Sunday, October 31, 2010

The score: 103 down, more in the fridge

So we have reached 100, but we have not finished our adventure yet. In the fridge we have some thistle root waiting to be eaten and if we can we would like to harvest the wild parsnip and Jeruselem artichoke we identified earlier in the season. Perhaps there will even be more.

For details on the mushrooms, please read October's post on mushrooms.

93. gem studded puffball mushrooms--2

94. pear shaped puffball mushrooms--2

95. honey mushrooms--2

96. maitake mushrooms--3

97. matsutake mushrooms--3

98. beach pum--a gift from a friend; small, purple, perfectly plummy--5

99. porcini mushroom--5

100. butternut--sweet and soft, banana like--3

101. blewit mushrooms--3

102. black trumpet mushrooms--eated dried in eggs, smoky and rich--4

103. bee larvae--a whole post to come--Ooga--3, Thag--4

Reaching 100

A few weeks ago we cracked and ate a few butternuts gathered from trees growing near our parents' homes in Connecticut. They were sweet and soft, and tasted rather like artificial banana flavoring. These nuts marked our 100th wild edible.

It was an anticlimactic moment. We've been so busy this fall that foraging has been a bit catch as catch can, stash in the fridge, remember to process something quickly. But perhaps this is what fall was always like for foraging peoples of colder climbs. As winter approaches, families rushed to be prepared. Formerly, they had to make sure enough food was put by, houses were tightly sealed, kindling was dry and nearby. Today, many of us still rush to be ready. Living as we do on our crazy road out in the woods, we have to make sure the studded snow tires are on, the truck is in good repare, the road is cleared of obstacles, the wood is dried and stacked, snow clothes fit and are retrieved from the nether regions of our basement. And we also love putting up local food (I processed 70 pounds of tomatoes this fall), planting bulbs, and picking apples.

So perhaps, it is fitting that although we have now eaten 103 wild foods, the occasion of 100 was not solemn and ceremonious. Perhaps the time for ceremony is when those first marsh marigolds, those first wild leeks, those first crocuses burst from the frosty ground, signaling the end of waiting, storing, sleeping and the beginning of color and lush green flavor.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Over the past month, Arena has gifted us the following lovely mushrooms which we have sampled and admired. One evening, so overwhelmed by life and our to-do lists, we left our lovely pan of blewit mushrooms cooling on the stove. Only to discover that our cat, Thora, had found and eaten them all. She gave them a 5.

A mushroom sampler:

Gem studded Puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum) and Pear Puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme)--these mushrooms were too soft for our taste; we'd like to try them prepared by someone who knows how to cook them. 2

Honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea) --the mushroom guides say that some people love these while others find they make them feel ill. We didn't feel ill, but we didn't eat many because I didn't clean them very well and they were rather sandy. Their flavor was rather...mushroomy. Right now they rate a 2, but again, perhaps a mushroom cook would do them better justice.

Maitake--hen-of-the-woods (Grifola frondosa)--cool looking, coral like, sprawling mushroom, tasty--3

Matsutake--(Tricholoma magnivelare)--we sliced them thin, and cooked them til crispy--yummy-3

Blewit--(Clitocybe nuda)--lovely Arena gave us more after the cat sacrifice--a pretty violet blushed mushroom--tasty with a great aroma when cooked--3

Porcini--(Boletus edulis)--after tasting these, it became evident why they are widely prized in culinary cuisine--deep, rich, pleasing flavor--5

We apologize to mushroom connoisseurs if our ratings do not seem high enough. We are just not mushroom lovers. After eating several, they all start to taste the same to us. We tried here to elicit some of the differences we noticed. Please forgive our plebian palates.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Black Walnuts

Along the highway going north out of our town, there stands a lovely old farmhouse with two giant black walnut trees in the yard. A few weeks ago on one of those perfect fall days, we approached the door of this house with Yub Yub in arms and asked permission to gather the walnuts. The owners practically begged us to take them.

The best thing about this location (other than the massive number of nuts) is that one of the trees stands over the dirt driveway. The cars going in and out of the drive had crushed the outer husks of the walnuts without cracking the nutshells. The previous week's rain, along with the cars' tires, had completely rotted away and removed the outer husks of the driveway nuts. We collected 3 large bags of these mostly processed nuts and another bag of husked nuts.

Back home we put the driveway nuts into a large bucket of water, removed the ones that floated, dried them, and put the rest into cardboard boxes which now sit on our unfinished basement stairs waiting for the walnuts to dry.

We wanted to store the nuts still in the soft green husks outside where the weather would do most of the removal work. Thag decided Yub Yub's sandbox was a good storage container; there the nuts would not be rolling about the yard. Yub Yub was not too happy about this arrangement. The next day, wanting to play in the sandbox, she went over to it, and called out with exasperation, "Papa!"

So, this winter, we hope to spend many an evening watching movies and shelling and storing our dried black walnuts.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Autunm Olive Pie

We have found a wonderful source of autumn olive nearby. Each bush has a different level of sweetness; it seems to us that the more direct sunlight a bush gets, the sweeter it is. Baby Yub Yub loves autumn berries (as we call them), but we have to be careful when collecting near her as our plants sit near and among bittersweet and common nightshades.

After eating what we wanted of the sweet and astringent berries, we were left with about 11 cups. Thag strained them through a collander to get the seeds out--a rather laborious process we hope will be improved by using the apple sauce strainer Arena just gave us. After straining out the seeds, we had about 5 cups of liquidy pulp.

I had thought to make a jam, but Thag had his mind set on a pie. Since the pulp was rather like mashed raspberries, I followed a raspberry pie recipe increasing the amount of flour to help thicken it. The resulting pie was fantastic, sweet tart, bright red, and oh, so yummy! I can't wait to make it again.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Time to Forage in a Busy World

Foraging and teaching are incompatible.

On a typical day my alarm sound in the pre-dawn dark at 5:30. I wolf down my breakfast to be at school, three towns away, by 6:30. I scramble to get my materials together for the day's lab. The kids arrive just as I finish. I put on my game face, share my enthsiasm, push kids to do their best even when they don't want to, keep the peace, settle disputes, celebrate successes, commiserate with heartbreaks, make them organize their binders when they look like the the sweepings from the floor of the Wall Street Stock Exchange, meet with colleagues to make sure this one has new glasses and that one gets counseling for the messy divorce. Most days I only have time to eat half of my lunch. I am at school until 4:30 or 5:00 organizing the papers and emails that have settled on my desk like the ashes after a bonfire. When I drive home, I turn off the radio because the quiet is precious and sweet. I walk in the door to the explosion of toys left Baby Yub-Yub who is hardly a baby anymore. Ooga gives me a frazzled smile, and, bless her, she has dinner ready. I play with my daughter for half and hour and look for moments of connection with my wife between my daughter's calls of delight and tantrums of dismay. We start sentences, save Yub-Yub from falling of the couch, finish the sentence, bandage her cat scratches . . . What was I saying? My wife wages a losing battle against chaos in the house while I open the computer to plan the next day and grade quizzes until we stumble into bed.

My mother who is a librarian in Connecticut tells me that she overhears patrons complain about overpaid teachers who only work six hours a day and then get their summers off. I wonder what teachers they are talking about.

I'm not writing this only (but I will admit partially) for catharsis. It is worth saying that foraging takes time. Unless I quit my job or decide to stop caring about doing it well, I will have very little during the school year--especially September. Surely there must be other would be foragers out there who are stymied by the same obstacle. Are there other foraging teachers out there? It is a cruel irony that this foraging family's busiest time, the season that we have the least opportunity to forage, is the heart of the harvest season. Foraging is a full-time job. Teaching is two. Something had to give. Please forgive us for not posting this past month.

Are there other foragers out there who are struggling to make wild food fit into crazy lives? How do you manage? We'd love your advice. . . and camaraderie.