Spring is here and the wild edibles are unfurling. This week, we have garlic mustard around the raised beds here at Lazy Crazy Acres, in their second year. Leaves, shoots, seeds and the unopened flowers of garlic mustard are edible at certain stages of growth, and if you don’t eat all of your crop it should be pulled because it’s an invasive weed that crowds out native plants.
Greens like garlic mustard can be introduced into your spring diet by packing them into a grilled cheese. I got this idea from Dina Falconi’s Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook – a must-have in every wild kitchen. In it, she details her “Wild Grilled Cheese Master Recipe”, but there are a variety of ways to make the classic American grilled cheese. Every American has their own method as I discovered when I first arrived in the States. In England, we fry everything, even chocolate, so even I’m surprised that we didn’t come up with the idea of frying a cheese sandwich in a pan. I was taught to cook a grilled cheese by my own American and that recipe is below.
October 15th, 2020 was National Mushroom Day, but this passed by unnoticed around here because rest assured that every day here at Upstate Dispatch is mushroom day. The obsession is feverish around these parts for mushrooms of all kinds.
Mushrooms are one of the world’s most sustainably grown plant – they’ll even grow on coffee grounds – especially if they’re foraged. They’re part of nature’s fascinating underground network of information and nutrients passed between trees and other foliage called mycelium. Not only to do they give a superbly bold, earthy flavor to soups and sauces, but they’re also high in Vitamin D (unlike any other food) a notable mood-lifter in dark months. Mushrooms are a good flavorful substitute for meat and they’re high in soluble fiber. Other nutrients they provide are Vitamin C, B, potassium, copper and selenium. They’re also being used to make bio-degradable packaging and in cleaning up the environment. Here are some great resources, information and recipes on this astonishing organism.
Dina Falconi has written a color, hardback cookbook for foraged, wild food, beautifully illustrated by Wendy Hollender that makes a luscious, engaging read. Beginning this Fall, here at Upstate Dispatch you’ll see some of the recipes. For whatever ingredient is out of season, we’ll use a non-local ingredient to practice in the recipes in advance of foraging for the real thing next year. The author is based in Accord, NY, so this is a local book.
Fall might be a strange time to start, but we were somewhat distracted this Spring by Covid-19. We’ve all had a rough year and now we’re looking at a decidedly different winter in 2020. Cooking up a storm is a comforting way to make yourself feel better, warm up the house, feed family or friends, and also add some new recipes to your repertoire.
Foraging is a way to reduce your carbon footprint even further than avoiding red meat and air travel. By eating locally and seasonally, you’re saving the transportation costs of food that comes from far and wide, but learning the ropes of what grows in your local area takes study and dedication, especially if you’re mushroom hunting. Most mushrooms are not worth eating, or not worth the risk of poisoning, for example.
Dina’s book includes illustrated details of many local, wild edibles; plant habitat and growing conditions; seasonal harvest chart, and recipes for soups, desserts, condiments, beverages, dips, spreads, preserves and much more. This book is remarkable because of illustrations, and the way they are laid on on each page, that makes the information more easily remembered than any other foraging book. They are all color pencil sketches, and for each plant there are contrasting illustrations on the same page that simply makes it crystal clear to the reader. In some cases, there are cross sections of fruit that depict the seed inside. It’s just a noteworthy book for its clarity and ease of reference: a keeper. This copy’s going to get well-thumbed, dirty and handed down to the next generation.
There’s a page devoted to a “wild grilled cheese master recipe” using nettle and other raw greens and wildflowers. Because there are wild flowers still out there in these last days of summer, this recipe could be tried first, but we’ll see what’s at the farmers’ market tomorrow.
The wild goldenrod is in bloom and makes a tasty and healthful tea. It grows by rhizome and you’ll usually find whole fields of it. They are tall rods, about three to six feet high with hand-sized draping clusters of many tiny vivid yellow blossoms at the top of the rods. Thin leaves, two to six inches long, grow all the way down the stem alternately, and are hairy.
Put fresh blossoms into a mason jar of hot water (not boiling) to make a delicious fresh tea that tastes like a strong green tea. Sweeten with a dash of honey.
Goldenrod is said to have a number of health benefits. It soothes a sore throat, reduces pain and inflammation. It is also used for gout, joint pain (rheumatism), arthritis, as well as eczema and other skin conditions.
The flowers don’t freeze well, so if you want to save some tea for winter, make a condensed batch and freeze to dilute later with water. To make a condensed batch of tea, simply soak as much fresh goldenrod as you can fit in a mason jar of hot water. Strain through a sieve and freeze.
Ganoderma Tsugae or Lacquered Polypore, has many names, but the most popular one is Reishi and it’s out in the Catskills now, mid-June, although it does appear from Spring through Fall. It is sometimes found in Winter months too, but here at the higher elevations, it’s both literally and figuratively at its peak. Other names for it are Varnished Polypore and Hemlock Varnished Shelf. Reishi grows on hemlocks in particular, or can also be found on other coniferous wood. The surface under its cap has pores, not gills, so it is spongy to the touch and, in fresh samples, off-white in color.
It grows directly from dead or living trees or roots of removed trees. The specimen above was growing on a logged tree stump and is the size of a hand, but they can grow much bigger. It causes white rot, acting as both parasite and decomposer.
For millennia, Reishi has been used for medicinal purposes in China. It’s reportedly an immune booster. It’s usually peeled and sliced and simmered in boiling water, with the water drunk as tea, but it tastes hideous. Another form of Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum) is widely available in health stores as a powder to put in a hot beverage, or hot water, or in pill form.
Here in the Catskills, I know more than one person who claims mushroom supplements have stopped their allergy symptoms.
To store Reishi, put it in a paper bag in the fridge. You can preserve mushrooms by drying them. To do this, slice the mushrooms and arrange them flat on a baking tray. Put them in the oven on the lowest setting (170F) for two to three hours, until they’re fully dried, or buy a dehydrator.
Foraging began in earnest this month at upper elevations of the Catskill Mountains. Finds: ramps (wild leeks), field garlic, young nettles, dandelion leaves, thistle roots, Japanese knotweed, cohosh and the first mushrooms of this year: morels.
Forsythia is starting to bloom at high elevations and you can make a simple syrup out of this brief bloom (pictured above). Only about 5% of our forsythia has bloomed, but those flowers probably won’t survive today’s (04/27/19) snow and low temperatures (41F).
You can do so much with young Japanese Knotweed shoots and this is a great idea because they are an invasive species. Use young knotweed like rhubarb and put it in salads, stews, fruit pies.
Rob Handel at Heather Ridge Farm makes a nettle soup that I’m still marveling about years later. Catch the grey-green, toothed leaves of nettle before they flower. They reportedly contain an extensive variety of nutrients like Vitamins, A, B, C and K; minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron; amino acids; polyphenols and carotenoids. Nettle allegedly reduces inflammation and lowers blood pressure.
Here in the glorious Catskill Mountains, locals used to pick ginseng, wild leeks (ramps), chanterelles, and other rare delights in a sustainable fashion, but now we have visiting hikers ripping out all the ramps, bulb and all, to take home, or marketeers hauling out ramps by the truckload in garbage bags to sell downstate at markets. So now we must conserve – or transplant. Foraging is a great way to supplement your diet and reduce your carbon footprint. Sustainable foraging is essential, or our rare delights may disappear.
Here at Upstate Dispatch, we transplanted three wild ramps years ago that add a bunch to their number every year and they seem to love it where they are (pictured above). The secret is to plant them somewhere wet and shaded with plenty of tree cover, a place that sometimes gets boggy in rainy periods or where you find lots of mossy carpeting instead of grass.
Until recently, seasonal eating was once a relic of our agrarian past, like that quaint anachronism Sunday best. Sunday best is definitely as dead as the dodo in this consumer age and ramps will be gone too if we don’t harvest sustainably. Because of there rarity, they’re very popular and seasonal eating is making a big comeback in certain areas.
If you’re foraging on public land, only take some of what you find and only take the leaves by cutting above the bulb. Don’t remove the entire ramp.
Please do not pull ramps like this, pictured below, unless you’re picking on your own property.
The particularly handsome example of fomes fomentarius, otherwise known as the tinder polypore, pictured above was found on the Huckleberry Loop trail in July 2017. It remained on the tree because that was the only example to be found on the trail that day. Sustainable foraging means taking only some of what you find and leaving the rest behind to propagate. However, if you’re in the wild or lost, an old, dry tinder polypore serves as an efficient fire starter, especially useful in winter hiking if you ever get stuck somewhere and need to start a fire in wet conditions. This year, it seems like a trial winter just sprang out from behind a long, drawn-out autumn to surprise us and now is the time when temperatures fluctuate wildly from day to day. Hikers need to be sufficiently prepared and it’s easy to get caught out. Otzi, the pre-historic hiker from about 3100 BC who was found in the Alps – by modern hikers – mummified and preserved in ice on the border of Austria and Italy back in 1991, was reportedly wearing several pieces of tinder polypore on a string around his neck. Continue reading →
Most of the weeds that are considered a blight on the lawn are edible, including purslane. One of the tastiest and power packed with nutrients, purslane is quite distinctive from other weeds because it’s a succulent so when you bite into it there will be a crunch and some juice that tastes like a mix of lemon, cucumber, and a dash of pepper that’s much milder than arugula. The juice contains pectin, so it also makes a good thickener instead of flour for gluten-free cooking like soups and stews, but really it’s good for every meal.
Purslane is said to have more Vitamin E than spinach and more beta carotene than carrots. Allegedly, It’s also a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids. It goes nicely raw in salads, or cooked well in soups. If you put it in a soup, cut off the red stems as they are a tad bitter. Leave the red stems on if you’re putting it in a stew.
Like spinach, a widely cultivated and popular vegetable, purslane is on the FDA poisonous plant list. Like spinach, purslane is high in oxalates but so are beet greens, lamb’s quarter, rhubarb and Swiss chard – also very popular vegetables. This is something to be considered before you eat it. The FDA states that these vegetables interfere with calcium absorption in the diet in certain amounts. Oxalates are present in most foods, even fruit and nuts, and are virtually unavoidable, but high levels in the body could lead to kidney stones or other ailments.
However, despite this it is becoming so popular that farmers are now selling it at markets and because it takes little to no cultivation or effort, naturally appearing on the understory or in empty beds for two months between summer and fall, it’s a vegetable with a high profit margin. If you buy purslane, you’re helping a farmer. And of course, if you have a garden and find it carpeting your raised beds, it’s free for a couple of months out of the year. If you don’t want to eat it, use it like a nutritious cover crop to restore your soil and turn it over in the raised bed like farmers do with clover. Just don’t spray weedkiller on it.
Chanterelles are in the same family as the northeastern Black Trumpets (Craterellus), but they have a few toxic look-a-likes, so they’re much trickier to identify than Black Trumpets. When you’re foraging for mushrooms, a positive identification is essential before you even think about eating. For example, there are plenty of bright orange mushrooms in the forest that you should not eat and so if there is any confusion, forget it. The intricacies of mushroom hunting are so varied and convoluted that, for the layman, most mushrooms are not worth the risk of misidentification. Rest assured that mycology – the study of fungi – is a lifetime of learning and that most of what you find in the forest should be left alone.
So – to identify these chanterelles pictured here, as I did with the boletes I found two years ago, I sought the opinions of at least two experienced foragers to help identify them. Continue reading →
Like Lion’s Mane that I wrote about last year, Black Trumpet mushrooms are easy for the novice forager to identify because they don’t have any toxic look-a-likes. Plus, like Lion’s Mane they are absolutely delicious: earthy, aromatic and deeply flavorful, possibly one of the best smelling and tasting mushrooms out of all the top edibles.
To the layman, they could possibly look like, perhaps Devil’s Urn, little, round cups that grow on rotting wood but even then, the Devil’s Urn only appears in spring. Wood Ear could also be considered similar, but wood ear looks like, well, a brownish/black, flattened ear. There are black boletes, but they have pores not gills. It should be noted here that if you’re going to learn about mushrooms, a pocket guide is essential and you should have a good few year’s worth of mushroom-hunting experience before you start thinking about eating anything without at least two positive ID’s from experts. A novice should always have a mentor. Plus, most important, mushrooms affect people in different ways. Some people can’t even tolerate edible mushrooms and you may have an allergy of which you are unaware. Continue reading →
This week’s torrential rain created ideal mushroom growing conditions and the chicken mushroom, turkey tail, ghost pipe, chaga and polypores are all ripe for the foraging. Get out there and pick them, paint them or just generally admire them before they dry, rot, or get eaten by other creatures, like the hungry bears that the July drought had forced towards more urban areas. There’s even a bolete or two in advance of their normal August season. The reservoir is high, creeks are gushing and mushrooms are glowing in the understory like little alien beings. Like a movie cliche, yesterday the dog bound off into the forest to chase a much faster creature than him, and I ran off after them both and stumbled into a grove of hemlocks dotted like acne with polypore and a carpeted with ghost pipe. The polypore pictured above is a tinder polypore, good as a fire-starter for campers, was an ancient antibiotic and a sort of chewing tobacco used by certain indigenous Alaskan tribes. Continue reading →
Burdock is a biennial, wild invasive species that looks rather like a thistle, but is a cross between rhubarb and celery and repellent to animals because of its bitter outer layer. It’s noteworthy because of it’s initial growth of the instantly recognizable, huge, spade-shaped leaves with frilly edges that have a whitish underside. At first glance, the first year plant looks like rhubarb.
It grows better in rocky, disturbed soil like roadsides, in full sun or partial shade. We have one that’s thriving in the garden, though, in mulched earth and letting it go to seed to see if it can be cultivated because if you only have one plant you can’t really make full use of it. You really need a patch to harvest at different times. Continue reading →
There are several reasons to get excited about Lion’s Mane. First of all, it’s arrestingly beautiful, and when you spot it in the forest it appears to be luminous, as if a beam of light is shining through the forest canopy directly onto it. Lion’s Mane cascades over a log like a dreamy waterfall, frozen in time, with it’s milky stalactites. It’s also called the pom-pom mushroom for the obvious reason.
Second, it can’t really be mistaken for anything else. Some guides tell you to compare it to the poisonous yellow-tipped coral because when Lion’s Mane gets old the tips turn yellow, but the coral grows upwards. Even as a novice mushroom hunter though, I was pretty certain that what I had found (pictured above) was the real thing and that thought was backed up by two others more experienced than I am. (I have just eaten it, so if it’s not, it was nice knowing you.)
On top of that, it’s utterly delicious, tasting (raw) like a more meaty, fragrant, cooked lobster, with exactly the same texture.
If you’re looking to eat less seafood, you can buy kits to cultivate this exquisite delicacy and grow it yourself. Once you’ve tasted it, it’ll seem like a no-brainer. This mushroom is about 20% protein.
To prepare it, I sliced off the top part that had a lot of forest debris in it. Then broke off about five clumps of the tendrils and washed them thoroughly. (You never know what animal might have peed on it.) Then I separated the tendrils until I had what looked like about almost a cup of loose lobster meat and sweat it in butter. Then I added three beaten eggs and scrambled the mixture. You can see a piece of raw mushroom top left (below).
The natural world breathes its seasons’ wild crops like a vital, forceful green lung and you never can tell what will blow in with the wind. When it breathes in, we get wild apples the size of a man’s fist; when it breathes out, the result is a vast rash of mushrooms, some the size of dinner plates. On this part of the world at least, a wide ridge at the top of a Catskills mountain, we can’t seem to have both. This year, the wild apples are half the size they were last year and less sweet, but you can find your way home through the forest by the trail of mushrooms of myriad varieties. It’s like the forest floor got a very vivid case of acne. The mushrooms are mushrooming, because we’ve had so much rain and humidity. I have about a hundred of what I think are blewits behind my house.
It seems like a sign, so I’m following it, as if my woods have handed me a purpose: mushroom identification, and it’s not like I like things simple anyway. It’s a good thing because there are so many variables to consider. It’s a practice like yoga or medicine: you’ll always be learning and that’s also a decent rule by which to live. Don’t think you know it all. Last year, I found four huge boletes on my property, each one almost the size of my foot, and made a mushroom gravy with them, but this haul was an anomaly on our property, except one huge, fine specimen I found in the same place yesterday. This guy’s too old, however, but he’s probably lain a million spores in the immediate vicinity. Continue reading →
After yesterday’s torrential rain, our forest floor erupted with mushrooms, of all shape, size, name and color, like twinkling jewels amidst the undergrowth and quite an extraordinary sight to behold.
Beautiful, ethereal Ghostpipe (or Indian Pipe, pictured above) has proliferated like never before seen in our forest. To see a venerable plant that is ordinarily quite rare, this seems magical. Not technically a mushroom, it’s rather a plant that doesn’t photosynthesize, devoid of chlorophyll and taking its nutrients from a delicate balance of conditions: decaying deciduous leaf matter, conifer trees and an underground fungus network, in perfect measure. It’s pretty much impossible to cultivate because it’s so sensitive and venerated because it’s an analgesic, for physical and emotional pain, that is over harvested. To be presented with such a plant in abundance feels like a gift, so I’ll be harvesting a small amount this year to make a tincture. Continue reading →
A bit of homework: this handy beginner’s guide to mushrooms of the North East teaches the beginner how to take the first step in making positive identifications. It can’t hurt to swot up early: last year, I found a small crop of Bolete on my property and made a mushroom gravy with them. I had no idea at the time that they were King Bolete, forming a symbiotic relationship under a conifer tree and a coveted mushroom in the foraging world, up there with chanterelles, black trumpet and oyster mushrooms. The Bolete were as big as my foot and tasty. A neighbor down the hill found some huge puffballs at the time.
Authors Walt Sturgeon and Teresa Marrone take pains to state that their simple guide is only the beginning of your foraging career. The book is very easy to read because the mushrooms are sorted by appearance with very good, clear photographs. Some of the mushrooms appear with their poisonous look-a-likes and color-coded references. For example, Chanterelles can easily be mistaken for poisonous Jack-o-Lanterns. There’s a great deal to learn about mushrooms but this tiny guide is an excellent teacher.
Due to the heavy rainfall, the mossy forest floor has sprung a vast city of fungus of all shapes, colors and sizes. We have purple, orange, yellow, red, brown, tall, short, tiny, thin, spindly, hand-sized and completely round like dense soap bubbles. All this has sprung up en masse within the space of about 24 hours in totally unprecedented quantities. Well – quantities not seen since the city girl went country. After just a half-hour walk with the dog, I’ll be lighting up Instagram for the rest of the afternoon. I believe the flat, white mushroom growing on the log is chicken mushroom, but would not dare eat it. Thanks to the humble acorn for it’s modeling stint.
We have a whole field full of yarrow this year, which is an anti-microbial herb with a distinctive aroma that’s reminiscent of anti-bacterial oils like tea tree. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be harvesting the best of it and drying it for use as a tea.
Yarrow is revered in the world of natural medicine with reports of it having universal healing powers, arresting conditions like bleeding, pain, infection, allergies, colds, flu, toothache, and gastro-intestinal disorders like cramps, bloating, indigestion and even urinary tract infections. The herb is an astringent and the liver benefits from yarrow’s bitter components. When taken as tea, yarrow is said to increase the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
Some of the wild flowers I’ve seen fade so quickly that catching them in their prime requires daily survey. I don’t know what these flowers are, but they are blooming and wilting in abundance. Update: this is crown vetch which was introducted to the United States in the 1950s, primarily for soil erosion control, from the Meditteranean region. According to the USDA: “crown vetch is a useful but overused erosion control plant. Its spreading growth habit, and strong root system provide soil holding ability and ground cover. The dark green foliage and profuse flower have aesthetic value. It is a good plant for road bank stabilization in areas where rocky conditions predominate, but… in general, however, crownvetch dominates other plants and tends toward a monoculture”.
I embarked on the Daily Catskills project on September 10th 2014 and every day I take an image – or several, or a hundred – of the Catskills. After a few months of this, in order to keep things interesting, I had to get more creative and, as a result, developed a more acute awareness of the landscape. Wildflowers are especially fascinating because many of them only have a short life. You have to pay daily attention to catch the budding, flowering and expiring of plants like rhododendrons, lupine and lilac, for example. Milkweed has quite a long life and milkweed’s long, green stalks began to grow on our ridge in May. Now, the buds are in various stages of which there are about three main stages: the green closed bud (1), which turns pink (2) and the open pink bloom (pictured above). Quickly after that, the pink blooms wilt, become floppy and fall off, but most important you can find buds at all stages on one milkweed stalk.
I’ve never seen milkweed in such abundance on our ridge until now and it’s attracting many gorgeous butterflies to the area, like the Monarch which the Sierra Club says is endangered. Programmes like Monarch Joint Venture encourage people to create milkweed habitats for the Monarch Butterfly.
Many foragers, hikers, herbalists and conservationists consider it a travesty that instead of pulling and eating their edible weeds people throw chemical weed killer on them. It’s bad for the water table and our health. Dandelions that are so prevalent in our gardens now are fully edible raw and full of vitamin A. One cup of chopped dandelion is said to have 111% of your daily vitamin A intake, for example.