Monday, August 30, 2010

puffball fail

On one of our recent mountain trips, we found a few giant puffball mushrooms. The specimens we found weren't very large, but ranged in size from that of a lop-sided softball to perhaps a Nerf (tm) football.

Our finds might have actually been a type of sculpted puffball (calvatia sculpta) or Western giant puffballs, but all of the true puffballs are edible, many described as "delicious". Those that we picked were the few that we found that were still quite firm. Puffballs are that family of mushrooms that, as a kid, you used to find in the yard all brown and wizened and that exploded into powder when kicked. The "powder" is spores and the big guys produce "bilyuns and bilyuns".

We took a pair of the smaller specimens and, following the recommendation of a couple of different books and many websites, sliced them, dredged the slices in beaten egg and then in bread crumbs seasoned with salt, pepper, parsley, and grated Parmesan cheese, and fried 'em.


These were ok. The crust was nice and the mushrooms slices had a texture that was most nearly that of good tofu (positing the existence of such a thing)- nearly creamy yet slightly firm. However, there was a bit of a chemical aftertaste that was odd and not really pleasant. A generous splash of siriracha took care of that, but then all you could taste was the hot sauce.

Undaunted, we essayed a variation of a recipe that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall described as "one of the most spectacular and satisfying wild food recipes I have ever cooked".

We took a larger puffball, sliced off the top, then hollowed it out for stuffing.

For that stuffing, we sweated some onion and carrot, then sauteed some chopped porcini and the chopped center portion of the puffball, browned a bit of pheasant, added fresh sage and parsley, deglazed with white wine, then mixed all together along with enough breadcrumbs to get a good texture. This we filled the 'shroom with, placing the excess in a baking dish to go alongside.

The puffball itself was wrapped in buttered foil (for support) and then baked for a good long while in a medium oven. After an hour, you could smell something from the kitchen. Something good, underlain with a vile, chemical, chlorine sort of scent. The latter strengthened.

Looks good, right?

It was not. The pervasive chemical note rendered it inedible (at least, for those not starving). The stuffing from the baking dish was ok, but still had a faint whiff of the high school chemistry lab about it.

Puffballs are described as inedible when old or soft, but these were firm and white inside. In "Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America", Fischer and Bessette describe the giant puffball as having a "delicate taste and texture" that is "truly unique and wonderful". We've eaten some puffballs before that were ok, if unexceptional (in other words, pretty flavorless). Maybe we found some growing on the wrong mountain or something. However, what with ceps in them thar hills, I'll be hard pressed to try another puffball anytime soon.

Friday, August 27, 2010

History as You Travel

Henry Chappell has recently returned to Home Range. From reading his recent posts, I turned to his blog roll and read up on Wyman Meinzer's blog. There, Meinzer has a photo essay of scenes from the Texas plains paired with excerpts from the journals of hunters, travelers, and pioneers of the nineteenth century describing the spot.

Blasting down an interstate at 75 mph, it is awfully easy to miss or forget the challenge presented to the folks who shaped the lands you're crossing. Even on foot, it can be hard to realize how different a stretch of country felt a hundred years ago, just two overlapping lifetimes. Witness Ecorover's collection of photos of abandoned cabins in the wilder country around Butte, Montana. Designated wilderness areas can be an exception to this, in that they're likely to have been unpopulated, high, harsh, or remote all along, thus qualifying for wilderness designation.

Hiking the Pecos high country, I'm nearly always reminded of reading the books of Elliot Barker, who came to New Mexico in a covered wagon and, son of a homesteader, trapped some of the last grizzly bears out of the Pecos before becoming a game warden, head of the state Game Department, then carrying on trail rides well into the age of jet travel. Barker wrote about many of those experiences. Years (now nearly decades) ago, I was taking a short backpack into the Pecos Wilderness and, on Hamilton Mesa, ran into a Portales rancher horsepacking in with his two young sons for a muzzleloader deer hunt. The trail was level and wide, they had a couple of pack horses and one of the boys was on a pony, so I was able to keep up for a couple of miles while we compared experiences up there. I was quickly asked if I'd read Barker and, having answered "yes", our talk turned to the books and the adventured recounted therein, along with the places described in them that we'd seen. You could see the boys nearly shivering thinking about the huge silver bears up in the dark spruce, gone some seventy years before.

Check out Meinzer's great essay.

Monday, August 23, 2010

near the end

As Steve Bodio has recently noted, we're getting right to the cusp of fall here in the higher parts of the Southwest. Recently, A and I decided to hit some more high country and look for mushrooms and, having had some success nearby, headed further north and quite a bit higher. We were hoping for lobster mushrooms or chanterelles, both no-shows. However, we did find the Rocky Mountain variant of boletus edulis, the king bolete. Sporting a nice dark mahogany colored cap, the kings were up quite high and were remarkably free of fly larvae compared to the kings and barowsii we'd found further south a couple of weeks ago.

Interestingly, the mushrooms were also much more heavily browsed. Lot of stems eaten off at ground level by somethings much bigger than squirrels. My money's on elk.

We found most of the 'shrooms back up under spruce.

The best ones were up high. How high? Pretty high-

Even big ceps were free of bugs, making the long drive worthwhile. Along the way we saw turkeys, deer, antelope, and a coyote that was lying in the sun some hundred yards down a scree slope. I'd stuck my head over the ridge and was scanning for elk when A walked up.

She asked "Isn't that an animal down by that little green patch?" Said patch being about two hundred yards below, I'd noted the light colored spot and dismissed it as a bleached stump, for no critter would hold still with me moving around so near. A asked me for the binos, claiming the "stump" had moved it's head. About the time I got them to her, the stump, a big 'yote, got up out of it's sunny day bed and loped for cover. Huh.

The country felt like fall. No real attempt at afternoon thundershowers, skunk cabbage and some ferns going brown and gold, coolness to the air and the sky turning a more pale blue. I kept thinking about grouse and bird hunting.

Still, on the way out, big shaggymanes had popped up in the bar ditch and shone in the headlights. We left them, having all the ceps we wanted to handle.

Fall is nigh. Stand by!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Richard Thompson was in town this last week and we managed to catch his show, which was a second time for me. The first of his shows was amazing, this one just as good. One of the best shows you'll ever see, just RT up there with an acoustic guitar, voice, and forty years or so of fantastic songwriting. Thompson's songs tend to address the darker side of love and life, but he actually rocks pretty hard for a guy who's frequently described as a folky. As I've mentioned before, he'll occasionally cover something surprising, too.

Looking at his tour dates, I see that he's going to be up in the NorthEastern US for a bit, then he'll come back through and hit San Francisco, Salt Lake, Boulder, Tulsa, Dallas and Austin in October. Those October shows won't be solo, but if you find him near your town on a day you aren't already committed to a hunting or fishing trip, I highly recommend making the effort to catch him.

From the YouTube, a recording (not mine, from a different performance) of the song he opened with:

and of his cover of The Who's "Substitute" (also not mine and not in NM) but which is the song he ended with the other night:

Friday, August 13, 2010

Seasonal mark

We generally make a couple of homemade pizzas once a week, usually on Monday night. The variations are driven by our garden, freezer, and pantry and are pretty much endless. Particular favorites are smoked salmon, caramelized onion, and feta or bacon (homemade), basil, and tomato, or bacon and green chile, or Swiss chard (lots, and finely sliced), feta, and black olives with lots of garlic in the sauce. One pizza that gets in the rotation as soon as ingredients are available and that I particularly look forward to is the classic Pizza Margherita. Simple, but, with fresh tomatoes from the garden and fresh basil, perfect in its simplicity. Early last week we had enough tomatoes for our first. Most years, the ingredients are on hand by early or maybe mid-July, but this is an odd year for the garden.

Just for fun, here's a new try- a half and half pizza with oyster mushrooms on one side and cauliflower mushroom on the other. Oyster mushrooms are an old favorite of mine on pizza, but these large wild oysters gave better coverage and a particularly nice flavor. Not the best use of cauliflower mushroom though, as the garlic & cheese combined to overwhelm most of the nuance of its more delicate flavor. Earthy pizza-

The green chile stands are setting up and starting to perfume the air, a sure sign that the season is getting ready to turn. Although fall is always best, I'm not sure I'm quite there yet. I haven't gotten my pizza margherita fix yet.

Friday, August 06, 2010

fungus on the brain

Just for fun, here are some other mushrooms we've found recently and were able to identify. These were not for eating but interesting to look at and included Amanita muscaria (fly agaric):

Gomphus floccosus
("Scaly vase chanterelle" which, despite it's name and appealing appearance, isn't recommended for eating):

and Pholiota squarrosa ("scaly pholiota"):

One thing about keying-out species that you're pretty sure aren't edible or that you aren't interested in eating is that the process of going through identifying characteristics and figuring out exactly what you're looking at makes identifying the edibles a lot easier and more certain. That said, we still run into lots of fungi that we can't figure out.

Monday, August 02, 2010

It's Good to (have) King

King Bolete, that is. Boletus edulis and, mostly, Boletus barrowsii.

After last week's outing, we figured to head up to the same area in northern NM and see what another few days of rain had brought up, mushroom wise. After a long hike finding not much, A spotted a pair of big king boletes growing right out of the shoulder of the dirt road. After running into some (inedible but spectacular) clitocybes (clitocybe candida),

we started finding more boletes, both the kings and the barrowsii. King boletes:

You can see why they're called that:

Probably no surprise to experienced mushroom hunters, these big guys were bug hotels. Nonetheless, we ended the day with a nice batch of porcini gathered mostly just road hunting. Spotting a big one from the road, then pulling off and searching the immediate area to find younger, more prime for eating specimens.

In fact, the day was so good that shortly thereafter we gathered up friend Matt and headed out for another day of mushrooming. Just a little time had made a big difference. Some of the big guys had really moved past their "best by" date:

However, once we got to looking, we started finding the white boletes almost immediately, scattered and in small bunches.

Mixed in were lots of slippery jacks (not picked), aspen boletes and a few Satan's boletes to keep us on our toes.

We're pretty sure this is a Satan's bolete:

Not something to eat, anyway.

Aspen boletes (Leccinum fibrillosum):

Here's Booker the Chessie wondering what the big deal is about some fungus, right next to another (and our largest to date) cauliflower mushroom, one of two that we found that day.

Here's another cauliflower mushroom that some woodland creature, I'm betting elk, got to first:

We saw evidence of big boletes being browsed similarly. Squirrels and mice just nibble:

Nice eating size, unnibbled, porcini buttons:

We gathered quite a lot, not knowing when we'll get back up or how long the kings will last, then got home and processed until midnight. The dehydrator filled up in no time, moving us to field expedient measures:

Porcini- they're what's for breakfast: