Archive for 2010

Mushroom Identification Guides

Certainly there are thousands of mushroom guides from which to choose, but I thought I’d start by giving an overview of my early impressions of the following guides, all of which I received for my birthday from family and friends after my discovery of a big puffball sparked this recent obsession with mushroom hunting. At present, my foraging grounds generally include forested and above-treeline locales in the Rocky Mountains near Fairplay, Colorado.

51NWGFEJAWL. SL160  Mushroom Identification Guides

Mushrooms of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mountains by Vera Stucky Evenson with the Denver Botanic Gardens (1997, left), an out-of-print guide that Gregg bought me from Boulder Book Store through Amazon. (Incidentally, Amazon was selling the book for $128 to $215 yesterday, but they’re down to $25 now, so get it while the gettin’s good!) The book is tall, skinny, and colorful, with a pretty matte finish and good picture identifications. I’ve used it along with the others for all of my recent identifications, and I find much useful information therein. My only critique is some inconsistency in listing common names (sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t), which became important to me after I attended a local mushroom hike and the leader relied heavily on common names.

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The Morel of this Story

stinkhorn phallus 224x350 The Morel of this Story

A stinky stinkhorn, Phallus species.

The morel of this story was cause for much excitement upon our arrival in Fort Collins, Colorado, yesterday afternoon. I came prepared, my mushroom identification guides in my backpack, in the hopes that the recent rains and warmer temperatures down in Fort Collins would result in some fungus growth. Sure enough, when I asked Wendy if she’d seen any mushrooms around, she replied that there were, in fact, mushrooms growing right in the backyard. 

I rushed outside to find one last mushroom amidst the deep grass and dog poops in her tiny, yet lush, backyard. And it was a morel! I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d never found a morel before, but there are several varieties and they all have distinctive, honeycombed caps and are supposed to be “choice” wild edibles. Gregg was a little turned off by the presence of poop but I assured him I’d wash (even though I understand you aren’t supposed to wash wild mushrooms) and paper-towel it clean, scraping off any dirty parts with a knife. 

A couple of days have passed since the last rain, so the honeycombed cap was starting to decay into brownish goo—but no matter, I’d just eat the stem this time. So I plucked the funny mushroom and showed it to Gregg and Wendy, grinning from ear to ear.  Read the rest of this entry

Shaggy Mane Out of Nowhere

shaggy mane october 350x217 Shaggy Mane Out of Nowhere

A shaggy mane soldier who fought his way through roadpack, only to be plucked by me.

In mid-August I found a big puffball up on Pennsylvania Mountain and it ushered in a new addiction in the realm of wild edible plants—mushrooms!    

My eyes suddenly opened to a whole new world of fungus, I began to discover mushrooms everywhere, only to find out later from an article in the Denver Post (“MAD about mushrooms: A foray for fungi”) that owing to the heat and constant rains we had in July and August, this has been one of the best mushroom seasons in Colorado history.    

Too bad I had to go away during the height of it. I traveled to Los Angeles for a wedding and then to Burning Man in the Nevada desert (where there are no plants), coming home just in time for my birthday, for which I received five wonderful mushroom identification books as gifts—but the earth was dry as a bone and the mushrooms gone. Talk about bad timing.   Read the rest of this entry

Sorrel on the Mountain

colorado mountain sorrel october 350x263 Sorrel on the Mountain

Mountain sorrel growing in a steep, dry creek bed in October.

We found a healthy colony of mountain sorrel in a steep, rocky, dry creek bed above 11,000 feet this afternoon—another great discovery in an area that was starting to feel like we’d traveled it in its entirety and identified the last remaining wild edible plant therein. But today, after adding a quick scramble through the Bristlecone pines on a hillside above the mining road to an above tree line shelf, then traversing right and finding our way back down through the talus, we came upon a narrow creek bed with many small patches of mountain sorrel growing in it.

Mountain sorrel is the common name for Oxyria digyna. Like wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta, O. violacea) and even commercial spinach, Oxyria digyna contains oxalates, which should not be consumed in large doses. I’ve eaten wood sorrel plenty of times, but the mountain sorrel of Colorado (not to be confused with the low, three-hearted leaves of the mountain sorrel you find in Vermont, or upstate New York) had for the most part eluded me.  Read the rest of this entry

dandelion clover spinach salad 350x262 Dandelion Spinach Salad with Red Cabbage and Clover Petals

Dandelion spinach salad with red clover petals and red cabbage, delicious!

Ok, I can’t stop myself—I must boast about yet another rousing success with these delicious fall dandelions I keep finding up on the mountainside. Whereas I served the last batch finely chopped in a yummy marinated salad, I served these latest dandelion greens chopped coarsely and fresh-tossed with baby spinach, red cabbage, red clovers, and a delicious soy-based homemade dressing. Gregg was very impressed.  

Without further ado, then, here is the recipe: 

Salad Ingredients:

  • Baby spinach greens
  • Dandelion greens and leaf stems, coarsely chopped
  • Red cabbage, coarsely chopped
  • Red clover flowers, finely chopped

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Wild Rosehip Candy Spread

wild rosehip candy spread 268x350 Wild Rosehip Candy Spread

Wild rosehip candy spread.

It was supposed to be wild rosehip jelly, but it came out more like candy spread. Dip a knife into it and the goo remains attached by a long, sticky strand, and when you serve yourself some “jelly” and then put it away and take it back out again, it’s all settled back down like no one had ever touched it. Oh well. It still tastes good. The funny thing is that this is the first time in my short jelly-making career that I tried to follow an official recipe—and look where it got me!   

Rosehips are the “hips,” or swollen bases, of wild rose flowers (Rosa species), as explained by Connie and Arnold Krochmal in A Naturalist’s Guide to Cooking with Wild Plants (1974). They were used to make tarts, jellies, and jams by medieval Europeans.   

I don’t recall the first time I heard that rosehips were well-suited for jelly-making, but the memory has been with me a long time. I remember looking longingly at the big, fat rosehips on the Rhode Island shore where I vacationed with my family as a child, but never being daring enough to taste them, let alone attempt to make jelly out of them.  Read the rest of this entry

Two Variations on Marinated Dandelion Salad

marinated dandelion salad asian 350x301 Two Variations on Marinated Dandelion Salad

Marinated dandelion salad option 1 involves soy sauce.

Not to go overboard on the fall dandelions or anything, but last night’s fresh marinated dandelion salads came out so good and were so fast and easy to make that I figured I’d write up a short post about them. The recipes start out the same and then it is simply a matter of picking one sauce or the other depending on the recipe you’re going for. 


  • 1.5 cups dandelion greens or thereabouts
  • 1.5 cups red cabbage or thereabouts
  • 1 medium onion
  • Soy sauce (option 1)
  • French dressing (option 2)

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Fall Foraging in the Colorado High Country

gooseberry currant co 260x350 Fall Foraging in the Colorado High Country

Tart purple gooseberry on a spiny bush.

We had a great hike on Pennsylvania Mountain near our house in the Colorado high country yesterday afternoon. My intention was just to go for a short jaunt because we both have non-wild-edible-plants-related work to get done. So we headed up to one of our usual spots—an old mining road that starts where the county road ends. I brought pint containers just in case we found some late-fruiting currants—which we did, but not until the hike’s dénouement, like some sort of juicy pot of red gold at the end of the rainbow, because it was definitely a rainbow of a hike.

Starting out I was a little on edge because it occurred to me we should have worn orange on account of hunting season, but then we found a few currants hanging off bushes in the valley shade and my mood improved, even though we only found enough to whet our appetites for more.  Read the rest of this entry

Expectorating with Sticky Gumweed

sticky gumweed buds 350x266 Expectorating with Sticky Gumweed

Sticky gumweed buds look like cups full of resin.

Sticky gumweed is so distinctive; it’s difficult not to notice when it’s blooming, which in the Colorado foothills ranges from late July through early September. 

Also known as curly-cup gumweed or curly gumweed, both the “sticky” and the “gumweed” descriptors in these common names for Grindelia squarrosa refer to the gooey resin on the upper parts of the plant. The buds present as cups of the sticky white stuff, while the flowers sit atop “overlapping rows of backward-curling, sticky involucral bracts,” as Plants of the Rocky Mountains (Kershaw, et. al., 1998) describes them. It is in the resin that Grindelia’s medicinal properties reside. 

Collecting Grindelia buds and flowers is a sure way to get covered with the stuff; fortunately, the resin has a delicious sweet smell to it. Wildcrafter Ryan Drum describes even previous years’ desiccating flowering gumweed stalks as having “a faint wonderful odor of vague incense.” He cautions against letting fresh buds and flowers heat up too much during the collection process, and recommends the use of well-ventilated paper bags for doing so. Read the rest of this entry

Jellies and Jams, My Currant Obsession

wild black currants 350x262 Jellies and Jams, My Currant Obsession

Wild black currants with distinctive Ribes leaves.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I absolutely love making jellies and jams!  

Mind you, this is a complete about-face from how I felt about them yesterday, especially after Gregg read aloud the brochure that came inside the box of MCP pectin and it said we had to “Measure ingredients exactly” because “ALTERING RECIPES or INGREDIENTS could cause a set failure” (the caps are MCP’s emphasis) while I was failing to get my first-ever jam to set. I felt like Julie Powell about to throw a fit over a Julia Child recipe gone wrong. What do you mean I have to measure the ingredients exactly? I near wailed as one nervous boyfriend tried his best to disappear into the background.

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