Posts Tagged With: Puget Sound

Waiting for Spring: How One Pagan Greets the Earth at Imbolc

Waiting for Spring: How One Pagan Greets the Earth at Imbolc

by Catherine Harper

Spring comes to Puget Sound early and slowly. First, there is the false spring in January, the few warm bright days that arrive along with the seed catalogs so soon after the Winter Solstice and tempt the gardener outside. I always seem to plant a few seeds for New Year’s, no matter how well I know that winter is not over, a few broccoli and hardy lettuces, or a row of radishes. By the middle of the month, the ground has frozen again. Yet the first stirrings of a lasting spring aren’t far behind.

As the days lengthen, even if the skies are leaden, the air full of rain and the thermometer nailed at 40, plants again begin to grow. It’s an odd time of year for eating. What’s in season is what has lasted from the year before — root vegetables, squash and suchlike — and what can be kept in the garden, such as cabbages and leeks that hold well there even if they don’t grow. And then there are the first shoots of new growth. The corn salad that went to seed in my garden last summer and sprouted in the fall has resumed its growth, giving me half a bed of 4-inch leaves for salads. In my herb garden, the salad burnet is producing new green leaves like serrated coins, tasting of cucumber. And throughout the yard are the tender young rosettes of wild sorrel, dandelion and pepper grass.

It isn’t much of a season for foraging; your time and effort will grant you only damp knees, cold fingers and a scant handful of leaves. But I find these few young shoots and last year’s gleanings irresistible, the first new tastes in the kitchen since the end of last year’s harvest. My salads are tiny handfuls, sometimes, masses of little leaves more strongly flavored than lettuce. I dress them simply with a sprinkling of oil and a few drops of good wine vinegar from our vinegar barrel — unlike the tough imported commercial greens of this season, their taste is worth savoring. Dandelion, picked young, is tender and only pleasantly bitter, rather like the taste of a cultivated chicory. Sorrel is a sharp green lemon, pepper grass a spicy cress, corn salad mild and crisp. And soon, within weeks, perhaps even only days, the first sprouts of chives will appear above the surface, marking another start of the year.

When writing for a pagan audience, it’s sometimes tempting for me to discuss these forays in terms of ritual practice: a recognition and greeting of earliest spring, or an opening to a discussion of holidays and symbolic significance. There’s something a little naked about saying “I went out today and saw a beautiful tree, and it made me tremble at my very roots,” and sometime I find it comforting to hide behind history, behind symbolic reference, behind, essentially, my own intellectual understanding of magic.

Yet in some ways, whatever lofty words I use will be but an abstraction of the simple physical reality. Outside, right now, there are green shoots. The waxing of the year might not be very far along, but it has started, because these shoots are growing more quickly now after almost stopping altogether only a few weeks ago. If you check on them regularly, you can see this. And if you go out into your yard, or someone else’s yard, a park or an overgrown lot, you can find them growing among the grass, plantain and pineapple weed. If you are hungry, you can pick them and eat them. There is still in me a great love of ritual, and yet at times all the ritual seems to pale before taste of these greens on my tongue.

In the kitchen, it’s a vexing, restless season, the time I am most tempted by imported peppers and avocados. With so little new choose from, it’s hard not to reach for some faint echo of summer. But it’s a time for patience, too, a time to acknowledge the cold and dark that is so much larger than our little pools of light, instead of trying to ignore them. At this time of year, I fire my brick oven frequently and bake bread, and then while the oven is hot I make dinners in clay pots — mousaka or lasagna, roast game hens, braised leeks. Late in the evening, using the recipe of a Finnish friend I put a pot of oats in the warm oven (a brick oven, once fired, holds heat for at least 20 hours) with water, cream and perhaps a little cinnamon, honey or molasses. In the morning I open the heavy iron door and pull out hot porridge, slow-cooked over the night.

It’s a good time of year to see what can be made with what you already have. Risotto with chanterelles saved from last autumn, or stored butternut squash and prosciutto. Dried black-eyed peas cooked with ham hock, dried tomatoes and peppers. Muffins with a handful of last year’s frozen blueberries. Potatoes sliced and baked with leeks and a little cheese.

And, of course, it’s the season of soup. I love soup. Noodle soups built on the last of the frozen broth from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass. Eight-fungus hot and sour soup. Red lentil tomato soup (which has the virtue of neither looking nor tasting like mud, a challenge that faces all lentil soups). Thin soups with ginger and pepper to drink when you have a cold. Thick soups for dinner with crusty bread. Winter minestrone to simmer on the back of the stove and feed whatever hordes might descend on your kitchen. Borscht to teach you a proper respect for those stout winter vegetables. On that note…

Winter Minestrone

This almost falls in the category of reaching for summer…. but the tomatoes are canned, oregano is growing in my garden, and even in the darkest months I can usually come up with a handful or two of greens fit for the pot. Broccoli greens are a favorite for this, though kale, chard, cabbage or even spinach will work just as well.

  • Dried beans
  • 1-2 onions, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • Canned tomatoes (at least two 14-ounce cans, but amounts are approximate)
  • 1 chunk parmesan rind
  • At least a double handful of noodles (shells are my favorite)
  • A couple of handfuls pot greens, coarsely chopped
  • 1 glug red wine
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, or a teaspoon or two dried

Cover the bottom of a soup pot with dried beans, though the layer should be no more than two beans thick, and one is plenty. Soak the beans for at least three hours in warm water; overnight is better. Drain off the water, replace with some inches of fresh water and simmer gently over low heat until the beans begin to be tender. Add onions, garlic, tomatoes and parmesan. Simmer for another half-hour or so. Add noodles. Around the time the noodles just start to get tender, add greens, wine and oregano (you can also add a similar amount of dried basil, or of fresh basil should you be so lucky as to have any). Salt and pepper to taste, and serve when the greens are tender with crusty bread.

Borscht

I cannot claim any lineage of note for this borscht. The base recipe came from a cookbook some years ago, and I have adapted it (some might say taken liberties with it) to suit my tastes. Somehow borscht — even without either bacon or sour cream — manages to be more warming and filling than can be expected from a bowl of vegetables.

  • 2-3 pieces farmer’s bacon (optional)
  • 1 large leek (or two smaller ones)
  • 3-5 medium beets
  • 3-4 large carrots
  • 1 small or 1/2 large head cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 glugs wine vinegar
  • Salt
  • Sour cream

Cut the bacon into small pieces, and fry them in the bottom of a large thick-bottomed pot. Chop up the leek, and fry it in bacon grease (or omit the bacon and use some decent oil). When you can no longer prevent everything from sticking to the bottom of the pot, add a bit of water. Finely dice beets and carrots, add them to the pot and add enough water to cover. Chop cabbage (reasonably fine) and add it to the pot — add water if necessary, but remember that the cabbage will go limp soon and release its fluids. It doesn’t really need to be covered all the way. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Add paprika, vinegar and salt. Cover and cook a few more minutes, and correct seasonings. Serve big steaming bowls, each with a dollop of sour cream.

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To Brew a Cauldron of Roots and Bones

To Brew a Cauldron of Roots and Bones

by Catherine Harper

When the year turns, the earth is less gentle, and the outdoors is no longer safe. The soft green woods of summer are now stripped bare and home to winds and rain. For light and warmth, we must retreat inside, even in the gentle clime of Puget Sound, where we are sheltered by the mountains and the extremities of season are kept at bay by the vast thermal mass of the ocean.

All at once, it seems, it is autumn, and past the drawn-out golden harvest and into the dark days and rain. There may be a few peppers and tomatoes left to us, but the season has turned from fruit to fallow. For the gardener, there are a few hardy greens, the squash lying amidst their shriveling vines and the late apples. For the forager, there are a few roots and the cool-weather fruiting of mushrooms. But the focus has changed from the fields and orchards to the kitchens, pantries and root cellars, from what is fresh to what can be saved for later use.

After the extravagance of the autumn harvest, it is a good time to contemplate the dark season. All that is left of the corn are the stalks in the field; in the orchard, the branches are bare. The supermarkets bring us strange and often illusory delights from far distant lands (yes, one can have hothouse strawberries in winter, or bland and mealy fruits picked too early and ripened far from their trees, but do the limp imitations you may purchase feed your body any better than they do your soul?). But you still may take a step back and look at the land around you, and recall both to the mind and table the humble foods that are still with us.

Consider, then, the onion.

The origins of onions are hidden back in the misty recesses of antiquity. There are wild onions known and enjoyed throughout the world, and by the time the pyramids were built the onion was widely cultivated. Herodotus records indeed that the builders of the pyramids sustained their strength on a diet of “radishes, onions and leeks,” and onions and bread were the staple diet of workers throughout the greater region. The Egyptians honored their onions, and were well-known in the ancient world for the quality of their leeks. But by the Roman period, while the leeks were considered a fit item for the tables of emperors, the onions, though grown in vast quantities, were confirmed in their place on the poor man’s table.

In the garden, it is easy to see why the onion has been so embraced by those lacking in both time and money. It is a hardy plant, resistant to disease and pests, and needing little in the way of cultivation. A bit of rich soil, perhaps a quick weeding once or twice during the year, and the tiny shoots you planted that looked like nothing more than frail blades of grass send up a tower of sturdy, pungent greenery, and then below ground swell into plump bulbs.

In our own kitchens, onions are ever present, and yet little regarded. They are so often used as a flavoring agent that I suspect few people realize how much they contribute to the bulk of a dish, and so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget how much flavor they add, while their cousins garlic and shallot get most of the press. Few vegetables have ever carried so much weight with so little notice. In the store, there are always onions, vast piles of onions, cheap and long-lasting. Red onions and white, yellow onions in their darker skins, pearl onions and boiling onions, green onions, dried onions and french-fried onions.

I think too little thought often goes into the selection of onions. Red onions and white onions are sold, usually at a jacked-up price, peeled and trimmed, a form in which they must be kept refrigerated. This allows you to get a good look at the onions and is undoubtedly more convenient, if one is willing to pay twice the price and use the onion swiftly. The yellow onions, our local most common staple, are sold only untrimmed and often poorly sorted. And yet a good yellow onion will sit like a bronze pearl, filling its skin smoothly with no trace of bruising or of the black powdery mold that likely infests many of its neighbors. I have been laughed at by produce clerks for my careful selection of onions, but I have never regretted looking closely. (Onions in bags, while cheap and convenient, I have often regretted, in part because the bag often prevents close inspection, and onions only last a long time if they are intact.)

When I was first on my own, at 15 finding myself abruptly responsible for my own sustenance, I kept my ears always open as I made my way through the produce aisle. One day, I overheard a woman talking of the labor of feeding a family after a long day at work herself. “When I get home, sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to make, and no one else wants to wait at all. But my mother told me a trick — chop up and fry an onion in a pan, and you’ll buy yourself some time. When they smell that onion coming out of the kitchen, they’ll sit back and wait, because they know it’s going to be good.”

Or consider the venerable soup bone.

It is a curious reversal that the thrifty old art of boiling meaty bones for soup, and the great equalizer of the soup pot where the taste of the ingredients is shared by all even if the best pieces might not be, has become something of a mark of culinary distinction. True cooks now build their stock with love, patience, time and often fairly expensive ingredients. Indeed, it is common now for a stock to be made for soup, after which the meat the stock was drawn from is thrown away and replaced by fresh pieces for the finished product.

I can’t quite see that. From a technique point, yes, this is a fine way to build a soup, but to rob meat of its flavor and yet little of its nutrients and then to throw the meat away… perhaps there is a time and a place for such extravagance, but not in my kitchen, as late autumn mutters of the coming of winter. There are generations enough of hungry dead.

Soup bones are almost an anachronism to most home cooks. They come from a time when people were more comfortable with the animal origins of their meat, when larger roasts were more common and yet also more dear, and when people took care to extract all the nutrients they could from their food. Today, one is more likely to see beef “stew meat” for sale, though this ignores that the purpose of a soup bone isn’t only meat, but tendon, cartilage, connective tissue and even marrow. (A dear friend of mine, retired lawyer and accomplished Jewish mother, informs me that the curative powers of matzoh ball soup reside in the gelatin leached out of the chicken. I hesitate at such a reductionist explanation, but the theory is the same. A good rich homemade broth will thicken and even solidify when cold.)

Onion Lemon Soup with Mushrooms

This soup has Greek avgolemono in its ancestry, but it has become vegetarian and shifted its focus to include the onions and mushrooms that form the base of the stock. The onions must be thoroughly caramelized.

The dried mushrooms in this recipe can be six or so good-sized shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted in warm water and then sliced, or a slightly smaller quantity of dried porcini, matsutake or other strong-tasting wild mushroom — chantrelles, delicately flavored as they are, would be lost. One could also substitute a cup or fresh shiitake or porcini for both the dried and fresh mushrooms, or use some combination thereof. I’m afraid this really only qualifies as poverty food if you hunt your own mushrooms, considering the prices wild mushrooms command, though during my impoverished years I sometimes found dried mushrooms in the marked-down bin.

  • 1 or 2 large onions (yellow or white) chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 3 to 6 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1 cup button mushrooms, sliced
  • Dried mushrooms
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt, pepper
  • Juice of two lemons
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 quarts water, plus an additional &fraq14; cup

In a thick-bottomed pot, caramelize the onions in olive oil over medium heat until they are thoroughly brown. (If they begin to stick to the bottom of the pan too badly, you may deglaze the pan by pouring in a few tablespoons of water and stirring vigorously, until the water boils off and you resume caramelizing.) Add the garlic and mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring gently, until the mushrooms are tender.

Add two quarts of water, the rice and the bay leaf, bring soup to a simmer, and let it simmer for 20 minutes or so. Add salt and pepper, taste the broth and correct the seasoning if needed. (Add more salt, more mushrooms or perhaps a teaspoon or so of molasses.)

Remove pot from heat while you juice the lemons and separate the eggs.

Add lemon juice. Beat the egg yolks. Beat in about a quarter cup of lukewarm water. Then beat in a half-cup of broth from your soup. (The idea here is for the egg yolks to blend smoothly with the broth and not to cook too quickly.) Finally, whisk the egg and broth mixture into your soup, and return the soup to the burner, over medium low heat. Return to the barest simmer, gently, then remove from heat and serve

Beef Bone Barley

This soup is based on a savory, layered broth that still uses all of its edible parts. The bones and raw and roasted meat add richness and complexity to the broth.

  • 1 soup bone
  • 1 small package beef stew meat
  • 1 cup barley
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 or 3 carrots (optional)
  • 2 or 3 stalks celery (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 to 10 peppercorns
  • 1 glug of red wine, if available
  • Salt

For the soup bone, if you do not have easy access to a neighborhood butcher, nose around in your grocery’s meat department. Often bones for soup are hidden in the frozen section. I’d recommend a nice joint, if possible, and don’t worry too much about whether it has meat on it, as you’ll be adding meat later. Ox tails are never a bad thing, either, though they make for a very rich soup.

Cover your soup bone in cold water in a thick-bottomed pot, and then slowly heat the pot over a low burner. Seek a stable temperature just at the edge of simmering, cover and allow to stew overnight.

A few hours before dinnertime, remove the soup bone and discard. Add half your stew meat to the pot, and roast the other for some 20 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Add the roasted meat as well to the pot. Add the cup of barley, cover and continue simmering.

Forty minutes or so before dinner, add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, bay leaf and peppercorns. Add your glug of wine, and quickly cover and return to simmering.

In the last few minutes before serving, add salt, remove the bay leaf and taste the broth. Add more salt, wine or fresh ground pepper if needed.

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To Brew a Cauldron of Roots and Bones

To Brew a Cauldron of Roots and Bones

 

by Catherine Harper

When the year turns, the earth is less gentle, and the outdoors is no longer safe. The soft green woods of summer are now stripped bare and home to winds and rain. For light and warmth, we must retreat inside, even in the gentle clime of Puget Sound, where we are sheltered by the mountains and the extremities of season are kept at bay by the vast thermal mass of the ocean.

All at once, it seems, it is autumn, and past the drawn-out golden harvest and into the dark days and rain. There may be a few peppers and tomatoes left to us, but the season has turned from fruit to fallow. For the gardener, there are a few hardy greens, the squash lying amidst their shriveling vines and the late apples. For the forager, there are a few roots and the cool-weather fruiting of mushrooms. But the focus has changed from the fields and orchards to the kitchens, pantries and root cellars, from what is fresh to what can be saved for later use.

After the extravagance of the autumn harvest, it is a good time to contemplate the dark season. All that is left of the corn are the stalks in the field; in the orchard, the branches are bare. The supermarkets bring us strange and often illusory delights from far distant lands (yes, one can have hothouse strawberries in winter, or bland and mealy fruits picked too early and ripened far from their trees, but do the limp imitations you may purchase feed your body any better than they do your soul?). But you still may take a step back and look at the land around you, and recall both to the mind and table the humble foods that are still with us.

Consider, then, the onion.

The origins of onions are hidden back in the misty recesses of antiquity. There are wild onions known and enjoyed throughout the world, and by the time the pyramids were built the onion was widely cultivated. Herodotus records indeed that the builders of the pyramids sustained their strength on a diet of “radishes, onions and leeks,” and onions and bread were the staple diet of workers throughout the greater region. The Egyptians honored their onions, and were well-known in the ancient world for the quality of their leeks. But by the Roman period, while the leeks were considered a fit item for the tables of emperors, the onions, though grown in vast quantities, were confirmed in their place on the poor man’s table.

In the garden, it is easy to see why the onion has been so embraced by those lacking in both time and money. It is a hardy plant, resistant to disease and pests, and needing little in the way of cultivation. A bit of rich soil, perhaps a quick weeding once or twice during the year, and the tiny shoots you planted that looked like nothing more than frail blades of grass send up a tower of sturdy, pungent greenery, and then below ground swell into plump bulbs.

In our own kitchens, onions are ever present, and yet little regarded. They are so often used as a flavoring agent that I suspect few people realize how much they contribute to the bulk of a dish, and so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget how much flavor they add, while their cousins garlic and shallot get most of the press. Few vegetables have ever carried so much weight with so little notice. In the store, there are always onions, vast piles of onions, cheap and long-lasting. Red onions and white, yellow onions in their darker skins, pearl onions and boiling onions, green onions, dried onions and french-fried onions.

I think too little thought often goes into the selection of onions. Red onions and white onions are sold, usually at a jacked-up price, peeled and trimmed, a form in which they must be kept refrigerated. This allows you to get a good look at the onions and is undoubtedly more convenient, if one is willing to pay twice the price and use the onion swiftly. The yellow onions, our local most common staple, are sold only untrimmed and often poorly sorted. And yet a good yellow onion will sit like a bronze pearl, filling its skin smoothly with no trace of bruising or of the black powdery mold that likely infests many of its neighbors. I have been laughed at by produce clerks for my careful selection of onions, but I have never regretted looking closely. (Onions in bags, while cheap and convenient, I have often regretted, in part because the bag often prevents close inspection, and onions only last a long time if they are intact.)

When I was first on my own, at 15 finding myself abruptly responsible for my own sustenance, I kept my ears always open as I made my way through the produce aisle. One day, I overheard a woman talking of the labor of feeding a family after a long day at work herself. “When I get home, sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to make, and no one else wants to wait at all. But my mother told me a trick — chop up and fry an onion in a pan, and you’ll buy yourself some time. When they smell that onion coming out of the kitchen, they’ll sit back and wait, because they know it’s going to be good.”

Or consider the venerable soup bone.

It is a curious reversal that the thrifty old art of boiling meaty bones for soup, and the great equalizer of the soup pot where the taste of the ingredients is shared by all even if the best pieces might not be, has become something of a mark of culinary distinction. True cooks now build their stock with love, patience, time and often fairly expensive ingredients. Indeed, it is common now for a stock to be made for soup, after which the meat the stock was drawn from is thrown away and replaced by fresh pieces for the finished product.

I can’t quite see that. From a technique point, yes, this is a fine way to build a soup, but to rob meat of its flavor and yet little of its nutrients and then to throw the meat away… perhaps there is a time and a place for such extravagance, but not in my kitchen, as late autumn mutters of the coming of winter. There are generations enough of hungry dead.

Soup bones are almost an anachronism to most home cooks. They come from a time when people were more comfortable with the animal origins of their meat, when larger roasts were more common and yet also more dear, and when people took care to extract all the nutrients they could from their food. Today, one is more likely to see beef “stew meat” for sale, though this ignores that the purpose of a soup bone isn’t only meat, but tendon, cartilage, connective tissue and even marrow. (A dear friend of mine, retired lawyer and accomplished Jewish mother, informs me that the curative powers of matzoh ball soup reside in the gelatin leached out of the chicken. I hesitate at such a reductionist explanation, but the theory is the same. A good rich homemade broth will thicken and even solidify when cold.)

Onion Lemon Soup with Mushrooms

This soup has Greek avgolemono in its ancestry, but it has become vegetarian and shifted its focus to include the onions and mushrooms that form the base of the stock. The onions must be thoroughly caramelized.

The dried mushrooms in this recipe can be six or so good-sized shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted in warm water and then sliced, or a slightly smaller quantity of dried porcini, matsutake or other strong-tasting wild mushroom — chantrelles, delicately flavored as they are, would be lost. One could also substitute a cup or fresh shiitake or porcini for both the dried and fresh mushrooms, or use some combination thereof. I’m afraid this really only qualifies as poverty food if you hunt your own mushrooms, considering the prices wild mushrooms command, though during my impoverished years I sometimes found dried mushrooms in the marked-down bin.

  • 1 or 2 large onions (yellow or white) chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 3 to 6 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1 cup button mushrooms, sliced
  • Dried mushrooms
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt, pepper
  • Juice of two lemons
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 quarts water, plus an additional &fraq14; cup

In a thick-bottomed pot, caramelize the onions in olive oil over medium heat until they are thoroughly brown. (If they begin to stick to the bottom of the pan too badly, you may deglaze the pan by pouring in a few tablespoons of water and stirring vigorously, until the water boils off and you resume caramelizing.) Add the garlic and mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring gently, until the mushrooms are tender.

Add two quarts of water, the rice and the bay leaf, bring soup to a simmer, and let it simmer for 20 minutes or so. Add salt and pepper, taste the broth and correct the seasoning if needed. (Add more salt, more mushrooms or perhaps a teaspoon or so of molasses.)

Remove pot from heat while you juice the lemons and separate the eggs.

Add lemon juice. Beat the egg yolks. Beat in about a quarter cup of lukewarm water. Then beat in a half-cup of broth from your soup. (The idea here is for the egg yolks to blend smoothly with the broth and not to cook too quickly.) Finally, whisk the egg and broth mixture into your soup, and return the soup to the burner, over medium low heat. Return to the barest simmer, gently, then remove from heat and serve

Beef Bone Barley

This soup is based on a savory, layered broth that still uses all of its edible parts. The bones and raw and roasted meat add richness and complexity to the broth.

  • 1 soup bone
  • 1 small package beef stew meat
  • 1 cup barley
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 or 3 carrots (optional)
  • 2 or 3 stalks celery (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 to 10 peppercorns
  • 1 glug of red wine, if available
  • Salt

For the soup bone, if you do not have easy access to a neighborhood butcher, nose around in your grocery’s meat department. Often bones for soup are hidden in the frozen section. I’d recommend a nice joint, if possible, and don’t worry too much about whether it has meat on it, as you’ll be adding meat later. Ox tails are never a bad thing, either, though they make for a very rich soup.

Cover your soup bone in cold water in a thick-bottomed pot, and then slowly heat the pot over a low burner. Seek a stable temperature just at the edge of simmering, cover and allow to stew overnight.

A few hours before dinnertime, remove the soup bone and discard. Add half your stew meat to the pot, and roast the other for some 20 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Add the roasted meat as well to the pot. Add the cup of barley, cover and continue simmering.

Forty minutes or so before dinner, add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, bay leaf and peppercorns. Add your glug of wine, and quickly cover and return to simmering.

In the last few minutes before serving, add salt, remove the bay leaf and taste the broth. Add more salt, wine or fresh ground pepper if needed.

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A Pagan Hunts the Fruits of Autumn

A Pagan Hunts the Fruits of Autumn

 

by Catherine Harper

Sometime in September I wake up and the sky is gray, the day is cool, the bright golden harvest has begun its descent into the quieter late autumn, and even as much as I love the sun, I am relieved. It’s as if the shorter days give me license to stay content inside, writing and cooking, or to cover up outside after I have become a little weary of sun and skin. By the time the weather turns, I am always ready to turn a bit inward. It has been a sunny summer and a good, warm harvest, and now it is time for things to be a bit more muted and for rest.

By Mabon, I should have a cord or two of apple wood stacked for the oven. The bright fruits of summer are finishing in the garden, the winter squash thinking about hardening their shells, the beans and tomatoes coming in. The sunny days are some of the best for hiking and bicycling, cooler weather bringing us out of summer’s languor. But the Indian summer, if we are so lucky as to be granted one, is transitory, a red and gold finale to the light half of the year, and the gray days and rains are waiting.

What is startling about our winters is not so much the amount of rain (well, maybe some years), for all the press that it gets, but the contrast between our mild climate and the dark that descends on us. For all that we see little snow or freezing, the Puget Sound is decidedly north, and through the equinox the length of the days shifts rapidly, swinging toward the winter days, which are barely more than half the length of their long summer counterparts. Add the frequently overcast sky, which lets so little light through, and non-natives who have spent the summer munching cherries and blackberries through our 10 o’clock twilight often find themselves fleeing south.

But the dark time of the year is not without its pleasure, a period of rest and contemplation after the frenetic summer. It is a wonderful time for the pleasures of the table, with maybe even a fire on the heart, or a soup simmering on the back of the stove. People begin to move indoors again; life becomes private. And in the fall many of us go into the woods, alone or in quiet twos and threes, and spend time among the shadowed places, relishing the cool, the dark, the rain, and looking for mushrooms.

Mushrooms have a mixed reputation in this country, especially those vast arrays of species that aren’t the familiar grocery store buttons. Esteemed by foodies, feared or scorned by much of the populace, valued by some for their hallucinogenic properties, most people seem to approach mushrooms with opinions already formed. It should not be a surprise, since so much of our culture we have inherited, with our language, from the English, who are, compared to many of their mushroom-loving European brethren, noted fungiphobes. (Which is not to say the English never partake, but merely they tended to regard the mushrooms with a skepticism quite different from the affection of the French and Eastern Europeans, or the wild adoration of many Russians, to name a few.)

The Pacific Northwest has been greatly blessed by the mushroom gods, and we are a veritable haven for fungi. The woods and wet falls and springs are ideal for mushrooms, and we have one of the larger and most reliable fruitings of anywhere in the country. Even in the city, on lawns, in parks and landscaped patches, we have an unusually rich and diverse community of fungi (though care should always be taken when hunting in landscaped areas so as to avoid contaminants).

It never fails to amaze me how many people simply do not notice this bounty that fruits in our area. Many times, when I first take people hunting they simply don’t see the mushrooms in the grass, on the ground or hiding in the shadows under a rhododendron. And then when they train their eyes to see, it is as if they have glimpsed faerie, and are amazed at this other world, always there, that has suddenly opened up before them. For the mushrooms are not always small or unobtrusive. I have found Agaricus augustuses fully 11 inches across at the cap, as big as dinner plates, or Amanita muscarias only slightly smaller and bright red with white spots hatching next to a college library.

In the woods, the Amanita muscarias, which fade as they age to a salmon pink while retaining their white spots, sometimes come up in rings fully twelve feet in diameter. These are, as it happens, one of the most interesting hallucinogenic mushrooms for shamanic use worldwide, though the amount and type of toxins varies by region, and I wouldn’t recommend playing with our local varieties. Amanitas in general are one of the more perilous families of mushrooms, containing some of the most poisonous specimens found in this region. There is recorded use of amanitas from North America to Siberia, as well as interesting speculation that they were the source of the vedic drug soma.

And, as an interesting footnote regarding hallucinogenic mushrooms, the Psilocybe stuntzii, one of the mushrooms most often hunted for its perception-altering properties, though not as potent as its cousin Psilocybe cyanescens, was originally identified on the University of Washington campus, and is named after the former professor of mycology there, Daniel Stuntz. While, at least as I understand it, these mushrooms were not originally native to this area, they have become quite common around universities, libraries, government buildings and other landscaped areas. And hunter beware: While some people would caution against any consumption — which is, of course, illegal — at least be aware that these sometimes intermingle with deadly Gallerinas, so if you’re not absolutely sure, don’t put it in your mouth. We tend to be rather attached to our livers and don’t function very well or long, without them.

So before I begin describing some of our easier and more rewarding mushrooms to hunt, a few words of caution. First off, while mushrooms are not really any more likely to be poisonous than plants, some are poisonous, mostly of a sort that will give you gastrointestinal distress, and a very few are quite poisonous and can kill you.

The problem with mushrooms is that most people learn at least a little bit of plant identification as children — enough, say, to recognize a holly’s berries and know they will be deleterious to one’s health, whereas blackberries can only enhance it. Many who can recognize red huckleberries, dandelions, wild onions, hazelnuts and other common wild edibles, know not to eat nightshade or water hemlock and have at least a rudimentary idea of what features might be significant in distinguishing one plants from another. Most of us, however, did not grow up with even this basic background in fungi, and so until we have had time to acquaint ourselves with the mycological world and train our eyes to their identifying features, our abilities to reliably tell one mushroom from another are often rather weak. It’s not that mushrooms are inherently more difficult to distinguish, but that as a culture we tend to be less learned in how to go about this. However, until we have had a chance to hone these skills, it is not a good idea to go sampling mushrooms that you believe resemble those found in guides, or even this article. The first rule or foraging is never to eat anything you haven’t positively identified.

This same precaution applies to people who have learned to hunt mushrooms in one area, and then moved to another. While your skills will do you in good stead, make sure you take a while to familiarize yourself with our native mushrooms, both nourishing and otherwise, before you add them to your diet. The most common cause of mushroom poisoning on the west coast is among immigrants who eat certain (sometimes deadly) Amanita species that are not native to their homelands, not being aware of the need to distinguish them from familiar edible species.

If you want to make a more serious study of mushrooms, there are a number of excellent guidebooks — paramount among which are David Arora’s pocket guide All the Rain Promises (perhaps the best introductory text on mushrooms) and the larger and more hard-core Mushrooms Demystified. Even better, the Puget Sound Mycological Society (www.psms.org) holds monthly meetings throughout the fall, winter and spring and is a good place to learn hands-on identification from experienced mushroomers, among other diversions.

I use the word “mushrooms” here to describe any fleshy fungus, edible, umbrella-shaped or otherwise. The popular term “toadstool” has no particular biological meaning, though it is sometimes used, primarily by those who are not fond of mushrooms, to refer to ones they regard with suspicion. All mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of organisms that live either in ground or in wood or another organic substrate (called “mycelia”) or in symbiosis with plant roots (called “mycorrhizia”). The most recognizable mushrooms have the umbrella shape we are accustomed to from the grocery store, consisting of a stem and a cap, the underside of the cap having either gills (as do the more common cultivated varieties) or pores (mushrooms with pores look as if the underside of the cap is made out of a porous, spongy material).

Here are a few of my favorite mushrooms, ones that fruit in profusion this area and that are, if not foolproof at least (to steal a phrase from David Arora) reasonably intelligence-proof. Again, I do not expect this listing to replace a guidebook or trained identification, but I hope it might be a good place to start informal investigations. (If in doubt, if you have found a field of beautiful mushrooms that you can not identify on your own and yet cannot in conscience ignore, drop me a note at tylik@eskimo.com, and I’ll try either to help you or refer you to someone both local and qualified.)

Fairy Ring Mushroom (Marasmius oriedes)

This is one of the most common ring-forming lawn mushrooms, and a great favorite among pagans for its folkloric associations. (Do not, however, assume that all ring-forming lawn mushrooms are edible — many circles of mycelia will fruit along the perimeter, forming rings. Nor does the fairy ring mushroom always form rings.) This mushroom is an opportunist, meaning that it will fruit spring and fall, often several times a season, as long as the conditions are right. (Mostly, it awaits sufficient moisture.) The mushroom world has given us a great variety of hard-to-differentiate “little brown mushrooms” (known as LBMs), many of which most mushroomers do not bother with, but this one is worth knowing, as it is not only common but tasty, with a light, delicate flavor that goes particularly well with lemon and the gentler alliums.

This cream- to buff-colored mushroom stands only two to three inches tall, with a cap usually about one inch across in diameter at maturity. Its gills are straight, evenly spaced, do not fork or split and have light-colored spores. The cap often has a hump in the middle, giving it a bit of the appearance of a hat at maturity. The stem is fibrous and not particularly appetizing. The entire mushroom dries very easily and reconstitutes quickly after being soaked in water. Collecting mushrooms from a circle will encourage the underground mycelia to produce more, just as collecting beans results in more beans, and so can be done without fear of damaging the organism.

Boletes and Cousins

Boletes are plump, fleshy mushrooms with spongy pores on the undersides of their caps rather than gills. This is the clan of the Porcini, one of the most highly prized of all edible mushrooms. The clan breaks down into three families, Boletus, the true boletes; Suillus, the slippery jack; and the Lecinums, a family that includes the birch boletes and other fine edibles.

The basic rule of thumb given for boletes is that they are safe to eat if their pores are yellow or white, and neither the pores nor the stem are red, or stain blue when bruised. However, while this rule of thumb will take you fairly far and is the reason boletes have a reputation for being a safe family, it is not entirely reliable. Better by far to get a proper identification book and key out each mushroom completely.

If the “bolete” you find has a notably slippery or, if drier, sticky surface, it is a slippery jack. (Also, slippery jacks tend to but don’t always have larger pores that are often radially arranged.) Slippery jacks are among our most common boletes, and if they are not among the most prized, the edibles among them can be fine despite their tendency towards sliminess.

If the “bolete” you find does not have a sticky or slippery cap, has closely packed pores and a smooth stem, you have found a true bolete. Not all true boletes are edible, but many of those that are are choice, so it may well be worth your while to properly identify it. However, be warned that we are not the only creatures who like to eat boletes, so keep a close eye our for insect infestations and slug damage. Boletes age quickly and aren’t worth collecting past their prime, though they dry very well if you find yourself in possession of a large quantity.

If your bolete is again without a slippery or sticky cap, but the stem has a dark webbing that looks rather like the cheek of a dark-haired, fair-skinned man who has not shaved for a day or two, it is a Leccinum. While this family is not generally as highly prized as some of the true boletes, some of them are quite tasty and very common in this area, especially growing in association with birch trees. These, too, dry very well, though they rather oddly turn black in the drying process.

Chicken of the Woods

This is a shelf mushroom, rather like the hard, white-bottomed artists’ conks one finds growing off the sides of trees. However, chicken of the woods is one of those mushrooms that is easy to recognize because it looks like nothing else on this earth. Softer than a woody conk, growing in ruffled shelves on the sides of trees and dead wood, chicken of the woods is an amazing day-glow orange on top, and a paler yellow underneath. When young and tender, it can be delectable, having a flavor and texture very similar to that of chicken, though it requires a long cooking. Older specimens tend to be tougher and sour, though this can, at least in part, be remedied through long cooking and careful seasonings. This mushroom is often available during the fall at the Pike Place Market.

As with most mushrooms, even once you have positively identified it you shouldn’t have a large serving if you haven’t eaten it before, because some people have unpleasant reactions even to mushrooms that are generally edible.

Chantrelles

For many, the chantrelle, golden and shaped like the mouth of a trumpet turned upward toward the sky, is the prince of the wild mushrooms. (However, there is another mushroom named “the prince” that is a large, almond-scented relative of the grocery store agaric and not in the least related to the chantrelle.) Chantrelles are forest mushrooms, growing from mycorhizia. They are most easily identified by their thick, veined gills, which stand out as rounded ridges rather than the knife-edges of true gills. In our area, both the white and gold chantrelles are fairly common, though only the gold is hunted in large numbers for the commercial trade. Personally, I like the white at least as well. There are also more fragile black and blue varieties.

Not all native chantrelles are edible, there being a common inedible variety that is feathered across the surface of the cap. If in doubt, e-mail me and I’ll help resolve the problem for only a tithe.

Shaggy Manes

Shaggy manes are another opportunist, and another mushroom commonly found in parks, on lawns and other haphazard locations. These look like tall, white eggs, standing on end, usually in grassy areas or on ground that has been disturbed in the last few years. On closer investigation, you will find these fragile, white mushrooms have hollow stems and a long gilled cap covered with delicate feathery white shags that almost completely hides the stem. As they age, the bottom edge of the cap begins to turn pink, and then dark, and finally dissolves to black liquid. This liquid is essentially the same as giving the shaggy mane’s buff-colored cousins, the inky caps, their name. It is dark brown, and thinned with water does indeed make a fine ink, well-suited to magickal use. In fact, collecting shaggy manes and inky caps for ink might be one of the safest ways to embark on mushroom hunting.

Oyster Mushrooms

These days, many people are familiar with this white to grayish-buff wood-growing mushroom, since it is widely cultivated and available (for a fancy price) from most grocery stores. There are actually a great many varieties of oyster mushrooms, and they are common growing on trees and dead wood throughout this region. These are tender, gilled mushrooms that grow in shelf-like lobes with either no discernible stem or a stem off to one side rather than centered, as is the case with most familiar mushrooms. They fruit spring and fall, as conditions permit. In fact, a distinction is made between “angel wings” and “oyster” mushrooms, the former whiter and more delicate than the latter. However, both cook up well.

Happy mushroom hunting!

Categories: Daily Posts | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Pagan Hunts the Fruits of Autumn

A Pagan Hunts the Fruits of Autumn

article

by Catherine Harper

Sometime in September I wake up and the sky is gray, the day is cool, the bright golden harvest has begun its descent into the quieter late autumn, and even as much as I love the sun, I am relieved. It’s as if the shorter days give me license to stay content inside, writing and cooking, or to cover up outside after I have become a little weary of sun and skin. By the time the weather turns, I am always ready to turn a bit inward. It has been a sunny summer and a good, warm harvest, and now it is time for things to be a bit more muted and for rest.

By Mabon, I should have a cord or two of apple wood stacked for the oven. The bright fruits of summer are finishing in the garden, the winter squash thinking about hardening their shells, the beans and tomatoes coming in. The sunny days are some of the best for hiking and bicycling, cooler weather bringing us out of summer’s languor. But the Indian summer, if we are so lucky as to be granted one, is transitory, a red and gold finale to the light half of the year, and the gray days and rains are waiting.

What is startling about our winters is not so much the amount of rain (well, maybe some years), for all the press that it gets, but the contrast between our mild climate and the dark that descends on us. For all that we see little snow or freezing, the Puget Sound is decidedly north, and through the equinox the length of the days shifts rapidly, swinging toward the winter days, which are barely more than half the length of their long summer counterparts. Add the frequently overcast sky, which lets so little light through, and non-natives who have spent the summer munching cherries and blackberries through our 10 o’clock twilight often find themselves fleeing south.

But the dark time of the year is not without its pleasure, a period of rest and contemplation after the frenetic summer. It is a wonderful time for the pleasures of the table, with maybe even a fire on the heart, or a soup simmering on the back of the stove. People begin to move indoors again; life becomes private. And in the fall many of us go into the woods, alone or in quiet twos and threes, and spend time among the shadowed places, relishing the cool, the dark, the rain, and looking for mushrooms.

Mushrooms have a mixed reputation in this country, especially those vast arrays of species that aren’t the familiar grocery store buttons. Esteemed by foodies, feared or scorned by much of the populace, valued by some for their hallucinogenic properties, most people seem to approach mushrooms with opinions already formed. It should not be a surprise, since so much of our culture we have inherited, with our language, from the English, who are, compared to many of their mushroom-loving European brethren, noted fungiphobes. (Which is not to say the English never partake, but merely they tended to regard the mushrooms with a skepticism quite different from the affection of the French and Eastern Europeans, or the wild adoration of many Russians, to name a few.)

The Pacific Northwest has been greatly blessed by the mushroom gods, and we are a veritable haven for fungi. The woods and wet falls and springs are ideal for mushrooms, and we have one of the larger and most reliable fruitings of anywhere in the country. Even in the city, on lawns, in parks and landscaped patches, we have an unusually rich and diverse community of fungi (though care should always be taken when hunting in landscaped areas so as to avoid contaminants).

It never fails to amaze me how many people simply do not notice this bounty that fruits in our area. Many times, when I first take people hunting they simply don’t see the mushrooms in the grass, on the ground or hiding in the shadows under a rhododendron. And then when they train their eyes to see, it is as if they have glimpsed faerie, and are amazed at this other world, always there, that has suddenly opened up before them. For the mushrooms are not always small or unobtrusive. I have found Agaricus augustuses fully 11 inches across at the cap, as big as dinner plates, or Amanita muscarias only slightly smaller and bright red with white spots hatching next to a college library.

In the woods, the Amanita muscarias, which fade as they age to a salmon pink while retaining their white spots, sometimes come up in rings fully twelve feet in diameter. These are, as it happens, one of the most interesting hallucinogenic mushrooms for shamanic use worldwide, though the amount and type of toxins varies by region, and I wouldn’t recommend playing with our local varieties. Amanitas in general are one of the more perilous families of mushrooms, containing some of the most poisonous specimens found in this region. There is recorded use of amanitas from North America to Siberia, as well as interesting speculation that they were the source of the vedic drug soma.

And, as an interesting footnote regarding hallucinogenic mushrooms, the Psilocybe stuntzii, one of the mushrooms most often hunted for its perception-altering properties, though not as potent as its cousin Psilocybe cyanescens, was originally identified on the University of Washington campus, and is named after the former professor of mycology there, Daniel Stuntz. While, at least as I understand it, these mushrooms were not originally native to this area, they have become quite common around universities, libraries, government buildings and other landscaped areas. And hunter beware: While some people would caution against any consumption — which is, of course, illegal — at least be aware that these sometimes intermingle with deadly Gallerinas, so if you’re not absolutely sure, don’t put it in your mouth. We tend to be rather attached to our livers and don’t function very well or long, without them.

So before I begin describing some of our easier and more rewarding mushrooms to hunt, a few words of caution. First off, while mushrooms are not really any more likely to be poisonous than plants, some are poisonous, mostly of a sort that will give you gastrointestinal distress, and a very few are quite poisonous and can kill you.

The problem with mushrooms is that most people learn at least a little bit of plant identification as children — enough, say, to recognize a holly’s berries and know they will be deleterious to one’s health, whereas blackberries can only enhance it. Many who can recognize red huckleberries, dandelions, wild onions, hazelnuts and other common wild edibles, know not to eat nightshade or water hemlock and have at least a rudimentary idea of what features might be significant in distinguishing one plants from another. Most of us, however, did not grow up with even this basic background in fungi, and so until we have had time to acquaint ourselves with the mycological world and train our eyes to their identifying features, our abilities to reliably tell one mushroom from another are often rather weak. It’s not that mushrooms are inherently more difficult to distinguish, but that as a culture we tend to be less learned in how to go about this. However, until we have had a chance to hone these skills, it is not a good idea to go sampling mushrooms that you believe resemble those found in guides, or even this article. The first rule or foraging is never to eat anything you haven’t positively identified.

This same precaution applies to people who have learned to hunt mushrooms in one area, and then moved to another. While your skills will do you in good stead, make sure you take a while to familiarize yourself with our native mushrooms, both nourishing and otherwise, before you add them to your diet. The most common cause of mushroom poisoning on the west coast is among immigrants who eat certain (sometimes deadly) Amanita species that are not native to their homelands, not being aware of the need to distinguish them from familiar edible species.

If you want to make a more serious study of mushrooms, there are a number of excellent guidebooks — paramount among which are David Arora’s pocket guide All the Rain Promises (perhaps the best introductory text on mushrooms) and the larger and more hard-core Mushrooms Demystified. Even better, the Puget Sound Mycological Society (www.psms.org) holds monthly meetings throughout the fall, winter and spring and is a good place to learn hands-on identification from experienced mushroomers, among other diversions.

I use the word “mushrooms” here to describe any fleshy fungus, edible, umbrella-shaped or otherwise. The popular term “toadstool” has no particular biological meaning, though it is sometimes used, primarily by those who are not fond of mushrooms, to refer to ones they regard with suspicion. All mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of organisms that live either in ground or in wood or another organic substrate (called “mycelia”) or in symbiosis with plant roots (called “mycorrhizia”). The most recognizable mushrooms have the umbrella shape we are accustomed to from the grocery store, consisting of a stem and a cap, the underside of the cap having either gills (as do the more common cultivated varieties) or pores (mushrooms with pores look as if the underside of the cap is made out of a porous, spongy material).

Here are a few of my favorite mushrooms, ones that fruit in profusion this area and that are, if not foolproof at least (to steal a phrase from David Arora) reasonably intelligence-proof. Again, I do not expect this listing to replace a guidebook or trained identification, but I hope it might be a good place to start informal investigations. (If in doubt, if you have found a field of beautiful mushrooms that you can not identify on your own and yet cannot in conscience ignore, drop me a note at tylik@eskimo.com, and I’ll try either to help you or refer you to someone both local and qualified.)

Fairy Ring Mushroom (Marasmius oriedes)

This is one of the most common ring-forming lawn mushrooms, and a great favorite among pagans for its folkloric associations. (Do not, however, assume that all ring-forming lawn mushrooms are edible — many circles of mycelia will fruit along the perimeter, forming rings. Nor does the fairy ring mushroom always form rings.) This mushroom is an opportunist, meaning that it will fruit spring and fall, often several times a season, as long as the conditions are right. (Mostly, it awaits sufficient moisture.) The mushroom world has given us a great variety of hard-to-differentiate “little brown mushrooms” (known as LBMs), many of which most mushroomers do not bother with, but this one is worth knowing, as it is not only common but tasty, with a light, delicate flavor that goes particularly well with lemon and the gentler alliums.

This cream- to buff-colored mushroom stands only two to three inches tall, with a cap usually about one inch across in diameter at maturity. Its gills are straight, evenly spaced, do not fork or split and have light-colored spores. The cap often has a hump in the middle, giving it a bit of the appearance of a hat at maturity. The stem is fibrous and not particularly appetizing. The entire mushroom dries very easily and reconstitutes quickly after being soaked in water. Collecting mushrooms from a circle will encourage the underground mycelia to produce more, just as collecting beans results in more beans, and so can be done without fear of damaging the organism.

Boletes and Cousins

Boletes are plump, fleshy mushrooms with spongy pores on the undersides of their caps rather than gills. This is the clan of the Porcini, one of the most highly prized of all edible mushrooms. The clan breaks down into three families, Boletus, the true boletes; Suillus, the slippery jack; and the Lecinums, a family that includes the birch boletes and other fine edibles.

The basic rule of thumb given for boletes is that they are safe to eat if their pores are yellow or white, and neither the pores nor the stem are red, or stain blue when bruised. However, while this rule of thumb will take you fairly far and is the reason boletes have a reputation for being a safe family, it is not entirely reliable. Better by far to get a proper identification book and key out each mushroom completely.

If the “bolete” you find has a notably slippery or, if drier, sticky surface, it is a slippery jack. (Also, slippery jacks tend to but don’t always have larger pores that are often radially arranged.) Slippery jacks are among our most common boletes, and if they are not among the most prized, the edibles among them can be fine despite their tendency towards sliminess.

If the “bolete” you find does not have a sticky or slippery cap, has closely packed pores and a smooth stem, you have found a true bolete. Not all true boletes are edible, but many of those that are are choice, so it may well be worth your while to properly identify it. However, be warned that we are not the only creatures who like to eat boletes, so keep a close eye our for insect infestations and slug damage. Boletes age quickly and aren’t worth collecting past their prime, though they dry very well if you find yourself in possession of a large quantity.

If your bolete is again without a slippery or sticky cap, but the stem has a dark webbing that looks rather like the cheek of a dark-haired, fair-skinned man who has not shaved for a day or two, it is a Leccinum. While this family is not generally as highly prized as some of the true boletes, some of them are quite tasty and very common in this area, especially growing in association with birch trees. These, too, dry very well, though they rather oddly turn black in the drying process.

Chicken of the Woods

This is a shelf mushroom, rather like the hard, white-bottomed artists’ conks one finds growing off the sides of trees. However, chicken of the woods is one of those mushrooms that is easy to recognize because it looks like nothing else on this earth. Softer than a woody conk, growing in ruffled shelves on the sides of trees and dead wood, chicken of the woods is an amazing day-glow orange on top, and a paler yellow underneath. When young and tender, it can be delectable, having a flavor and texture very similar to that of chicken, though it requires a long cooking. Older specimens tend to be tougher and sour, though this can, at least in part, be remedied through long cooking and careful seasonings. This mushroom is often available during the fall at the Pike Place Market.

As with most mushrooms, even once you have positively identified it you shouldn’t have a large serving if you haven’t eaten it before, because some people have unpleasant reactions even to mushrooms that are generally edible.

Chantrelles

For many, the chantrelle, golden and shaped like the mouth of a trumpet turned upward toward the sky, is the prince of the wild mushrooms. (However, there is another mushroom named “the prince” that is a large, almond-scented relative of the grocery store agaric and not in the least related to the chantrelle.) Chantrelles are forest mushrooms, growing from mycorhizia. They are most easily identified by their thick, veined gills, which stand out as rounded ridges rather than the knife-edges of true gills. In our area, both the white and gold chantrelles are fairly common, though only the gold is hunted in large numbers for the commercial trade. Personally, I like the white at least as well. There are also more fragile black and blue varieties.

Not all native chantrelles are edible, there being a common inedible variety that is feathered across the surface of the cap. If in doubt, e-mail me and I’ll help resolve the problem for only a tithe.

Shaggy Manes

Shaggy manes are another opportunist, and another mushroom commonly found in parks, on lawns and other haphazard locations. These look like tall, white eggs, standing on end, usually in grassy areas or on ground that has been disturbed in the last few years. On closer investigation, you will find these fragile, white mushrooms have hollow stems and a long gilled cap covered with delicate feathery white shags that almost completely hides the stem. As they age, the bottom edge of the cap begins to turn pink, and then dark, and finally dissolves to black liquid. This liquid is essentially the same as giving the shaggy mane’s buff-colored cousins, the inky caps, their name. It is dark brown, and thinned with water does indeed make a fine ink, well-suited to magickal use. In fact, collecting shaggy manes and inky caps for ink might be one of the safest ways to embark on mushroom hunting.

Oyster Mushrooms

These days, many people are familiar with this white to grayish-buff wood-growing mushroom, since it is widely cultivated and available (for a fancy price) from most grocery stores. There are actually a great many varieties of oyster mushrooms, and they are common growing on trees and dead wood throughout this region. These are tender, gilled mushrooms that grow in shelf-like lobes with either no discernible stem or a stem off to one side rather than centered, as is the case with most familiar mushrooms. They fruit spring and fall, as conditions permit. In fact, a distinction is made between “angel wings” and “oyster” mushrooms, the former whiter and more delicate than the latter. However, both cook up well.

Happy mushroom hunting!

Categories: Book of Spells | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Pagan Hunts the Fruits of Autumn

A Pagan Hunts the Fruits of Autumn

by Catherine Harper

Sometime in September I wake up and the sky is gray, the day is cool, the bright golden harvest has begun its descent into the quieter late autumn, and even as much as I love the sun, I am relieved. It’s as if the shorter days give me license to stay content inside, writing and cooking, or to cover up outside after I have become a little weary of sun and skin. By the time the weather turns, I am always ready to turn a bit inward. It has been a sunny summer and a good, warm harvest, and now it is time for things to be a bit more muted and for rest.

By Mabon, I should have a cord or two of apple wood stacked for the oven. The bright fruits of summer are finishing in the garden, the winter squash thinking about hardening their shells, the beans and tomatoes coming in. The sunny days are some of the best for hiking and bicycling, cooler weather bringing us out of summer’s languor. But the Indian summer, if we are so lucky as to be granted one, is transitory, a red and gold finale to the light half of the year, and the gray days and rains are waiting.

What is startling about our winters is not so much the amount of rain (well, maybe some years), for all the press that it gets, but the contrast between our mild climate and the dark that descends on us. For all that we see little snow or freezing, the Puget Sound is decidedly north, and through the equinox the length of the days shifts rapidly, swinging toward the winter days, which are barely more than half the length of their long summer counterparts. Add the frequently overcast sky, which lets so little light through, and non-natives who have spent the summer munching cherries and blackberries through our 10 o’clock twilight often find themselves fleeing south.

But the dark time of the year is not without its pleasure, a period of rest and contemplation after the frenetic summer. It is a wonderful time for the pleasures of the table, with maybe even a fire on the heart, or a soup simmering on the back of the stove. People begin to move indoors again; life becomes private. And in the fall many of us go into the woods, alone or in quiet twos and threes, and spend time among the shadowed places, relishing the cool, the dark, the rain, and looking for mushrooms.

Mushrooms have a mixed reputation in this country, especially those vast arrays of species that aren’t the familiar grocery store buttons. Esteemed by foodies, feared or scorned by much of the populace, valued by some for their hallucinogenic properties, most people seem to approach mushrooms with opinions already formed. It should not be a surprise, since so much of our culture we have inherited, with our language, from the English, who are, compared to many of their mushroom-loving European brethren, noted fungiphobes. (Which is not to say the English never partake, but merely they tended to regard the mushrooms with a skepticism quite different from the affection of the French and Eastern Europeans, or the wild adoration of many Russians, to name a few.)

The Pacific Northwest has been greatly blessed by the mushroom gods, and we are a veritable haven for fungi. The woods and wet falls and springs are ideal for mushrooms, and we have one of the larger and most reliable fruitings of anywhere in the country. Even in the city, on lawns, in parks and landscaped patches, we have an unusually rich and diverse community of fungi (though care should always be taken when hunting in landscaped areas so as to avoid contaminants).

It never fails to amaze me how many people simply do not notice this bounty that fruits in our area. Many times, when I first take people hunting they simply don’t see the mushrooms in the grass, on the ground or hiding in the shadows under a rhododendron. And then when they train their eyes to see, it is as if they have glimpsed faerie, and are amazed at this other world, always there, that has suddenly opened up before them. For the mushrooms are not always small or unobtrusive. I have found Agaricus augustuses fully 11 inches across at the cap, as big as dinner plates, or Amanita muscarias only slightly smaller and bright red with white spots hatching next to a college library.

In the woods, the Amanita muscarias, which fade as they age to a salmon pink while retaining their white spots, sometimes come up in rings fully twelve feet in diameter. These are, as it happens, one of the most interesting hallucinogenic mushrooms for shamanic use worldwide, though the amount and type of toxins varies by region, and I wouldn’t recommend playing with our local varieties. Amanitas in general are one of the more perilous families of mushrooms, containing some of the most poisonous specimens found in this region. There is recorded use of amanitas from North America to Siberia, as well as interesting speculation that they were the source of the vedic drug soma.

And, as an interesting footnote regarding hallucinogenic mushrooms, the Psilocybe stuntzii, one of the mushrooms most often hunted for its perception-altering properties, though not as potent as its cousin Psilocybe cyanescens, was originally identified on the University of Washington campus, and is named after the former professor of mycology there, Daniel Stuntz. While, at least as I understand it, these mushrooms were not originally native to this area, they have become quite common around universities, libraries, government buildings and other landscaped areas. And hunter beware: While some people would caution against any consumption — which is, of course, illegal — at least be aware that these sometimes intermingle with deadly Gallerinas, so if you’re not absolutely sure, don’t put it in your mouth. We tend to be rather attached to our livers and don’t function very well or long, without them.

So before I begin describing some of our easier and more rewarding mushrooms to hunt, a few words of caution. First off, while mushrooms are not really any more likely to be poisonous than plants, some are poisonous, mostly of a sort that will give you gastrointestinal distress, and a very few are quite poisonous and can kill you.

The problem with mushrooms is that most people learn at least a little bit of plant identification as children — enough, say, to recognize a holly’s berries and know they will be deleterious to one’s health, whereas blackberries can only enhance it. Many who can recognize red huckleberries, dandelions, wild onions, hazelnuts and other common wild edibles, know not to eat nightshade or water hemlock and have at least a rudimentary idea of what features might be significant in distinguishing one plants from another. Most of us, however, did not grow up with even this basic background in fungi, and so until we have had time to acquaint ourselves with the mycological world and train our eyes to their identifying features, our abilities to reliably tell one mushroom from another are often rather weak. It’s not that mushrooms are inherently more difficult to distinguish, but that as a culture we tend to be less learned in how to go about this. However, until we have had a chance to hone these skills, it is not a good idea to go sampling mushrooms that you believe resemble those found in guides, or even this article. The first rule or foraging is never to eat anything you haven’t positively identified.

This same precaution applies to people who have learned to hunt mushrooms in one area, and then moved to another. While your skills will do you in good stead, make sure you take a while to familiarize yourself with our native mushrooms, both nourishing and otherwise, before you add them to your diet. The most common cause of mushroom poisoning on the west coast is among immigrants who eat certain (sometimes deadly) Amanita species that are not native to their homelands, not being aware of the need to distinguish them from familiar edible species.

If you want to make a more serious study of mushrooms, there are a number of excellent guidebooks — paramount among which are David Arora’s pocket guide All the Rain Promises (perhaps the best introductory text on mushrooms) and the larger and more hard-core Mushrooms Demystified. Even better, the Puget Sound Mycological Society (www.psms.org) holds monthly meetings throughout the fall, winter and spring and is a good place to learn hands-on identification from experienced mushroomers, among other diversions.

I use the word “mushrooms” here to describe any fleshy fungus, edible, umbrella-shaped or otherwise. The popular term “toadstool” has no particular biological meaning, though it is sometimes used, primarily by those who are not fond of mushrooms, to refer to ones they regard with suspicion. All mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of organisms that live either in ground or in wood or another organic substrate (called “mycelia”) or in symbiosis with plant roots (called “mycorrhizia”). The most recognizable mushrooms have the umbrella shape we are accustomed to from the grocery store, consisting of a stem and a cap, the underside of the cap having either gills (as do the more common cultivated varieties) or pores (mushrooms with pores look as if the underside of the cap is made out of a porous, spongy material).

Here are a few of my favorite mushrooms, ones that fruit in profusion this area and that are, if not foolproof at least (to steal a phrase from David Arora) reasonably intelligence-proof. Again, I do not expect this listing to replace a guidebook or trained identification, but I hope it might be a good place to start informal investigations. (If in doubt, if you have found a field of beautiful mushrooms that you can not identify on your own and yet cannot in conscience ignore, drop me a note at tylik@eskimo.com, and I’ll try either to help you or refer you to someone both local and qualified.)

Fairy Ring Mushroom (Marasmius oriedes)

This is one of the most common ring-forming lawn mushrooms, and a great favorite among pagans for its folkloric associations. (Do not, however, assume that all ring-forming lawn mushrooms are edible — many circles of mycelia will fruit along the perimeter, forming rings. Nor does the fairy ring mushroom always form rings.) This mushroom is an opportunist, meaning that it will fruit spring and fall, often several times a season, as long as the conditions are right. (Mostly, it awaits sufficient moisture.) The mushroom world has given us a great variety of hard-to-differentiate “little brown mushrooms” (known as LBMs), many of which most mushroomers do not bother with, but this one is worth knowing, as it is not only common but tasty, with a light, delicate flavor that goes particularly well with lemon and the gentler alliums.

This cream- to buff-colored mushroom stands only two to three inches tall, with a cap usually about one inch across in diameter at maturity. Its gills are straight, evenly spaced, do not fork or split and have light-colored spores. The cap often has a hump in the middle, giving it a bit of the appearance of a hat at maturity. The stem is fibrous and not particularly appetizing. The entire mushroom dries very easily and reconstitutes quickly after being soaked in water. Collecting mushrooms from a circle will encourage the underground mycelia to produce more, just as collecting beans results in more beans, and so can be done without fear of damaging the organism.

Boletes and Cousins

Boletes are plump, fleshy mushrooms with spongy pores on the undersides of their caps rather than gills. This is the clan of the Porcini, one of the most highly prized of all edible mushrooms. The clan breaks down into three families, Boletus, the true boletes; Suillus, the slippery jack; and the Lecinums, a family that includes the birch boletes and other fine edibles.

The basic rule of thumb given for boletes is that they are safe to eat if their pores are yellow or white, and neither the pores nor the stem are red, or stain blue when bruised. However, while this rule of thumb will take you fairly far and is the reason boletes have a reputation for being a safe family, it is not entirely reliable. Better by far to get a proper identification book and key out each mushroom completely.

If the “bolete” you find has a notably slippery or, if drier, sticky surface, it is a slippery jack. (Also, slippery jacks tend to but don’t always have larger pores that are often radially arranged.) Slippery jacks are among our most common boletes, and if they are not among the most prized, the edibles among them can be fine despite their tendency towards sliminess.

If the “bolete” you find does not have a sticky or slippery cap, has closely packed pores and a smooth stem, you have found a true bolete. Not all true boletes are edible, but many of those that are are choice, so it may well be worth your while to properly identify it. However, be warned that we are not the only creatures who like to eat boletes, so keep a close eye our for insect infestations and slug damage. Boletes age quickly and aren’t worth collecting past their prime, though they dry very well if you find yourself in possession of a large quantity.

If your bolete is again without a slippery or sticky cap, but the stem has a dark webbing that looks rather like the cheek of a dark-haired, fair-skinned man who has not shaved for a day or two, it is a Leccinum. While this family is not generally as highly prized as some of the true boletes, some of them are quite tasty and very common in this area, especially growing in association with birch trees. These, too, dry very well, though they rather oddly turn black in the drying process.

Chicken of the Woods

This is a shelf mushroom, rather like the hard, white-bottomed artists’ conks one finds growing off the sides of trees. However, chicken of the woods is one of those mushrooms that is easy to recognize because it looks like nothing else on this earth. Softer than a woody conk, growing in ruffled shelves on the sides of trees and dead wood, chicken of the woods is an amazing day-glow orange on top, and a paler yellow underneath. When young and tender, it can be delectable, having a flavor and texture very similar to that of chicken, though it requires a long cooking. Older specimens tend to be tougher and sour, though this can, at least in part, be remedied through long cooking and careful seasonings. This mushroom is often available during the fall at the Pike Place Market.

As with most mushrooms, even once you have positively identified it you shouldn’t have a large serving if you haven’t eaten it before, because some people have unpleasant reactions even to mushrooms that are generally edible.

Chantrelles

For many, the chantrelle, golden and shaped like the mouth of a trumpet turned upward toward the sky, is the prince of the wild mushrooms. (However, there is another mushroom named “the prince” that is a large, almond-scented relative of the grocery store agaric and not in the least related to the chantrelle.) Chantrelles are forest mushrooms, growing from mycorhizia. They are most easily identified by their thick, veined gills, which stand out as rounded ridges rather than the knife-edges of true gills. In our area, both the white and gold chantrelles are fairly common, though only the gold is hunted in large numbers for the commercial trade. Personally, I like the white at least as well. There are also more fragile black and blue varieties.

Not all native chantrelles are edible, there being a common inedible variety that is feathered across the surface of the cap. If in doubt, e-mail me and I’ll help resolve the problem for only a tithe.

Shaggy Manes

Shaggy manes are another opportunist, and another mushroom commonly found in parks, on lawns and other haphazard locations. These look like tall, white eggs, standing on end, usually in grassy areas or on ground that has been disturbed in the last few years. On closer investigation, you will find these fragile, white mushrooms have hollow stems and a long gilled cap covered with delicate feathery white shags that almost completely hides the stem. As they age, the bottom edge of the cap begins to turn pink, and then dark, and finally dissolves to black liquid. This liquid is essentially the same as giving the shaggy mane’s buff-colored cousins, the inky caps, their name. It is dark brown, and thinned with water does indeed make a fine ink, well-suited to magickal use. In fact, collecting shaggy manes and inky caps for ink might be one of the safest ways to embark on mushroom hunting.

Oyster Mushrooms

These days, many people are familiar with this white to grayish-buff wood-growing mushroom, since it is widely cultivated and available (for a fancy price) from most grocery stores. There are actually a great many varieties of oyster mushrooms, and they are common growing on trees and dead wood throughout this region. These are tender, gilled mushrooms that grow in shelf-like lobes with either no discernible stem or a stem off to one side rather than centered, as is the case with most familiar mushrooms. They fruit spring and fall, as conditions permit. In fact, a distinction is made between “angel wings” and “oyster” mushrooms, the former whiter and more delicate than the latter. However, both cook up well.

Happy mushroom hunting!

Categories: Daily Posts, The Sabbats | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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