Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Gifts from the Rain

(Photos coming soon -- I left the floppies at camp.)

Last night I stayed the night at a cabin which happened to be only a few minutes hike from my grandparents home out in the country. Though the cabin is poorly decorated with 50 cent fleamarket items, it was alarmingly cozy, and has quickly grown roots to my heart. Owned by a friend of the family, my father and I were staying there with one of his buddies from New York for fun, and outdoor enjoyment. The owner is a lonely woman, a pack rat, old fashioned and old aged, with true farming survival smarts, and bad vocabulary. She no longer has beef cattle, or chickens, only an array of farm cats.

The property is the same property which I hike every time I visit my grandparents, but staying in a cabin added a seasoning of fun to nature snooping. At times, I wondered what it would be like to live a few months like a modern-day Thoreau, writing only about that cabin, and logging everything I noticed, felt, and learned.

With the fierce rains having passed, today was only momentarily sunny before more ominous clouds would muffle the sun yet again. Such threats however did nothing to dampen my spirits, as the recent rains have helped (and are helping) elicit a score of bountiful mushrooms to fruit from the soil, logs, and bark in which they reside.

I noticed a few amanitas that had literally raised the leaves from the forest floor. Another had obviously been growing for some time, having cupped upward to the point of which it held a significant amount of water. All were relatively fresh, and were most certainly as unedible as rat poison. I only found one bolete that seemed to be snaking it's way out of the mossy bank on the path, and as per usual, found countless polypores that had been infested with algae.

At some point in my hike, I gathered that the burgers the gang back at camp were cooking were soon to be finnished! So, with a rumbling belly I began trotting forthward, disgruntled that I hadn't found any member of the 'foolproof four'. I'd been planning on taste-testing Sulphur Shelf (Chicken of the Woods) mushroom sometime during these two days off, and had been forced to pass on TWO opportunities to do so. (One specimen was out of our way, the other was in my grandparent's NEIGHBORS yard, taunting me arrogantly just far enough into their property to make me uneasy.)


Just then, I noticed a mighty cluster Sulphur Shelf! With bright orange and yellow patterns on it's ruffly polypore body, it had simply betrayed itself against the wet dark wood of what I assumed to be an old decaying oak log. There was no hiding. The flamboyant coloration of this CHOICE [highly approved] edible makes it a relatively easy find, until the fall leaves turn orange, and yellow. Then it becomes a bit more challenging! It seems to be reaching peak season right now, with me having found 5 large crops in the past month. (All but one were found by simply driving along the road!)

I snapped a few of the meaty orange and yellow caps from the main body for later sampling, and trotted back to the cabin to see what all the fuss was about! Since I was only eating a few pieces (making sure I wasn't allergic to the mushroom), I used a rather simple recipe:

  • Rinse mushrooms of debris, and trim off damaged, or unappealing sections with knife.
  • Cut mushroom into smaller strips.
  • Saute in butter, salt, and diced onion.

It was immediately obvious how this mushroom got the name "CHICKEN of the Woods", as it's taste and meaty texture bared strong resemblance to chicken. (Mycophiles who happen to be vegetarians use it to replace chicken in cassaroles.) That aside, there was also a nuttiness to the taste, that almost put me in mind of dry soybeans. It was absolutely delicious, even if I felt a bit strange eating a wild mushroom for the first time. My brother had a bite, and thought very highly of the taste as well.

After the rejoicing of my tastebuds, I snatched a few plastic bags from the counter top and headed back to the log where I collected half a bag full of the fleshy polypore. I snapped only mature, fresh caps from the mushrooms, allowing their base to stay intact to the log (for future crops) and passing by small immature specimens for (possible) later hunts. After the evenings camp socialization, I decided to come home for tonight where I braised half a grocery bags worth in water, butter, and salt. After that, I let them cool, wrapped them up in wrapper and foil, and tossed them in the freezer for another meal.

It's been 9 hours since consumption, and I have no instestinal distress and I'm not dead. In fact, I'm quite excited to sink my teeth into this delicious mushroom again, perhaps as soon as tommorow.

Until next time....