Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mushrooms Identified - Honey Mushrooms

Honey Mushroom Sizes

Cooler weather in New England brings about a whole new group of mushrooms, including the honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea). They are named for their cap color, which resembles honey, and not for their taste. An uncle of mine who was interested in hunting, fishing and foraging used to gather these a long time ago, and I remember I wasn't terribly fond of them as they can become slimy if cooked incorrectly. Some people will experience unpleasant  lower gastrointestinal symptoms from ingesting honeys, and it is recommended that you eat small quantities at first, and cook honey mushrooms very well. None of us have experienced any problems with this mushroom, so Robert can gather them in large quantities. We have come across several trees ringed with honeys this autumn, and cooked some in Honey Mushroom Paprikas, froze some, and dehydrated even more for future use.

Honey Mushroom Paprikas with Dumplings

This is one of the few gilled mushrooms we are comfortable gathering, as there are several characteristics that will positively identify a honey mushroom. There are several poisonous look-alikes, so we often have our honey mushrooms examined by an expert if we are not 100% sure of the ID.They fruit in late August through November in our area, and grow clustered at the base of a tree and near stumps. Honey mushrooms will kill a tree, and often indicate that the tree is dying. They produce black, stringlike runners called rhizomorphs underground that help the honey mushroom's mycelium spread.

The cap's color is variable, mostly shades of golden yellow and brown. The surface of the cap is dry, but it can become slimy if wet. Fresh mushrooms have small, black hairs or scaly tufts near the center of the cap. The cap is the edible and desirable when young, firm and the flesh is white, and may be used as a substitute for shitakes in stir-fry dishes. The caps are 1"-4" (3-10 cm) wide, convex, becoming flat with a central knob.

The gills of the honey mushroom are attached to the stalk, often running just a bit down the stalk. They are white to yellowish, darkening with age and staining to rust color when bruised. The stalk is 2"-6" (5-15 cm) long, fibrous, and colored whitish near the gills and yellowish along the stalk. A ring is always present from the partial veil, and it is cottony white to yellowish.The spore print of a honey mushroom is white.

Honey Mushroom Sporeprint

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Honey Mushroom Recipe - Honey Mushroom Paprikas

Autumn weather brings out the honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea) here in the northeast. We have found them in the past, and it is one of the few gilled mushrooms we are comfortable eating. There are some reports of lower gastrointestinal upset with honeys, so Robert likes to give them a very quick boil before cooking with them. None of us have ever had an adverse reaction to a honey mushroom. We have found several clusters of them on different trees this past month. Robert dehydrated many, and spore printed some caps. After we got the white spore confirmation, he cooked up a pile to serve in a Hungarian paprikas, which is usually a tomato and paprika based sauce, and served either over egg noodles or small egg dumplings and a dollop of sour cream.

Honey Mushroom Paprikas                 makes about 4 servings

3 c. packed honey mushroom caps, sliced
2 T oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 T paprika
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1-11.5 oz can V8
cooked egg noodles or dumplings

1. Blanch the sliced honey mushroom caps in a pot of water for a minute and drain.
2. Sautée the diced onion in the oil until soft, and add the minced garlic. Sautée for 2 minutes longer.
3. Add the paprika and the blanched mushrooms to the onions and garlic and cooke over medium heat for 10 minutes.
4. Add the can of V8, and cook for 10 minutes longer, until the liquid has reduced by half. Add the salt and pepper to taste, and serve over hot noodles or dumplings. Robert also likes this on bread.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Foraging for Letterboxes Event September 17, 2011

Our event on September 17 was a success, I was so happy to see so many old friends and new faces eating, boxing, exchanging, stamping, and even participating in our silly foraging games! I have read AtlasQuest's FAQ on attending an event, I wonder if a FAQ will be added for throwing an event. Robert and I planted 56 letterboxes at Day Pond State Park in Colchester, CT. Some were just out for the day, some are out for a month, many are available forever. We used the park's trail maps to plant several series in a way that makes them all hike-able in one continuous loop. Again, I want to extend thanks to my stamp contributors, Sea Maid, GollyGee, Mojo612, and Wild Turkey.

The day was cool and crisp, a preview of autumn. I had a few wood contributors to keep the stone fireplace roaring all day, and the kids had a blast roasting marshmallows. The off-site Wild Weeds Walk was attended by a small group and one very curious child. We examined sumacs, wild grapes, autumn olives, and looked at out-of-season wild strawberries, wild carrots, yarrow, black cherries and false solomon's seal plants. It can be fun to see what is available in a single field that we like to visit several times per year for different edibles. The kid who came with us was willing to try everything I offered, all being sour or bitter. I am pretty sure that he liked the autumn olives the best, since kids love that sour, puckery flavor. I hope everyone learned a bit!

We planted a fast and fun series around the pavilion, Crazy Silly Nuts that included a bonus game where you had to identify one of an assortment of nuts using the stamped images. It was only available for the day, and will be relocated in the future at a permanent spot. Then I had another bonus stamp available for hikers to try to stump Robert or I by bringing back a nut, berry or mushroom for us to identify. Most folks managed to stump us with a mushroom, and all efforts were rewarded! Another series featured Edibles Around the World, like lotus, figs, and Texas dewberry. Mushroom Hunting Tools is a quick, temporary add-on with Mushrooms, a fun series of 8 edible mushrooms we like to hunt. Wild Animal Foraging features common animals that are hunted for food. For an easier walk, we had Super Foods planted on the Yellow Trail near the pavilion, along with Thor and His Vittles. How to Identify Sassafras was set up a bit differently, by logging into the main box and looking for the microboxes behind suspicious rocks in the immediate area.

Mini Biscuit Sandwiches for Potluck
We offered wild food jellies and jams for sale, and had event patches made by Moritz Embroidery. I still have some left, if anyone is interested in buying one for $3.00. They did a great job, and I would recommend them in an instant. For the potluck, Robert cooked a venison stew over the grill, and we made some sweet shortbread-jam cookie bars. I also made two kinds of mini biscuit sandwiches: a pine pollen biscuit with cream cheese and grape jam, and a ramps greens biscuit with garlic mustard-seed mustard and a piece of cooked kielbasa, or for the vegetarians I made the ramps greens biscuits with cheddar and roasted garlic and ramps jam. For refreshment, we made a big thermos of Sumac-Ade from sumacs and agave syrup.Our many potluck contributions were greatly appreciated!

Overall, we were tired at the end of the day, but we were happy with the event. Maybe we'll do another event in a couple years? We look forward to the event in Maine at Thomas Point Beach every year, and we'll be out for the February party by Mojo612 this winter. Hope to see you all around!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Foraging Report 9/14/2011

Black walnut
I am unhappy to report that there is not too much gathering or foraging going on right now. After we missed some fruits like elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and black cherry (Prunus serotina), we are still keeping our eyes out for grapes (Vitis species), maybe some crabapples, and nuts like hickory (Carya ovata), chestnuts (Castanea species), and black walnuts (Juglans nigra). It is an off-year for the white oak acorns (Quercus alba), which makes the nuts in 2 or 3 year cycles. Usually the grapes are so plentiful and fragrant by now, we find them by using our noses. This year, I am afraid the grapes have succumbed to the dry early summer months and lost the fruit early.

We are very busy preparing for our letterboxing party, Foraging For Letterboxes, this weekend. We have lots of letterboxes planted using foraged foods and animals as themes. We will be preparing several potluck items using our foraged foods: sumac-ade, venison stew, ramps greens biscuits with kielbabsa, pine pollen biscuits with sweet cream cheese, and shortbread-jam dessert bars. At 2:00 PM I'll be leading a short Wild Weed Walk at an alternate location, talking about several common edibles we are familiar with. It is shaping up to be a fun day with our letterboxing friends.

I am also starting to gather some specimens for an educational display we are pacing at the Otis Library here in Norwich, CT for the month of October. There are two glass cases in the entrance lobby that I will fill with information on foraging here in southeastern Connecticut. Last year I placed the display for the first time, and it was very popular. I added some photos, dried plants, nuts, and our jams along with labels and informational cards about who we are and what we do. This year I hope to do more with mushrooms and showcase the recipes we cook with our wild foods.

Autumn olives
Northern bay laurel
While we are on the subject of cooking with wild food, I am excited that we will be a participating forager for a meal at La Laiterie Restaurant in Providence, RI in honor of Hank Shaw and his book tour on October 2. The menu is wide open right now, and we hope to provide several items. Seasonal foods like rosehips, nuts, sea beans, autumn olives, grapes, and flavorings like spicebush berries, sassafras roots, and northern bay laurel. We also have several preserved or dehydrated foods like milkweed flowerbud capers, dried chicken mushrooms, and frozen ramps greens to offer.

Honey mushrooms
Black trumpets
Last, but never least, mushrooms! The recent tropical storm that drenched the area provided ideal conditions for a large flush of mushrooms, and the recent cooler nights are bringing out the autumn mushrooms that we love- chicken mushrooms (Laetiporous sulphureus), honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea), Hen-of-the-Woods (Grifola frondosa), and our first black trumpets (Craterellus fallax). The chickens are still slow to come, but Robert brought home a 7 pound sack of honey mushrooms yesterday, and they are drying in the dehydrator now. No Hens yet for us, we'll start looking in earnest this week at every oak tree we pass for the large polypore. The black trumpets are a happy accident. I don't know if we would have ever found them if we had been looking for them, but we have stumbled on maybe a pound or two completely by accident this past week. The Northeast Mushrooms Group on Yahoo has been buzzing with news and photos of a banner year for trumpets. We dried them and powdered them, and the aroma is decadent, I can smell sweet hints of fruit and a bit of the mushroom muskiness. I made a small batch of bagels with the powder, and we'll save the rest for something else. Robert is interested in a soup, but not a puréed soup or cream based soup, so we will continue to look for recipes and inspiration. This past Sunday was a potluck party with the Connecticut Valley Mycological Society, and some people made black trumpet pizza, and added it to pasta salad. The array of mushroom dishes was spectacular, and the company matched the food as the potluck followed the Sunday foray. I cooked up some mini Sumac Meringues for potluck dessert. Robert looks forward to each foray for the education and opportunity to find some wonderful edibles.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Puffball Recipe - Puffball Piccata

Milkweed capers
To keep our 6 year old daughter's interest in mushroom hunting for hours on each Sunday, Robert has devised an incentive program she can't resist: money for mushrooms. For each mushroom she finds she gets a quarter. Her proximity to the ground and her natural curiosity gives her an edge that we don't have. This past weekend while picking nectarines at the local orchard, Gillian spied a large purple-spored puffball (Calvatia cyanthiformus) under a nearby pear tree, and promptly collected her bounty. We took it home, read up on ID information, and sliced it thinly to make Puffball Piccata, using the capers we made from milkweed flower bud capers earlier this summer. The texture of each puffball filet was tender with a bit of a crispy exterior, and the sauce was tart and briny.  The puffball we found was about 4" wide, so your servings will be based on the size of the puffball. I got about 10 filets from the mushroom, each slice was 1/4" thick. We'll be happily looking for more puffballs to eat this one again.

Puffball Piccata                          Makes about 4 servings

about 10 puffball filets
1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
3 T olive oil
3 T butter
2 T minced sweet onion
1/2 c. white wine
3/4 c. vegetable broth
3 T capers
2 T lemon juice
3 T chopped parsley
lemon slices

1. You need to moisten the puffball filets, I used a water bottle to spray them lightly.
2. Mix the flour with the salt and pepper in a flat dish. Dredge the moistened puffball filets in the flour to coat.
3. Heat the oil in a sautée pan until hot, then add the butter. Quickly fry the filets in the hot fat until lightly browned, about 2 minutes on each side. Place the cooked puffball filets on a covered platter.
4. Using the leftover hot oil and butter in the pan, sautée the minced onion until translucent. Add the white wine and simmer until reduced by half.
5. Add the vegetable broth, capers, and lemon juice and continue to simmer until the sauce thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and adjust the salt and acidity with lemon juice if needed. Add the chopped parsley and pour the sauce over the reserved puffball filets.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Acorn Recipe - Acorn Cupcakes with Wild Grape Cream Cheese Frosting

We made this early this spring, and brought them as a "taste" to a wild weed walk we took with Blanche Derby in Massachusetts. She gives samples of prepared dishes along with her tours to really show people what they can do with the wild food they just learned about in the field. We made something completely out of season for spring, but we used wild food we had gathered and preserved last autumn.

Robert cold leaches the white oak acorns (Quercus alba) by placing the shelled nutmeat in a gallon jar of cold water and letting it sit overnight. In the morning, he pours off the now-amber water which has leached out some tannins from the nuts. He will repeat this process until the water no longer stains tea-colored. This way we save energy by not using the stove, and hopefully retain more nutrients by not boiling the nutmeats. The next step is to dry the nuts in the dehydrator, on the dashboard in the car if it is warm and sunny outside, or in a low oven. Finally he grinds the dry nuts in a coffee grinder into a flour. We keep the flour in the freezer to prevent it from going rancid. I cobbled together a few different recipes that usually call for walnut or almond flour for the cupcake.

The wild grape (Vitus species) jam was also produced last autumn from various species of wild grapes that we find growing along field edges and near water. It is the tastiest jam we make, along with being the most popular. I say it is an adult grape jam, although there is no alcohol involved. The flavor is so much more intense than the stuff you get at the store, and the flavor improves with age, like wine. The jam was added to a softened cream cheese and butter mixture, along with a bit more confectioner's sugar to make the frosting, and I also hollowed out the cupcakes and added a dollop of straight jam for an intense flavor burst.

This recipe is available in our book, available Spring 2016.