Monday, January 20, 2020

Ukrainian green borscht with backyard curly dock weeds

So, as you can see, I'm not terribly good about updating my blog. 

That said, I have been out foraging, just not feeling like posting, trying new things, or communicating with the outside world. That happens with me.

So I did try something new this weekend: Ukrainian green borscht. Properly known as Shchavel borscht, it gets its name from Shchavel, the Ukrainian word for sorrel. 

Garden sorrel, Latin name: Rumex acetosa, is a garden vegetable grown mostly in Europe and the Mediterranean area--though it was popular in one time in America. Sorrel is a broad-leaf green rich with potassium, vitamin A and oxalic acid*. The latter gives it a sharp, sour flavor. 

Sorrel is popular, in part, because it's very easy to grow. The entire genus Rumex are known to grow in poor soil, both dry and we conditions, alkaline and acidic areas, and sun or shade. They are hardy plants that don't require much care. They are so hardy that one member, Rumex crispus--aka curly dock--has managed to naturalize itself throughout most of North America, having become a common weed. You almost certainly have some growing near you.

Curly dock in January in Texas is still very young and tender. These leaves are about 8 inches long,
at full growth they will be nearly double that. 

Generally a spring and summer plant, the mild climate of Texas means that curly dock can be found in the Dallas area from late fall through early spring, with December through March being peak.

Curly dock has many of the health benefits of garden sorrel, as well as being rich in iron. It's easy to identify in the wild, and was probably brought here originally as a food crop--but fell out of favor. 

I usually used curly dock as a substitute for spinach, but it actually makes a lot more sense to substitute it for sorrel, since they are very closely related, in the same genus. Spinach recipes are a lot easier to come by, but I was very excited to find a true sorrel recipe I could sub curly dock for. 

When very young, curly dock can lack the crinkled edges that make ID easy. If you are new to foraging you might want to remember the old saying: "When in doubt, throw it out!"

Monday, October 8, 2018

Mushroom identification: the pigskin poison puffball or earthball

This rotund little mushroom is Scleroderma citrinum, commonly known as the pigskin poison puffball (from here on referred to as PPP).

Pigskin poison puffballs live near the bases or exposed roots of trees, especially oak, maple and conifers. 

PPPs are a very common mycorrhizal species, usually found at the bases of older trees (though sometimes young trees can have them as well), and often among exposed roots. (Mycorrhizal means they have a symbiotic relationship with plants, in this case trees).

As a child, this was my favorite mushroom. In late September and early October I would run around the neighborhood oaks and give each PPP I found a tentatively gentle squeeze. If it felt ready--less firm and slightly squishy--I would stand up, back off, and run two or three steps to jump on the mushroom as hard as I could, so that it would truly explode in a cloud of spores.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Identifying and foraging wild black trumpet mushrooms. Edible, delicious, and easy to ID

This is probably a mushroom I should have introduced in year one. The common name: black trumpet, actually refers to several closely related species: Craterellus fallax (North America), Craterellus cornucopioides (Europe), Craterellus foetidus (Eastern and Mid Western North America), Craterellus caeruleofuscus (North American Great Lakes region), and possibly more. Some of these names are being re-evaluated in the age of DNA testing, and there may prove to be either more or fewer species than we thought. 

In addition to numerous scientific names, these mushrooms also go by a variety of common names,  including: horn of plenty, trumpet of death / trumpet de la mort (in France), devil's trumpet or devil's horn, and black chanterelle. 

From a culinary and foraging standpoint, all of the above appear nearly identical, taste about the same, and can only be distinguished with location, spore prints, microscopic analysis, or small details present in large collections. From here on we will treat them as one in the same. 

This is one of the best tasting wild edible mushrooms you can find. I prefer black trumpets to their more famous cousins, the chanterelles, and to the king bolete/porcini or morels. I compare their flavor positively to truffles, the most expensive of all fungus. However, if you were to simply cook these as you would any other mushroom, they would taste good, but you would be missing out on the best ways to use their flavor. 

Best of all, black trumpets are incredibly easy to ID, with no poisonous look-a-likes, making them perfect for the beginner mushroom hunter. 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Telluride Mushroom Festival, pt.5: Shrimp Russula

So for my 5th micro-post about what we found at the Telluride Mushroom Festival, another new-to-me mushroom: Russula xeramlelina (and friends), commonly known as the shrimp Russula. It's pretty much the only member of the genus considered to be a choice edible.

Technically R. xeramleina is a European species only, but it's only recently that we realized that the N. American ones are genetically distinct. There are so so many species and subspecies that are classified as "shrimp Russula". According to Michael Kuo, here are the red-cappedAmerican ones: R. squalida (is that the squalid Russula? ),  R. fucosa and R texensis; the latter two are quite rare.

Most, if not all, guidebooks identify the shrimp Russula as R. xeramleina, as they haven't been updated recently. So I really have no idea exactly which variety we were finding in Colorado.

Let's talk about identification, because despite working with local experts, I'm not sure I could ID this one again. It really confuses me!

Friday, August 24, 2018

An Overview of the Genus Cortinarius (Telluride pt. 4)

Note: this post was intended to be a micro-post, but ended up being a summary of pretty much everything I know about the genus Cortinarius, so it'd quite a substantial post indeed!

One of my fellow mushroom hunters in Telluride told me they have a joke out there, that mushrooms that look like these are called "Jac" for "Just Another Cortinarius".

Though from my experience, they could also call them "Jacki" for "Just Another Cortinarius, Kick It". So many of these mushrooms we found had been kicked over, whether from frustration at finding another non-edible species, or as a lazy technique for checking the underside for identification, I'm not sure.

Cortinarius species, commonly called corts or webcaps, are the largest Genus of Agaric (gilled) mushrooms known. They are generally non-edible, some are deadly poisonous, and even the edible ones are generally considered to be poor eating.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Telluride Mushroom Festival pt3: the King Bolete

So for my 3rd micro-post about the mushrooms we found at the Telluride Mushroom Festival: our first-ever King Bolete, aka: Boletus rubriceps.

B. rubriceps was once thought to be B. edulis, which you may have heard of as the Porcini. It's also known as the Cep (France) or the pennybun (United Kingdom). However, DNA studies have shown that B. edulis is native only to Europe. Boletus rubriceps is a close relative, however, and considered to be part of the Boletus edulis "complex".

My husband found the only king bolete of the trip, we were at or around 10,500 ft, up on the side of Lizard Head. The foray lead told us that Amanita muscaria is frequently found nearby, and that its generally easier to find the red A. muscaria then it is to find the brown B. rubriceps, so to look for those, then look around.  (A muscaria is the bright red mushroom with the red spots that everyone thinks of when they think of a mushroom). Sure enough, he found the boletus within a few yards of where others were picking A. muscaria.