Fall Foraging – Beginner’s Edible Mushrooms

At a time of year known for harvesting and for things that thrill and terrify us, it seems only appropriate to talk about edible mushrooms.  No doubt, if you’re like most of us, you’re harboring a healthy fear of wild mushrooms (and with good reason).  There are some very dangerous, and very lethal wild mushrooms.  Some of them kill you quickly but uncomfortably.  Some of them make your liver fail over the period of a couple of weeks.  And some of them just give you such severe stomach and intestinal issues that you might wish you’d eaten the lethal ones instead.  Mmm.  Makes you want to go right out and eat a plateful, doesn’t it?

You’re probably wondering why anyone would even want to attempt such a hobby.  For some, it’s the challenge that motivates them.  For us, it was a variety of reasons.

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Have you ever had a home grown vine-ripened tomato?  Would you agree that it’s not the same as a store bought tomato?  The same applies to most wild foods.  Wild strawberries and blueberries, for example, have intense flavor that makes the store-bought versions taste like water.  You could easily make the same comparison between button mushrooms and their wild brothers.  To validate that point further, many exclusive restaurants prize wild mushrooms for their gourmet entree’s.

Nutrition & Health

Many types of wild mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses with a surprising amount of health-giving properties.  Depending on the type of mushroom, they can be high in fiber, protein, Vitamin D, Iron, Niacin, Vitamin C, and compounds known for boosting immunity, lowering blood pressure, fighting cancer and even shrinking tumors.

Independence

While most of the food we eat is through traditional grocery supply chains, we like having at least some knowledge of how to find food outside of the system.   You’ll see a common thread throughout this blog of “eating wild” through fishing, catching crayfish, berry picking, mushroom hunting, and foraging for other wild edibles.  It probably seems strange to most, but there’s a certain satisfaction gained that comes from learning the age old practices of finding your sustenance at it’s natural source.

Fun 

Who doesn’t like tromping around in the woods?  Foraging gives you an excuse to do it.  Plus, there’s the sense of excitement and inevitable adrenaline rush that comes once you’ve discovered a treasure trove.  Even if you don’t find anything, or (more likely) you don’t find anything edible, you’ll still have had a wonderful day breathing the fresh air, exercising, and having a little reflection time in nature.  Pack along a picnic lunch to make it a banner outing.

The Key:  100% Certainty in the Mushroom Identification

There’s a saying among wild mushroom foragers:  “There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are NO old, bold mushroom hunters.”

The key is to make sure (100% sure!) that you’ve identified the mushroom you’ve found correctly.  If you’re not sure, don’t eat it.  Not even a little bit.  This takes a bit of work, and truthfully, 99% of the time, the mushrooms we find are inedible, poisonous, or else we just can’t be certain of it’s identification.  For those, back to nature they go.

We use a minimum of 3 different field identification guides, and often internet resources too.  Try to find mushroom guides that are specific to your geographical location. Learning how to take spore prints is an important identification tool also.  Many areas also have mushroom hunting clubs or tours.

Some of the more advanced mushroom foragers  use chemicals and microscopes. Admittedly, we’re not at that level.  I don’t know if we ever will be.  For now, we’re content to stick to the ones that are easy to identify and have low risk in terms of poisonous look-alikes.

3 Easily Identified Wild Edible Mushrooms

Early in the fall season, we were fortunate to find 3 amazingly delicious wild mushrooms while in Northern Ohio. (These are all fairly widespread across the continent, and even in other parts of the world.) Brace yourself.  None of these wild mushrooms will look even remotely like what you’re used to seeing at the marketplace.

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While available in higher end grocery stores, the taste is not the same as the fresh wild ones.  When harvested at their peak, they are tender and flavorful.  They remind me of seafood, and would make a lovely chowder. Or, simply use them as you would any mushroom in your favorite dishes.  They also make a delightful vegetarian version of calamari that’s much more tender than their tough and chewy squid counterpart.

Oyster mushrooms are reputed to contain the following:  Dietary Fiber, Protein, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Magnesium, Zinc, Manganese, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Copper and Potassium.

Look for Oyster mushrooms on deciduous trees that are dying, or on logs.  Do not eat oysters growing on conifers/evergreens, as they can be toxic.  Learn to identify the difference between Oyster Mushrooms and the potentially dangerous Angel Wings.

Maitake Mushrooms*

Maitake mushrooms have held a position of respect in the alternative medicine realm for some time, but are also a gourmet mushroom with strong nutritional contributions.  Also known as “Hen of the Woods” (not to be confused with “Chicken of the Woods”, see below), Dancing Mushroom, or by it’s scientific name Grifola frondosa.hen of the woods - maitake

Hen of the Woods mushrooms have a more substantial and almost gamey flavor, when compared to the more delicate flavor of oyster mushrooms.  They also will batter fry well, especially in a tempura style batter, and will add both nutrition and flavor to any dish you use them in.  I love them in stews, soups, and pasta dishes.  I’ve even tried them roasted in butter and honey, which was an odd pairing, but a delicious treat nonetheless.

Hen of the Woods/Maitake will usually be found in large clusters at the base of oak trees and maples.  They’ll be growing from the tree roots in the ground, near the base of the tree.  Often, there will be multiple bunches circling the tree.  This mushroom should have no gills.  If it does, it’s not a Maitake.  Use your field guides to be 100% certain of the identification.

It’s not uncommon for a single harvest to be 10 lbs. or more.  They seem to last longest in the fridge in brown paper bags, but you’ll want to plan to process them soon after harvesting.  Hen of the Woods wild mushrooms dehydrate well (clean them before dehydrating).  You can also sautee’ and freeze them.  These mushrooms are also a bit unique, in that you can freeze them raw (clean them and cut to size first).  Just be sure to take them straight from the freezer to the pan without thawing for best cooking results.  Maitake mushrooms also make nice pickles.

Maitake mushrooms boast 190% of your daily Vitamin D requirement per serving.  It also has a reputation for fighting cancer, diabetes, and boosting your immune system.

Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms*

While the names are similar, Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) is nothing like Hen of the Woods.  The only thing they really have in common is that they’re both gourmet finds that would make the finest chefs envious.  Named for it’s supposed chicken flavor, I found it to be decidedly different and delicately flavored; not mushroomy, but not like chicken either.  In addition to it’s delightful taste, it’s also visually appealing and retains it’s coral color after cooking.chickenofthewoods

**Tip: Don’t cook it much longer than the 20 minutes required, or it gets tough.

Chicken of the Woods contains potassium, Vitamin C, protein, Vitamin A, antioxidants, and compounds suspected of fighting bacteria and cancer.   I haven’t tried dehydrating, but is supposed to work with this mushroom.  I stuck with the traditional method of sautéing and freezing for later use.

For more information on Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms see: https://www.tyrantfarms.com/introducing-the-chicken-of-the-woods-mushroom-laetiporus-cincinnatus-et-al/

NOTE:  For all 3 of these types of mushrooms, it is best to stay away from any that are growing on evergreen trees (they can be toxic).

A Few Last Tips to Remember

  1. Once you’ve 100% identified the mushroom as edible, do not eat it raw.  Eating raw wild mushrooms can make you very sick.  Instead, cook the mushrooms at least 20 minutes. This breaks down the proteins that are otherwise very hard on your digestive system.
  2. Eat only a small amount the first time.  Some people have allergic reactions, so it’s best to take it easy at first.  Test a little, and see if your system is ok with it before eating a large quantity.  Although, it’s not advisable to eat a whole plateful of mushrooms regardless.  That can overload your digestive system also.  All things in moderation!
  3. Only take as much as you are prepared to process and use.  No need to be greedy.  Wild mushrooms don’t have a long shelf life, so you’ll want to be realistic about how much time you have to dedicate to cleaning, preparing, and cooking or dehydrating your find.  Again, take only as much as you can really use.  Be a pro, and leave some for nature, or for others to find.
  4. Take note of where you found the mushrooms and when.  As long as you’re careful when you harvest them (cut them above the surface of the tree and don’t dig into the tree), the mushroom organism should be fine to continue it’s job of breaking down the tree, and produce fruit (mushrooms) for several years.
  5. Share your recipes! 🙂

Bus Living – Not Just for “Reality” TV

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Like everyone else, I figured that the idea of “living in a bus” was mostly made up for the benefit of “reality ” TV.  Lesslye and Shawn couldn’t have set us more straight.  Lesslye, a former marketing executive and Shawn a HVAC and maintenance professional… we found them to be friendly, sincere, and normal people just like us. (Ha!  Well, if you consider us normal, that is!).  Like so many people, they found they had too much house and too little income at the end of each month.  Too many things.  Too many obligations.  Too little of the more important things in life.  They also felt that God was (and is) calling them to a freer and traveling lifestyle.

Two years and 72 bus seats un-bolted from the floor later, they’re starting this new adventure of living their dream on the road.  Their first adventure is far from their Texas roots, working seasonal jobs high in the Colorado Rockies.

What have they found the biggest challenges to be in converting to school bus living?  First, that it’s not RV living.  Storage and living spaces haven’t been carefully designed by a team of engineers, like they are in mass produced motorhomes.  With a bus, it’s up to you to plan and build that space yourself.  But on the flip side, that also means that you can tailor your new home to exactly how you want your living space to be.

Lesslye and Shawn are generous about opening their home to show (and hopefully inspire) others.  The response they get back isn’t always as kind, and is often judgmental. However, they are quick to admit that this style of living isn’t for everyone.  Another challenge has been managing the preconceived assumptions that others have about them and the kind of people they “must be.”

We’ve talked about some of their challenges.  What about their worries?  Making sure they’re able to save enough for gas money to get to the next seasonal workplace is a big worry, considering that the bus gets a whoppin’ 6 miles to the gallon when fully loaded.  Avoiding winter is another.  The bus is insulated and warm, but not suitable for winter camping at 9,000 feet above sea level.  Nor is this rear wheel drive vehicle an optimal choice for driving on snow and ice covered roads.

Their joy’s with this style of living? The freedom.  How do you explain the freedom that you feel when you can pick up your life, your home, your family and your pets and go anywhere that the road will lead?  Lesslye and Shawn have named their bus “Endless Possibilities” for a reason!  Also among their joys in this journey:  the sincere and interesting people that they’ve met thus far.

And their recommendations:  Buy yourself some piece of mind.  Lesslye & Shawn carry both AAA (for RV) and Good Sam travel assistance insurances.  The tires alone are $400 each (and there are eight of them!), not to mention what towing could be in the remote areas they love.  Thankfully they haven’t needed the travel insurance yet, but it provides some welcome reassurance just having it.

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A joyful entrance to an amazing home!

Notice the porch lights, the bulletin board and clever storage pouches in the photo above!  This isn’t roughing it!  Cozy and practical elements everywhere make this bus comfortable and a home. They were able to save considerably on materials by repurposing them from construction projects that were discarding the old scrap.  Old doors from Habitat for Humanity made sturdy (and attractive) walls!

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The main living area (as seen from the bus entrance), features a queen sized sofa bed, love seat, storage chest, dining table, and a kitchen mostly from ikea.  On the far side of the kitchen is a full sized fridge and shallow pantry.

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Grandma’s antique dresser made into a custom bathroom sink.  Faux stained glass appliques on the windows provide privacy for the bathroom.

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The shower, with drain area beneath the cedar floor boards.

Opposite of the bathroom is a set of bunkbeds, set up for the grandkids when they visit.

The rear of the bus has been converted into the master bedroom.  In order to make the most of their space, Shawn built the bed on a roller/pulley system that uses a remote control (similar to a garage door opener).  This allows the bed to be raised to the ceiling when not in use, opening up a sitting area with storage cubbies beneath.  When not in use, the bed is safely secured in place with pins that prevent the bed from falling and also reduce the strain on the pulley system.

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The master bedroom, complete with sitting area and loft (lift) bed.

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Looking back from the kitchen toward the entrance

Coin operated laundries are so expensive to use on a regular basis.  To save on laundry expenses, they also bring along their own washer/dryer combo machine.

What’s next for home improvements?  Perhaps removable stain glassed panels as sun lights in the emergency roof exits.  Or a sun-deck mounted on the roof.  Or… ?  Like most homes, there’s always a new project and the work is never done!

A Quality Adventure is Closer than You Think!

I’ll admit it. I’m torn.

Part of me really wants to tell you about a wonderful new adventure that’s right under your nose (no matter where you are)!  The other part of me really, really wants to keep it under-wraps – to preserve it as the best kept secret – to keep it all to myself always and forever.

But, I’m going to tell you anyway.  First, because I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t.  Secondly, most folks won’t do it anyway, so I guess I figure it’s safe to talk about.  Third, if you do take my advice, you’ll not only have the most amazing road trip that you’ve had in a while, but you’ll also be helping keep small town America alive.

The funny thing is that it’s not a big secret, just a forgotten one.

The last time you planned a road trip, I’ll bet the farm that 99% of you planned your trip to take the fastest route.  Gotta hurry up and get there, right?  That means freeways and big cities.  It does have it’s benefits: you get there faster and you have easy access to gas, food, truck stops, rest stops, and hotels (if you want them).  Granted, these are all important things.  But it also means that you’re driving in city traffic (or at the very least, with city drivers who still think they’re in the city).  You’re probably also traveling at a pace that rivals that of the Millennium Falcon.  But, let’s face it… gas mileage isn’t great at warp speed, nor is your view.

To be perfectly honest, the further I get from our old life of rush-rush living, the less I can tolerate that kind of driving.  Maybe it’s because I’ve worked so hard at undoing it’s affects in my life.  Being in that traffic brings back the familiar flood of stress hormones that make my blood pressure rise right on queue.  But these days, I’m not used to the “stress rush.” It is surprisingly alarming and nearly triggers a “flight response” for me.  Not pleasant.

 

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State highways can be so much more peaceful than the freeway!

 

So, why not, instead, add a few years to your life by allowing yourself a bit longer to drive from here to there.  Take the country highways.  There are thousands and thousands of miles of them in this country. What’s more, you’ll be very surprised with how little traffic there is on them.  At least, I was.  Traffic was so light, in fact, that it was reminiscent of what the roads were like 30 years ago.  It was a bit like stepping back in time.

Additionally, you’ll have a much more enjoyable drive and you’ll get to see so much of the countryside that’s never seen from the interstate.  Take your time and study the terrain, the farms, the factories, the towns, and the people you pass along the way.  Stop at the little homesteads that are selling chicken and duck eggs!  There are so many delightful people to meet and experiences to be had along the way.

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Since there’s not the constant barrage of exits with gas and fast food, you will need to plan ahead a bit.  Don’t wait until your gas tank is on empty to try to fill up.  It can be a long way between gas stations on these country roads.  Plan your meals to coincide with when you’re passing through a town. If you need something, stop and shop, and help keep these little towns alive in the process.  

Now with all of that said – if you’re still addicted to the Han Solo mode of driving, please don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Save yourself (and us) some frustration.  Keep on traveling at warp speed with your own kind on the interstate!  Meanwhile, we’ll stay out of your way and will enjoy the journey along the way.

After all, isn’t the journey supposed to be as important as the destination?

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