First, I was *this* close to staying home and doing nothing, really. Maybe read stuff online. Maybe watch a movie. But I couldn’t do it. I had to go do some more exploring. Yes, I was like this as a kid. There’s lots of time to sit around in the winter. Within the first 5 minutes I wasn’t so tired any more, the fresh air woke me up, and now I’m home with a basket full of food with some exercise and fresh air rather than the opposite.
Which leads me to: that’s some basket of food. I finally found a serious source of saskatoons in the river valley. I knew tonight I’d have to pack it in when I ran out of room in my pail or daylight, whichever came first. Pail space came first. I also came across a serious ring of Agaricus Campestris – I harvested about 30 and had to have let behind 30-40 more because they were over-mature. The cool patterns on the caps are from adjacent specimens spore-printing onto their neighbor – bottom right one being most evident in the photo. Clearly brown, saved me some time at home spore printing them.
While out there I considered the frequent argument that if I took into account the value of my time, my food would be costly. I understand the point. But it seems illogical to measure the time when the opportunity cost of that time was TV watching or something similar, and when the activity yields so much good. Some pay for a gym membership and buy organic whole foods retail, and work a lot to pay for them. I do this.
I love how exciting foraging can be. Again, free couple hours in the evening, so went for a walk in the river valley. Found some Agaricus Campestris [meadow mushroom] in nice shape. Spent a fair bit of time seeing a lot of not much, then found some nice, plump saskatoons. Again, not much for some time, then came across a meadow with broad patches of horseradish. When taking a closer look at the horseradish, I was taken aback at the plant that surrounded them: asparagus. I know, crazy. But it didn’t stop there. I kept on into the bush and found another serious patch of asparagus. By serious, I mean mature, old, and huge. The plants were far taller than me, maybe 8 feet tall. Unbelievable. And on it went. Next up: I spotted some big-ass allium flower that looked like nodding onion meets wild chive, but huge. Lots. It has a broad, flat, tender leaf like a nodding onion, but it looks more like a leek. Best I can tell, it’s Allium Senescens – a type of wild onion [common name: German Garlic]. Still trying to dig up information about it. Lastly, a patch of minty-sagey artemesia of some kind – I know what I want to do with it, more on that later. Photos of all of this below.
These finds excite me on a variety of levels. Not only did I find fruit, veg, mushrooms, herbs, onion, and horseradish in a one-hour walk in the city – I got instantly excited about the prospects of spring foraging. The asparagus and allium are on south-facing banks, and will be up early in the spring. Fantastic. You know what I’ll be eating this coming spring – a time when anything green and fresh is welcome here. I also have decided growing horseradish in my garden is pointless. For the amount I need and for how invasive it is, foraging it is. I’m stoked at the prospect of exploring how these things that grow together, go together. Lastly, I’m left dumbfounded by the foraging potential in our city with the resource that is our river valley, and am grateful for my close proximity to it – I can walk there. I’m going to have one seriously nice terroir-driven meal tomorrow.
With the wild ones, I can see texture being an issue. Without some attention to triage, one risks chewing on an unpleasantly dry berry. Not ideal. They also, even when plump, have a bit of texture to them – although not enough to account for the hate on for them that some folks have.
But it also can’t be the flavour. It’s not as if they don’t have any – I have repeatedly noted how they’re far more intensely flavoured than any mutant-sized giant blueberry from a plastic clamshell that seem to have won public approval. Maybe it’s too much flavor then? Maybe it’s the almond-extract-esque complexity they carry? You’d think that would be a positive attribute: complexity. It must be the texture.
In the end, I’m going to let my fussy-pants daughters be the judge. They love them. I picked enough on this go to make a few pints of jam, and my 4 year old picked with me the whole time, filling her face rather than a bucket. She was full afterwards. My pickly little eaters enjoy them frozen as a snack, in their pancakes, in jams and syrups. And I guess I should be happy that not everyone digs them, otherwise they likely wouldn’t be there for me to forage for in our ravines and river valley.
This is a rare find. I’m wondering whether it’s one in a lifetime. I had a free evening, so figured I’d go check to see if any more Agaricus Campestris had showed up where I found them last – in the river valley only a couple km away. No dice. So I picked a few sad looking saskatoons. Deciding that the bush is usually more interesting [and dangerous] in the mushroom-find department, I took a narrow trail up the bank. Within about 25 yards, I was stopped dead in my tracks. Somehow, coming up upon giant mushrooms spooked me as if I’d come across a wild animal. I knew what they were right away: shaggy parasols. Big, big, shaggy parasols.
I had JUST picked the ones in my yard, that make 2-3 appearances a year, and have made me very familiar with this particular species – macrolepiota rachodes. But in an effort to have good discipline in the field, especially when giddy with a unique find, I checked for rusty orange stem discolouration [check], and evidence of white spore printing on surrounding leaves [check, big time]. On my way home I realized that my yard’s specimens were likely a very reliable indicator of when these giants might be found again, perhaps every year, perhaps multiple times a year. So now when I get the half kilo from my yard, I know where and when to go to possibly score a couple more kilos.
Having picked the huge mushrooms [altogether, there were about 10], I looked through the bush around me to see if there were more, and spotted the giants. Huge. Like, freakishly huge. I loaded up my arms, stacking the mushrooms like cord-wood, and lugged them back to my car, getting some very interesting looks from folks enjoying their evening walk. When I got home I quickly photo’d them, cleaned them up, tossed them in the oven to start drying, and went back to see what else I could find. The night was still young. My little adventure only took 20-30 minutes.
Went back to the same spot, noticed a small one just off a side trail, ducked down to pick it, and again, spooked by a giant staring at me. It’s the one in these photos, and the biggest of them all. It’s 11 3/8 wide, and stood over a foot tall. It weighed 490g – just shy of half a kilo. To add to the score, none of them were damaged by bugs. The best indicator of scale in the photo on the left is my black-sweatered arm holding it up. This single mushroom weighed in at what a half dozen big specimens normally do. The stem weighed 1/4 pound.
To add to my epic evening of foraging in the city, while checking to see if I had missed any Shaggy Parasols, I spotted my first potentially deadly poisonous mushroom. Amanita for sure, as the volva was obvious at the base, the gills were white on the mature specimen – two telling signs that if you ate this particular one, there’s a decent chance you could die, literally. I couldn’t be happier to have found it, as knowing what to look for is one thing, but seeing one in the flesh and identifying it by yourself is another. Amanita’s are largely responsible for the justifiable fear of death in folks when it comes to wild mushrooms – so learning about them is key to knowing what you can eat. iPhone photo at the bottom. What a night.
If the dandelion holds #1 spot in our lawn culture’s ‘Most Misunderstood Plant‘ category, fairy ring mushroom must win an equally prominent award in the ‘Most Misunderstood Fungus‘ category. Fairy rings are the bane of a lawn perfectionist’s existence, if one is present. Pure evil. They put that unsightly curvaceous scar upon the utopically manicured monoculture of grass. I’ve heard of all kinds of ‘remedies’ to deal with them, but now that I understand mushrooms a bit better, I can see that one’s best option is to dig up the soil that contains the mycelium and replace it with fungus-free soil. Or you can get over it and just get to eating them.
Not that eating them will get rid of the ‘problem’ [think of mushrooms as fruit] – but it might make you feel better about it. I find comedy in human nature’s illogical propensity to do things like destroy an edible mushroom with all their might then hop in the vehicle to go buy an edible mushroom from a box store. While I’ll omit descriptions for identification, leaving that task to yourself and a set of good library books, let it be said that these little guys are not rocket science to identify. One of the telling characteristics obvious in the photo is their propensity to have tough-to-break stems. I tied one in a knot, to illustrate.
Would you believe these are choice edibles? Well, from lawns that aren’t sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, anyway. It’s true. The world needs less hate and more love and I, for one, am choosing to love the fairy ring.
A couple days ago a reader offered to meet up to go for a foray in the University area on her lunch hour. Lunch-hour urban foraging, the concept alone I couldn’t turn down. Take THAT all you ‘I don’t have time people!! Now granted her co-workers think she’s strange for foraging for her lunch, but whatever. Strange can be good.
So out we went for mushrooms. Quickly found a variety of Agaricus, which I’ve written so much about lately I’m simply going to lay off. We found many. Tis the season. Then into the river valley we went to see what else would turn up. It wasn’t exactly what I expected. After noticing horseradish in the river valley earlier in the week, I should have broadened my expectations. Some of the surprises were burdock, rhubarb, and gooseberries. Burdock’s a root veg I grow in my yard. We also found raspberries, a pile of different mushrooms, a variety of greens [the usual dandelion, nettle, etc], some jeans, a hairbrush, and a knife. Ah, urban foraging. I wouldn’t suggest eating the jeans – pretty sure those are non-edible. The horseradish, rhubarb, and gooseberries especially have left me wondering about the opportunities for guerilla forest gardening. Interesting.
Below: Hericium Coralloids [Comb's Tooth]. One of the coolest looking local edibles. And bottom, my backyard Chlorophyllum Rhacodes [Shaggy Parasols] which have finally made an appearance!! The only reason I suspect that’s what they are is I’ve had them grow in the same place year after year, studied mature specimens, and spore printed it – otherwise at this stage, I’d have no idea.
This morning my two daughters were looking for an adventure, which, well, turned out to be more mushroom hunting. Surprise! Yeah, not. Well we found a pile. 3kg worth. That’s about 7 paper lunch bags full. As I started to clean them up for drying though, I noticed they were far from all the same. I had been doing some homework on this genus, and knew that I should check for obviously yellow staining near the base of the stem when it’s broken – Agaricus Xanthodermus is what folks would call ‘poisonous‘. Not ‘you’ll die on the spot‘ kind of poisonous in this case, but more like ‘if you eat some your GI tract might not like you very much, in a very severe way‘ kind of poisonous. So a-stem-cutting I went, and found a very significant portion of what we’d picked had distinctively yellow bruising. Many Agaricus species bruise yellowish, apparently, but this one far more obviously so. See photo below. The second trait I notice was they really didn’t smell that nice. As in, they smelled nasty. Mushroom resources online suggest: phenolic. I’d describe this as ‘stale oil, bitter, chemical, kreosote-esque’. All around, not so nice. For a moment I was saddened by my loss of mushrooms, but then giddy with having learned something quite important. The lot of what I’m figuring is my first Agaricus Xanthodermus is shown below, piled up in my compost bucket. If you live just west of the University and these look familiar, it’s probably because they’re from your boulevard. Don’t worry, my girls and I didn’t eat them.
By far a bigger take-away for me than seeing first-hand some solid yellow staining was the smell. I was suddenly very grateful for my wine nerd-ness. The three mushrooms in the top left photo smelled vastly differently. I’m pretty sure I could have sorted those 3 kinds out with a blind fold on. The bottom right pinky one is the stale chemical stinky, yellow staining guy. Rather revolting, and apparently that stink saves many from downing too many of the wrong kind. The top I’m guessing is Agaricus Campestris which is what I’ve had in my fridge the past few days. It smells lovely, mushroomy, like a bowl of mushroom soup, begging for crackers. And the lower left was a surprise. Obvious, smack in the face sweet, clearly articulated anise vibe. I had just read that this is an indicator of Agaricus Arvensis, or ‘horse mushroom’. It was far more round than the flatter Campestris, and smelled lovely. Thankfully, Arvensis is a choice keeper in the edible category. Of course, that assumes my IDs are right, and this is all still pretty new to me. I’m including a photo at the bottom of a group of what I think are Agaricus Arvensis – whatever they are: the anise smelling ones.
So my takeaway for the day: keep harvesting agaricus like mad, but give them a thoughtful sniff before choosing to bring home or not. This genus obviously varies widely on aromatics, and quite plainly, even if not poisonous, I’m not interested in nasty smelling mushrooms for the kitchen. Yes, I’m going mushroom hunting again tomorrow, but I’ll give you a break with a ‘From Local Farms‘ episode.
As always, my disclaimer. I’m still very green at this. I will correct the above if I’m corrected and/or learn better down the road. I am not a mushroom guide, book, or substitute for your own judgement, this is only me journalling my adventures while learning about them. So there.
How I got to my 30′s without knowing the wild agaricus genus of mushroom, I will never know. Agaricus Bisporus is the button mushroom you find at the box stores – so are criminis and portabellos. Agaricus Campestris [seen here, and posted about yesterday], whose common name is ‘field mushroom’ is a still-wild relative. It will be added to my small-but-quickly expanding repertoire of wild mushrooms that I forage for, motivated in part by having harvested roughly 3 pounds in the past two days about 2km from where I live in the city. Motivated also in part by their ubiquity in the mushroom foray finds, and largely by their tastiness in the kitchen. Having had some mushroom-loving-friends weigh in with some good news on its potential ID and edibility, I figured I’d go back with my oldest daughter to clean up what I’d left behind the day before.
The spore print on the left was part of what helped ID it. I was looking for brown spore print. Taking a print is as easy as sticking some cap gill-side-down over a piece of paper, then covering it with a bowl and leaving it overnight. The bowl removes wind currents from the equation and allows the spores to drop straight down. I find spore prints fascinatingly detailed, and beautiful pieces of nature art. It’s worth mentioning that when spore printing some mushrooms, colored paper is more useful than white. When I had to confirm my shaggy parasols, I was looking for a white spore print. White spore on white paper, not so good, so using some white and some dark proves useful in some cases. In all cases, spore printing is just plain neat.
Turns out, on my return visit, I noticed a large patch of horseradish a couple hundred yards from the mushrooms. How it got there, I’m not sure, but there’s lots of it. It amazes me that these kinds of foods sit right under our noses – nevermind smack-dab in the middle of a city of a million people – largely ignored. Fascinating stuff.
Since the foray Wednesday, all I could think about was getting out again. My mushroom hunting in the past was usually in a very specific spot, for a very specific kind. More of a waiting game. Wednesday’s foray was more ‘dive in and see what you find’ – which is far more exciting. So after a few days of generally deciding to temper my enthusiasm and wait until next week’s guided foray with the Alberta Mycological Society, I caved and figured I’d just get out to a local river valley park a couple km away and see what I could see. R&D. And I needed the walk.
20 minutes later I was back at the car on my way home with a paper lunch bag full of mushrooms that weighed in at 3/4 of a kilo. I had started seeing very little but then noticed a big white thing in the grass, about 50 yards away – softball size looking. Too white for a softball, kind of like spotting moose which are ‘too black’ in their natural environment, believe it or not, making them easy to spot. As I approached it was evident there was a good patch of the same kind, and they looked promising. Into the bag they went, after a couple photos to remind myself of their location – something my grandfather drilled into me when hunting. Only he didn’t have a digital camera in his hunting days… And home I went to snap some shots to send off to some friends to see if I can get a positive ID.
Although still waiting to hear from a couple folks, and barring their correcting me, I’ve taken a leap at the ID. All my notes led me to Agaricus Campestris, then Jasmine weighed in the comments, and not knowing what I was suspecting, confirmed exactly the same. Choice edible. I’m going back this afternoon to get more from that spot, as I’d stopped when my bag was full.
Disclaimer: do be cautious when learning about an unfamiliar wild mushroom, and assume I know little, cause let’s face it, I do. But do learn, and do enjoy!