Botanical Paper Not Intended for Consumption

mullein cutout 262x350 Botanical Paper Not Intended for Consumption

Mullein inspires short Photoshop diversion.

A few weeks ago I received a kindly offer of homemade botanical paper from a mullein-loving kindred spirit who uses it to flavor her paper. How could I say no to that? 

When the paper arrived I was charmed thrice over—first by the thought, then by the lovely 4” x 4” pieces of mullein paper themselves, and finally, by the message regarding the messages the “Papers of Intent” are intended to convey. 

They are handmade by Stefanie Kompathoum aka Oakmother for “prayers, wishes, contracts, affirmations, ritual, ceremony, and when you want your words to carry special meaning.” The paper is made of 100% post consumer recycled content and is packaged in biodegradable materials, so that sounds like pretty good karma to me. 

This particular batch is mullein-flavored—since what we connected over in the first place was mullein (Verbascum thapsis)—one warm and fuzzy mullein celebration in particular. 

“Take courage with mullein,” the label states. It “protects from wild animals, evils spirits, negativity and nightmares.” (This is excellent timing, as the evening news in addition to Gregg’s absence have me obsessively locking the doors in this deep, dark forest where I live; plus I’m afraid of wild animals too—specifically, Henry, the bear, destroying the bird feeders while I sleep.)  Read the rest of this entry

wild strawberries 350x289 Wild Mushroom Mission Leads to Strawberries, Flowers

Worth the effort. Wild strawberry photo by Gregg Davis.

Today, after about six hours of early-morning work on other projects, I headed out excitedly and somewhat anxiously to find a few of those wonderful, glorious mushrooms that have been popping up with all this rain.

We found some yesterday after our Summit County errands, stopping on our way back to Fairplay at a forested spot a friend recommended. Mushrooms were everywhere, albeit mostly past their prime or covered in poo (I exaggerate but I did step in one awful steaming pile of green/yellow grass-filled poo, heaven forbid), but we felt nonetheless like kids in a candy store, finding huge Leccinums, bright yellow-capped and large red-capped Suillus, and puffballs amidst the trees. (Thanks for the tip, Miller!) We didn’t harvest any to eat there, but it was good intel on the potential. Read the rest of this entry

Albatrellus Confluens Conference

Albatrellus confluens2 350x262 Albatrellus Confluens Conference

Albatrellus confluens under huckleberries at 11,000 feet.

There’s a funny mushroom growing all over the conifer forest behind our house at 11,000 feet above Fairplay, Colorado. It is light pink/peach in color, similar to a white person’s flesh, but cracked on the surface, like an overworked foot. As this mushroom ages, a green mold takes hold amidst the cracks and on the surface and the mushroom itself gets firm and tough.   

Does this sound appetizing? Because we’ve been really excited about eating this mushroom lately. 

An Albatrellus a Day 

The mushroom is Albatrellus confluens. Vera Stucky Evenson describes it in similar terms to mine but without the human body part analogies in Mushrooms of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mountains (1997). A former name for the same mushroom is Polyporus confluens, according to Michael Kuo (2007) at Read the rest of this entry

cow parsnip carpet 262x350 My Definition of a Good Day: Cow Parsnip for Breakfast, Dinner and Dessert

A cow parsnip carpet far as the feet could walk.

I woke up yesterday morning and cooked my very first quiche, in which the principal ingredient was—you guessed it—cow parsnip! We had it for breakfast; we had the leftovers for dinner; and then we had cow parsnip candy sticks for dessert. For me, there is simply no getting tired of cow parsnip.

I tell my friend Butter that I’m learning to cook through wild edible plants, and not the other way around. She uses fancy cooking words like “duxelle” and “frittata,” meanwhile I’m clutching my head and she has the nerve to say that she eschews recipes. OMG if I didn’t have the recipes I’d be lost! Of course I usually can’t be bothered with measuring cups and most of my “principal ingredients” are not in cookbooks anyway, but a little guidance is always good for discovering, for example, that eggs are important to quiches.

Cow Parsnip Quiche

The quiche-for-breakfast idea came up as I was trying to think of a way to serve Gregg the king bolete (Boletus edulis) that Butter and I found on our first outing together, by the roadside, after searching for them unsuccessfully on foot for several hours. That was also, incidentally, when I gathered all of the wonderful cow parsnip that now fills my refrigerator.  Read the rest of this entry

Slippery Jack on My Breakfast Plate

slippery mushroom 350x262 Slippery Jack on My Breakfast Plate

Not so slippery after all!

Okay so our second attempt to identify the little harbinger of mushroom season growing in the forest outside the house, about which I wrote on July 23, was the better one— as our little guy was a slippery jack (Suillus brevipes) and not a baby king bolete (Boletus edulis) as Gregg had hopefully surmised. 

Still, who am I to poo-poo a slippery jack? They’re tasty—a fact we discovered last season after we got up the guts to taste one we’d spent several days watching. 

Just Enough Info to Steer You Wrong 

Identifying characteristics for Suillus brevipes, which is in the Boletaceae family along with Boletus edulis, include a cap that is “brownish, becoming ochre-brown with age; glutinous, smooth, shiny when dry; cuticle peels easily,” says Vera Stucky Evenson in Mushrooms of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mountains (1997). She describes the underside of the cap, which has pores as opposed to gills, as containing tubes that are “pale yellow, dingy olivaceous at maturity…not staining.” (Some mushrooms, when you cut them, stain a particular color, but not Suillus brevipes.) The stalk is “white, becoming yellowish.”  Read the rest of this entry

A Puffball at 12,000 Feet

puffball halved 350x295 A Puffball at 12,000 Feet

Puffball, halved to reveal white gleba but sterile base starting to go yellow-brown. Photo by Gregg Davis.

Not everyone is so enthralled by puffball mushrooms. Well, by the size, maybe—for accounts of huge Calvatia boonianas and their proud finders grace newspapers perhaps more than any other mushroom, says Vera Stucky Evenson in Mushrooms of Colorado (1997), a publication of the Denver Botanic Gardens. But the taste, some opine, is nothing to write home about. 

“I took one to dinner tonight, and one of my friends wasn’t impressed,” Butter wrote to me yesterday at 2:00 a.m. “Puffballs don’t have the strongest taste, but they are nice, and I really enjoy their texture.” Of course, she would—as would I, wild edible plants enthusiasts that we are. But to the distinguished palette? Are they worth the effort? 

Success with puffballs may lie in the preparation method, for while some mushrooms are so flavorful that they constitute a meal or side dish in and of themselves, other might be better suited to, say, a cream sauce—which is how Gregg and I inevitably eat our puffballs.  Read the rest of this entry

Do Thistle Flowers Make Good Artichokes?

thistle flower buds 350x262 Do Thistle Flowers Make Good Artichokes?

A bowl of assorted immature thistle flowers.

I couldn’t help myself. I had to take the thistle experiment one step further, having recently discovered the relationship between thistles and commercially-grown artichokes, which I love and miss from my years in California where they are both plentiful and cheap. 

The thistle crown of my previous experiment was artichoke-like enough to please me immensely, such that even though Thayer (The Forager’s Harvest, 2006) says it is hardly worth one’s time to “peel the bristly bracts from the outside of a thistle flower bud (well before flowering time) and expose a tiny, tender, delicious, artichoke-like heart,” I had to try it anyway.

It was a crime of opportunity, really—the “crime” being the theft of the thistle buds from the plants and also from the ants, who were swarmed upon many of them, and the opportunity being our recent foraging trip to Golden, Colorado, where the thistles were big and readily available. Because of the ants we selected our experimental buds carefully, taking six in total— four that I think were musk or nodding thistle (Carduus nutans) and two which I believe were Cirsiums.  Read the rest of this entry

Paean for a Mushroom Prophecy Come True

first mushroom 350x262 Paean for a Mushroom Prophecy Come True

The little muschroom guy who's growing outside our house. Photo by Gregg Davis.

I received a happy email regarding mushrooms this morning from a new friend, who predicted they would be popping up near us in the Colorado High Country within the week. She herself has already found a bolete and some oyster mushrooms and was newly back from foraging giant puffballs in Golden yesterday—all of which of course make me quite envious. 

“You should have great access to Boletus edulis,” she wrote, because “they like it high,” followed by this happy rant: “Omg, I can’t even contain my excitement over mushroom season this year. I want soooo badly to collect enough to dry for the winter, so that I can continue to eat mostly wild then. I’ve been canning and freezing all along the way, but darn it, mushrooms! Yummy savory mushrooms for stew and sauce and gravy! Can you imagine that during January! Holy heck.” 

Mushroom Prediction Inspires Yarn 

I told Gregg about Butterpoweredbike’s prediction while we were in the back yard this morning, though honestly I remained doubtful, thinking the ground was too dry. “No it’s kind of damp,” Gregg said, pressing on the dry dirt to the sponginess below, before re-embarking on his oft-repeated tale of how, last summer while I was away, he found “so many” mushrooms in the forest by the house, including quite possibly a Boletus edulis, and that he has the pictures to prove it. But then—and here’s the exciting finale—“The animals stole them!” Read the rest of this entry

Tale of a Golden Foraging Opportunity

golden colorado hillside 254x350 Tale of a Golden Foraging Opportunity

Forager on a Golden hillside. Photo by Gregg Davis.

On our way home from Denver last Friday, Gregg and I made a detour up Golden Gate Canyon Road to check out a 93-acre ranch that Marilyn, who I met when she commented on a post, invited us to forage. (Actually, truth be told, I invited myself and she was generous enough to accept.) The canyon is breathtaking and so was her land, 93 acres of very steep hillside accessed by a potentially gnarly dirt road and then slowly through the cattle gate to where her family’s oasis is nestled.

She gave us a quick tour of the property, pointing out all the wild edible plants (even though I though that was my job), and then directed us up the hill. “Make a good hike of it,” she said, sending us on our way. 

Well, a “good hike” it certainly was—straight up, up, up, between the rocks, through the scrub, baking in the hot sun—and this after just completing three hours of skate camp in Highlands Ranch, also in the hot sun. So, for the first half of the hike (read: the up part), I was sweating profusely and frustrated with myself for my lack of excitement about the adventure, as I’d looked forward to it the entire week prior. It was all I could do to collect a few edibles while Gregg took photos. “We’ll come back when we’re less tired,” I said, trying to justify my attitude.  

But then, near the top of the hill in a ditch right before the well, something wonderful happened that snapped me right out of it: Gregg stuck his hand right into a patch of stinging nettles!  Read the rest of this entry

A Reflection on the Providence of Apples

bag of apples 262x350 A Reflection on the Providence of Apples

One of four bags of apples we collected.

The apple was born wild in Kazakhstan, Michael Pollan explains in The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, in which he examines the relationship between four plants—tulips, apples, potatoes, and marijuana—and people, exploring how each of these plants has proliferated and evolved in the service of satisfying human desires. In the case of the apple, that desire was for sweetness. 

Apples gone wild in the U.S. have their origins first in Kazakhstan, followed much later by the famous Johnny (Chapman) Appleseed, who traveled broadly here, planting apples from seeds and with them the genetic diversity necessary for this humble fruit to adapt to life in the New World. 

One “problem” in planting apples from seeds, however, is that you essentially get wild-edible bearing trees out them (which of course does not bother me)—for the seed of one perfect apple does not a perfect apple tree produce. Instead, an unpredictable tree sprouts, one that is often too “wild” (read: producing small, blemished, and/or gnarled fruit) to make the perfect apple of a grocery store display. Among many, many seedlings, one tree might produce a good strain of apples—an event which Pollan explains to have been cause for much celebration back in the day.  Read the rest of this entry

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