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As a forager, spring is something of a manic (yet magical) time. Each forage season is so fleeting, that you often have only a weekend–or even a single day–to gather all that you can. And then it’s over, and you must wait until another year has passed for another promising harvest day to come.
And so this weekend, day after day, we set out on one quest or another to gather a bit of spring’s fleeting bounty.
Spruce tips, wild mint, and catnip; nettle, cleavers, and chickweed. Infusing in vinegar or honey; tincturing in brandy; and filling the dehydrators to the brim (and hoping they dry quickly enough in this blanket of humidity that is Wisconsin in summer).
All this foraging (and the unseasonable heat) called us down to the creek again and again, to wander and harvest and escape the humidity by wading or swimming in these cold, spring-fed waters. (And no, we didn’t eat that frog!)
Oh, and the mushrooms!
We’re not much of a mushroom-hunting family (though my dad and sister are). Frankly, I’m too cautious to make it in this foraging sub-genre. But there are a few safe and easy to ID mushrooms that we’re thrilled to pick when we happen upon them: chaga, dryad saddles (pheasant backs), morels, puffballs, and oysters.
So when we came upon this motherlode of almost-oysters-but-not-quite, my naturalist brain kicked in and I had to figure out what they were.
They checked all of the boxes for oyster mushrooms, except the stems were far too long. I needed to solve this mystery. So I consulted with my dad and sister, my field guides, and my nearby mushroom hunting uncle. Still: nothing.
Finally I posted it to a mycology board online and the feedback was unanimous: golden oyster mushrooms! Because they are an escaped (non-native) cultivated mushroom, they don’t appear in any of my field guides, but the oyster mushroom characteristics plus a long stem are characteristic.
Lupine and I hustled back to where we found them, and though after our 24 hours of research they were already past their prime, we harvested three basketfuls (a small fraction of what we found) and headed home to slice, cook, and dehydrate them.
A day later, we have over a gallon of sliced, dried oyster mushrooms for winter soups and stews tucked away in the pantry; another 1/2 gallon of dehydrated stems and slightly overripe mushrooms for soup stocks, and the most delicious gluten-free/dairy-free mushroom stroganoff ever for dinner last night, made by Sage (15).
Today we’ll wander back to our mushroom patch and perhaps pick a few more that may have flushed after the weekend rain, and see if we can make room in the dehydrator for one more go.
Oh, spring. I adore you–and your bounty–so.
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A book and tool list
A few of you have asked for resources for foraging books. A few afflinks follow for what we use and love around here:
My long-time favorite foraging book is Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants (in wild and not-so-wild places) by “Wildman” Steve Brill.
Sam Thayer’s newest book, Incredible Wild Edibles, promises to be a treasure trove for the beginning forager.
For mushrooms, we really like Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois and Surrounding States by Joe McFarland.
We also use our Peterson Field Guide to Mushrooms a good amount.
As for other tools we love for foraging? Well, not much, really. We use whatever favorite tight-weave basket is our favorite for the week (nearly all of them picked up at the thrift store for a dollar or two). We bring a sheath knife (this one is our family favorite) or pocket knife if we need it, and that’s about all.
I’ve been contemplating picking up a hori hori but haven’t yet, because it’s more stuff and frankly I’m not certain that I need it. There are certainly times I wish I had brought along a digging tool, but usually I throw in a small shovel or trowel when I’m setting out for roots.
For drying herbs, I’m full-on smitten by this hanging drying rack. It’s huge and sturdy and I load it with nettle and other leafy herbs to pre-dry before finishing them in my dehydrator or oven. I love that it zips closed so my herbs don’t blow away, and that I can simply unhook it and bring it in at night.
It’s too humid here in Wisconsin to air dry completely, so after the bulk has been reduced I transfer my herbs to my electric dehydrator. I splurged on a fancy one like this when I started hosting herbal retreats, but something so expensive is by no means necessary. Check rummage sales and thrift stores for a basic model like this one and you’ll be good to go for years to come, without blowing your budget.
What about you? What is your choice foraging quarry, or your family’s favorite foraging book or tool?