick carpets of wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and partidgeberry (Mitchella repens), and dense thickets of blackberries (Rubus discolor), with a few raspberries mixed in. These we brought back to eat with the next morning's granola.

Meadow mushroom spore print
At Thomas Point Beach, the foraging was great. Robert dug for steamers two days in a row in the tidal mud, providing an appetizer to grilled dinners. We also came across more chokecherries, blackberries, and meadow mushrooms (Agaricus campestris) . Robert recognized these as a variety that is commonly gathered in Hungary. We picked a few, very young with still-pink gills, from the lawn, spore printed them for verification, and skewered them over the fire for dinner. There were several available due to the recent rains, and we obseved them is different stages of growth over the 5 days.

Painted suillus
Another mushroom we came across was the painted suillus (Suillus pictus). We found several along a trail, with their distinctive veil, yellow pores,and red cap. We brought several specimens back to camp to spore print them, and the results were brown. Robert sautéed them up and ate them as an appetizer while I chowed down on the steamer clams. Gillian had a great time playing with the multitude of children, laying trails with dried cattail seed-heads and blowing bubbles. We love to see our fellow letterboxers and their families, and spend time outdoors. Here's to next year!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Mushrooms Identified - Oyster, Cinnabar Chanterelle, Sulfur Shelf Chicken Mushroom

Here is a trio of lovely, edible mushrooms we have found and happily consumed. We consulted several books and again had some guidance from the CVMS on the Cinnabar chanterelles and oyster mushrooms. The photos of the sulfur shelf were taken last autumn, and that mushroom was eaten in several dishes. Robert's main interest is the edible mushrooms, and I am finding all the mushrooms fascinating to learn about.

Pleurotus ostreatus is known as the oyster mushroom. Robert found several clusters growing from a black birch tree trunk in Norwich. It mostly grows from dead deciduous trees throughout North America, often all year under favorable conditions. The oysters that grow in summer tend to be pure white, while those that grow in autumn are more grey or light brown. The caps are 2"-8" wide when mature, semi-circular or elongated. A stalk may or may not be present, and the gills will descend the stalk. The spore print we took was light, white or maybe very light lilac. Oysters are a choice edible. Robert sautéed some with salt and pepper to eat. I oven roasted the rest and topped a pizza. The mushrooms he found were very young, so there were very few bugs present that we simply washed away.

Cantharellus cinnabarinus is a brightly colored, small mushroom known as the cinnabar chanterelle. We have come across these mushrooms in varying numbers at every location in Connecticut we have hiked. They grow on the ground, often in beds of moss, and are common in eastern North America. They can be found from late June through October. The caps can be 1/2"-2" wide, slightly convex, with a smooth, dry, and bright red-orange top. The gills are lighter colored, and the whole mushroom fades to pink with age. The stalk is solid and usually curved. The spore print we took was light pink. Cinnabar chanterelles are edible, and we sautéed up a bunch to eat, with good results. Each mushroom may be small, but there are often great numbers of them to be found in an area. We also accidentally dried a few, and they seem to hold up well.

Coconut and sulphur shelf soup with lamb's quarters
Laetiporus sulphureus is one of our favorite edible mushrooms, and it is known as a sulfur shelf, or chicken mushroom, for it's texture and similarity of taste to chicken. Sulfur shelf mushrooms grow on dead logs or stumps, and is common in North America. It is found between May and November, and does not require rain to stimulate it's growth, as it is growing from a tree. Sulfur shelf mushrooms grow as clusters of overlapping orange-yellow caps 2"-12" wide and fan shaped. The underside has pores, and is often yellow. When young, the color can range from bright orange to yellow and the caps are very wet and heavy. As the caps age, the color fades and they caps dry out. The spore print is white. When young, most of the mushroom can be gathered and chopped to use in dishes like chicken. Even on an older specimen, the very edges of the caps is often tender enough to eat. We chopped and froze an enormous mushroom we found last autumn, and still use to cook a pot pie or soup. Recipes for pot pie and stuffed bread can be found on this blog.

Fried chicken mushroom with onion strings

"Chicken" pot pie with ramps greens