Friday, December 30, 2011

Foragers, Where Have You Been?

Some fun things coming up in the next couple weeks:

We just got back from two weeks in Hawaii on Maui and Kauai. What a tropical paradise, with fruit foraging possibilities in every forest, beach, and high altitude-volcano flank! Most of the fruits are introduced species, like breadfruit and starfruit, and we sampled every one we found. We ate plenty of local-caught fish, some opihi limpets raw and freshly pried from the rocks, and a plate of roasted wild boar. We even sampled a few edible blossoms, wild growing cinnamon trees, and Brazilian pepper plants. Lots of pictures coming!

Hopefully we will have a few mini-videos of the fruits up with the descriptions. Robert made some videos, but it will take time to figure out how to transfer them online.

We found very few mushrooms, which was surprising with the humid environment. It turns out most species of mushrooms in the Hawaiian islands were introduced on old wood, and are wood-decomposers. We did find a few, but it will take some research to ID them.

We took a tour with Matt Kirk of the Kauai Nature School, and he showed us some more tropical delights, like tropical almonds, sprouted coconuts, ti leaf, gotu kola greens, and some edible flowers. This was a highlight of our vacation, we learned a lot with Matt.

There is a good possibility of more good news involving some local media. For the past two Novembers we have placed Wild Edibles of Southeastern Connecticut displays in our local library. The response was great, and we may have an opportunity to become more visible in the local community with our foraging experiences.

Joyous Yule and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chicken Mushroom Recipe - Chicken Mushroom Satay

Chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus) is a wonderful mushroom to forage for a few reasons. One is the taste: very meaty, substantial, and similar to chicken. Another is the amount found, usually quite a bit for a single specimen of wild food. It dries and freezes well, and is a fall favorite of ours. Chicken mushroom is fairly common in our area of southern New England on dead or dying hardwoods like oak. It looks like several yellow and orange shelves stacked on top of each other on the trunk of a tree. The underside has tiny holes, or pores, not gills. Fresh specimens are heavy and wet, almost dripping with moisture. It produces a white spore print, and has a few look-alikes, but not poisonous ones. You may mistake a Berkley's Polypore (Bondarzewia berkleyi) or another variety of sulfur shelf depending on your geographical location for this species of mushroom. Older, undesirable specimens are faded yellow, dry, and tough, not worth picking. One last advantage of chicken mushrooms as a wild edible food is that they will often grow again in the same tree for several years, so it is good to remember where you saw one, even if it was too old to harvest. Here are more identification points for chicken mushrooms.

Here we marinate and skewer the chunks of mushroom in a nut-based satay sauce, and cook it under the broiler. If you have a grill it might taste even better. This recipe, like many of our recipes, is vegetarian, but can be made vegan by substituting agave nectar for the honey. I served it over a bed of brown rice and lentil pilaf to soak up any extra satay sauce.

Chicken Mushroom Satay                                          serves 6-8

14 oz. fresh chicken mushroom, cut into 1" chunks
Satay sauce:
1/2 c. almonds
3 T pine nuts
1/4 c. chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp orange zest
3 T orange juice
2 T olive oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp honey or agave syrup
1 1/2 c. boiling vegetable broth
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. bread crumbs
1 tsp. sambal chili paste

1. Soak bamboo skewers in water.
2. Cut the chicken mushroom into 1" chunks and blanche them in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and let cool.
3. For the satay marinade, chop the almonds and pine nuts in a food processor. Add the onion and garlic and process until smooth.
4. Slowly add the remaining ingredients, and blend until smooth.
5. Pour the marinade over the mushroom chunks and allow them to marinate for 3-6 hours in the refrigerator.
6. Thread the mushroom chunks onto the bamboo skewers, leaving a bit of space between each piece, about 6 per skewer. Heat the oven to 450°F and spray a rack with non-stick spray.
7. Bake the mushroom skewers for 15 minutes, until firm, then broil them under high heat for 5 minutes until browned.  You could also cook them over medium heat on the grill, turning once. Serve over cooked grains.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


As the weather gets colder, there are a few days where 45°F (7.2°C) feels totally balmy and we take the opportunity to go outside and get some fresh air. Here in New England, the wild food foraging season is mostly over and there are not too many edibles to be found fresh. It is a great time to dig roots if the ground has not frozen, to look for some crabapples and rosehips sweetened by frosts, and keep our eyes open for the green leaves of the wintergreen berry.

Unripe berry
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is known by many common names: checkerberry, tea leaf, deerberry, teaberry, and creeping wintergreen. These names are great hints as to the main use of the plant and its appearance. Wintergreen is an evergreen perennial that spreads by a stem just beneath the surface of the soil. Each stem will produce 3-10 leaves and possibly several berries. If you accidentally pull one up, you'll see the network of woody stems attached to each other as wintergreen can grow in great colonies and patches. The leaves are green, leathery, shiny, hairless, and slightly toothed. They are oval-shaped, broadest beyond the midpoint and coming to a rounded point at the tip, about 1"-2" (2-5 cm) long and 1/2"-1" (1.5-2cm) wide with a lighter colored midrib. Often we find leaves with rusty looking spots, which we don't pick. Tiny white flowers appear in the summer, shaped like bells hanging from the upper leaf axils. The flowers have five terminal lobes, and appear very similar to blueberry flowers, not surprising since they are both in the Ericaceae family. The flowers produce a berry that is light green, ripening to red. The ripe berry has a star-shaped depression on the bottom and is also edible, although mealy. Wintergreen is often found in poor, acidic soil, and we find it under white pines or in moss, and in mixed forests. It ranges from Newfoundland through New England, across the Great Lakes and down to Alabama.

We pick the leaves individually, only gathering one leaf from each stem. Usually the patch is enormous, and will carpet whole areas in the forest with green. Robert dries the leaves by placing them in a paper bag in a dark place for a week, and uses them for tea. The wintergreen flavor is very refreshing. The berries make a nice trailside nibble and breath freshener, and can be added to a smoothie at home. The berries may last all winter if they are not eaten by some deer, chipmunks or wild turkey. The berries are high in vitamin C and contain wintergreen oil. Methyl salicylate, a mild form of aspirin, can be created by brewing and fermenting the leaves for a few days. This wild edible plant is also added to the other herbs and plants that we make herbal teas, or tisanes from.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mushrooms Identified - Frost's Bolete, Velvet-Footed Pax, Viscid Violet Cort

Here is another trio of mushrooms we feel we can identify out in the wild. All three of these mushrooms are technically edible, but with many cautions and degrees of desirability. We won't bother experimenting with them as there are so many other wonderful edible mushrooms to eat. Learning to identify all of the mushrooms we find, as opposed to just the ones we can eat, is a surprising benefit to our mushrooming education. I can't stress enough how important it is to join your local mycology group and learn, and how much fun it can be!
underside of Frost's Bolete and the amber colored droplets
Boletus frostii is a beautiful bolete we ran across in August in great numbers after Tropical Storm Irene drenched the area with rain. Commonly referred to a Frost's bolete, we were amazed by some very young specimens and the amber colored drops covering the underside of the cap on the pores. The pores are red, usually indicating a bolete that may induce stomach upset, so we don't bother to eat it. The cap is red and slimy, and 2"-6" (5-15 cm) wide, and the flesh bruises blue when cut. The stem is deeply webbed, red, thick and about 1"-4" (3-10 cm) long, often yellowing and thickening at the base. This bolete grows on the ground under oaks or in a mixed forest, ranging from Canada to Florida along the east coast, west to Michigan. The spore print we took was a dark olive-brown and difficult to make since our specimens were so fresh and wet.

Slimy Violet Cort
Cortinarius iodes is a mushroom we have encountered at just about every location we visited in late summer. The Viscid Violet Cort lives up to its name, having a thickly slimy top. The cap is smooth and purple, aging to a paler violet with yellow spots, 1"-2" (2.5-5 cm) wide. The gills are violet, often stained rust-colored from the spores and attached to the stalk. There may be cobwebby remains of the veil present on the gills. The stalk is solid and purplish, tacky and sometimes enlarged at the bottom. The spore print we took was a rusty brown. Violet cort grows on the ground under mixed forests and deciduous forests, and is widespread in eastern North America. There are indications that it is edible, but bitter and not very good. The slime is enough to make us not want to bother.

Velvet-footed Pax
Paxillus atrotomentosus or Tapinella atrotomentosa are two names given to this pretty mushroom. We learned it as a Paxillus, but it may be more correctly ID'ed as Tapinella due to where it grows, as explained on Mushroom Expert. Commonly it is referred to the Velvet-Footed Pax due to its velvety stem. The cap can be 1"-5" (3-13 cm) wide, flat or sunken in the center, light brown, and dry. The flesh is solid and tough. The gills are light and yellowish and descending the stalk slightly. The stalk is the interesting part, as it is usually dark brown and fuzzy, off center, and 1"-4" (3-10 cm) long. The spore print we took was a yellowish-brown. Velvet-footed pax grows on decaying wood and stumps, usually pine, in the coniferous forests on the east and west coasts. Edibility is again questionable, unpalatable, and there is a poisonous look-alike, Paxillus involutus.