Ask Eartha: Stalking wild foods
Dear Eartha, I am an avid hiker and have always been interested in harvesting edibles while in the woods. It is intimidating to start plucking on my own, having been warned by friends about choosing the wrong mushrooms or berries. Do you have any advice on selecting and storing? -Brent, Dillon
There is no denying the lore of the forest and its bounty. Doing your research, learning from someone experienced, and proper identification are must-follow rules when gathering edibles. Late summer is the time of year you can observe raspberries ripening in the Rocky Mountains. The fruit is composed of many fleshy round bodies clustered together. Their prickly bushes can be found throughout most of North America. I remember picking raspberries as a child and anxiously waiting in the kitchen for pies and fresh jelly. Now I enjoy using them as an ingredient in my homemade wine. Chokecherries, prunus virginiana, were a popular edible amongst the Native Americans. There are multiple stories of Native Americans eating the chokecherries raw or drying them for storage. Often the fruit would be ground up while fresh, dried in the sun and made into patties. The chokecherry shrub/tree produces dark purple to sometimes reddish or orange-colored fruits. Some will be dry and sour, while others may be juicy and sweet. It is not recommended to eat them raw, since they often taste a little bitter, and eating too many may disagree with your stomach. Chokecherries taste best when made into wine or jelly. There are a variety of ways to preserve mushrooms. You will want to ensure that your mushrooms are cleaned and free of any pests or signs of disease prior to eating or storing. Drying is a popular method. You can set your mushrooms out on trays, use a drying machine, or decorate your kitchen by stringing them up. The dried mushrooms can be added directly to soups and stews or soaked in lukewarm water (about 20 minutes) for other use in other dishes. Mushrooms can also be salted or pickled for storage. Freezing is recommended more so for prepared dishes. For the best results preserving mushrooms, you should research the preferred method for each specific type you have gathered. The fungal kingdom is estimated to be 1.5 million species deep. According to mushroom field guides, fewer than 5 percent of fungi have been properly documented. Since collecting wild mushrooms successfully is dependent upon being able to correctly identify them; my preferred method of learning is through expert instruction. “Mushrooms of Colorado and The Southern Rocky Mountains” is a wonderful reference on local fungi. Puffball mushrooms are often easily distinguished by their round shape. A rule of thumb is to only eat puffballs when they have firm, white flesh. Amongst those found in Colorado, the Tumbling Puffball, Giant Western Puffball, Gem-Studded Puffball, and Pear-Shaped Puffball are all listed as edible. Boletes have a central stalk and a large cap consisting of many tiny tubes arranged vertically with pores on its underside, rather than gills. The King Bolete, White King Bolete, and Aspen Orange Cap are edible mushrooms in the boletaceae family. The King Bolete is a prized edible mushroom, found in well-drained forests from mid-July to September. You can eat the King Bolete when the white flesh smells pleasant and isn’t stained. You have been ill-advised if you believe pores verse gills are an indicator of toxicity. The White Matsutake (a.k.a. Pine Mushroom) has white gills beneath its white/cinnamon streaked cap. Morels have a cap that looks almost like a sponge. The cap and stem are hollow on the inside. The Yellow Morel and Black Morel are found in spring, and each is edible. To keep you on your toes there are also False Morels (i.e. Conifer False Morel and Snowbank False Morel) that are poisonous. Again, please take caution when picking and tasting wild mushrooms. If you happen to get sick, make sure you take a sample of your mushroom to the doctor for a speedy recovery. Also, don’t underestimate the power of a toxic mushroom! Always talk to you neighbors, there are many locals that have been mushrooming for years that can provide you with samples, tips, and stories. For more on food preservation, HC3 is be hosting a Food Preservation Workshop Series, “Preserve Produce Grandma’s Way,” this September and October at the CMC in Breckenridge – http://www.highcountryconservation.org.Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha firstname.lastname@example.org. Editor’s note: The SDN’s A&E editor Erica Marciniec writes a blog with a lot of great information about wild foods at http://www.wildfoodgirl.com
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