The Fantastic Forage Year

This year has been such a fantastic foraging year. My freezer overfloweth with an abundance of fine fare from sylvan groves and moist marshlands.

So far my harvests have included a few firsts like basswood flowers, chanterelles, gooseberries and even some woodland lobsters.  Perhaps our most abundant harvest has been berries. Check out my column on the subject for more entertaining info.

This was one of the so-so patches. Some of the berries rival those grown commercially in size, but taste is way better.
Raspberries are huge, juicy, and firm this year. Even compared to blueberries. Don’t miss them, they won’t be here much longer.

In two forest trips we managed five one gallon baggies of blueberries. In two more trips we managed three one gallon baggies of raspberries. Sadly, I missed wild strawberries this year, and I don’t know a good juneberry tree, but there are still more berries to come. Next will be blackberries. Then highbush cranberries, grapes, nannyberries and so on so on so on. I’m most excited this year because I really want to harvest bog cranberries. I’ve never done it before, but I think I have found bogs. I decided to go to a place where the Paul Bunyan Mushroom Club (http://paulbunyanmushroomclub.areavoices.com/) hosted a mushroom foray. The location had one easily accessed cranberry bog which I wanted to check for flowers. I attended, and while I found tons of slippery jack mushrooms, I was more impressed by a few of the varieties bagged by some of the other folk, especially the old lobster. That’s right, I said lobster.

After work I decided to set off into the woods and find the cranberry bog I had found the year before. I also decided to bring a small pouch to haul mushrooms if I found them. I met some friendly people camping at the entrance to the woodland trails. We chatted a little about Chicken-of-the-woods after I told them I was looking for chanterelles and lobsters. I promised to show them what chanterelles looked like if I found any.

The golden Chanterelle is a favorite of mushroom hunters. Notice the gills, which are not normal gills, but what they call “primitive gills”. They look more like folds or wrinkles than gills.

I took off through the woods, following the trail waiting for my GPS to kick in. This was not a familiar area to me. As the GPS refused to lock onto satellite signals, I was being eaten alive by a literal cloud of mosquitoes (stupid me, I forgot bug spray). It was like I was standing on a beehive, but instead of bees, there were mosquitoes. They swarmed me that badly.

I went over hill after hill, waiting for the GPS, looking into the woods for colorful mushrooms and swatting frantically. I finally decided to give up after a good waltz. I turned around to start back, but had barely started before I saw a bright orange spot near the base of a tree. I walked to it and found my very first lobster…mushroom that is. I remembered reading that they grow in groups, and that they sometimes hide under leaf duff. I saw two mounds of leaves sticking up, brushed them back, and found two more of good size.  I bagged them and continued on my way back. On my way I found a tiny chanterelle and a tiny oyster mushroom. I bagged them too.

At the campground, I showed off my finds. They were very interested in the bright orange mushroom. I explained that the lobster mushroom is actually one of multiple species which has been infected by a parasite. It makes the skin hard, orange/yellow/red, and pimply. It also deforms the host mushroom and smells like seafood. Apparently the parasite can convert otherwise toxic mushrooms into very safe edibles and is basically unmistakable. (Edit: I have been informed that the russula mushrooms that becomes a lobster mushroom is not toxic. I still think this mushroom is cool.)

Lobster mushrooms are aptly named, and a nice size. The host mushroom didn’t look anything like this before being infected with a parasite. Nature is crazy awesome.

I returned home without ever having located my cranberry bog, but I had a small haul of mushrooms.

Top left are chanterelles and a single tiny oyster mushroom. To the right are lobsters and the bottom left I thought might be wine caps… but a quick look in a book proved they weren’t, so I tossed them. Never eat any wild food you can’t identify absolutely

I returned home and cleaned my mushrooms. I found internet advice to be true, the lobsters are very tough. Normally you are never supposed to scrub mushrooms with water, but you could have used a power toothbrush on these without effect. Very nice. I tossed the little red capped ‘shrooms as they weren’t what I thought they might be. I chopped the lobsters up and sauteed them in olive oil and butter before spreading them on a pan and freezing them. When frozen, I put them in a baggie in the freezer next to a bag of slippery jacks.

Notice the orange/yellow color of the butter frozen at the bottom of this pan. Lobsters will impart a little of their color to whatever you cook with them, making them good for coloration sort of like saffron. I am thinking about canning some of these chopped up in lobster stock from the store so I can use it in a mock lobster bisque recipe, possibly with rusty crayfish if I ever get out to harvest some.

This method of preservation is good for many many mushroom varieties.

Last fall I found this abundance of button sized puffball mushrooms growing next to a wood pile. Here I sautéed them in ample butter and froze them. I would throw a handful of them into dishes as I cooked them, mostly breakfast potatoes. Puffballs don’t have much of a flavor of their own, they absorb what they cook in, kind of like tofu.

In addition to these great foods, I harvested cattail shoots, cattail on the cob, anise hyssop and a few other mints. There are still many plants/mushrooms to harvest. Drop me a line if you are in the Pine River area and would like to join.

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