Foraging for Mushrooms in the Maine Woods

A couple years ago, I got interested in finding edible wild mushrooms. I never imagined how addictive foraging can be, but the bug bit, and it bit hard, not only for me, but the hubby as well. When we’re in the woods, we spend as much time searching for mushrooms and trying to identify them, as we look for critter sign.

I started out finding the “easy” ones and found them behind my house. Lobster mushrooms were one of the first. Lobster mushrooms are bright orange and ugly. I have slowly been learning different mushrooms, and verifying my finds before ever considering putting anything in my mouth. Lobster mushrooms have a weird texture and although they supposedly have a lobster taste, I didn’t like them.

 

We’ve also found loads of Chaga mushroom. Chaga has lots of medicinal properties and makes a wonderful tea after you grind it. It’s more like wood than mushroom, and you can’t saute it and throw it on a burger. However, it’s highly prized and sought after, and I have a load of it. Having a husband who cuts trees all day has proved to be advantageous in finding Chaga.

IMG_20160229_180040597
Biggest piece of chaga ever scored…15 pounds and it’s only half of it!

I’ve also found Reishi, but haven’t tried it. I’ve heard you can cook it on the barbecue, but it’s most often used in tinctures as a medicinal supplement…hence, I recognize it, but I haven’t used it.IMG_20160717_121857252

Once I starting being able to identify mushrooms, I expanded my search to oysters. Oyster mushrooms vary during different times of the season, but spring oysters are easy to find because of the anise-like smell they have, and they grow distinctly on popular trees. I prefer fall oysters to the taste of spring oysters. Fall oysters seem dryer, and more like the mushrooms bought in the store.

IMG_20161203_075113430
Fall oysters found in the fall while deer hunting.

The real addiction came when we found Chanterelle mushrooms. Chanterelles are said to be one of the most tasty wild mushrooms, and I can’t agree more. No matter how they are cooked, they are delicious! They are easy to spot since they are bright yellow in the woods, but their look-a-like Jack-o-lantern mushrooms are extremely poisonous and should not be confused with Chanterelles. There is also a Scaly Vase Chanterelle and False Chanterelles that some mistake as the good one. False chanterelles tend to be more orange-brown and the stems are different and it’s toxic…so it’s very important to make sure you know what you’re picking. Click here for more pictures and more information on chanterelles compared to look-a-likes

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mushroom season is just kicking off. I follow Maine Mushrooms on Facebook and have learned a lot of information from other mushroom foragers. I also have a book on mushroom identification I keep handy.

In particular, this is morel season. Morels are said to be mostly in the southern Maine and the coast, so the last thing I ever expected to find was a morel north of Waterville, Maine. But I did. I scored big! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d find a morel. You have to be almost on top of one to not miss it. They are easy to miss since they blend in so well. It’s not a mushroom you can spot from far away. I was lucky and found one standing all by itself on the side of a logging road. Hubby and I decided to really hunt and we found several more. We went over the same area where we initially found them, and found a few more we had missed the first time!

Morels have to be cooked. I chose to coat mine in flour and saute them. I only cooked half of them so I could try them just sauteed. The bigger ones had more flavor, and I can say I like them as much as chanterelles! I’m ready to go find more!

Still on my bucket list: Trumpets, Chicken of the Woods, and Hen of the woods, which I’ve never found any of them, and Bolettes, which I’ve found plenty but have yet to feel comfortable enough to eat one.

Foraging for mushrooms is a lot of fun and is a great way to spend time in the woods when you can’t fish or hunt. Hopefully I’ll be back with more tales of my foraging.

Spring Mud Makes Maple Syrup

Spring is a season that I can’t wait to be over. March brings on mud season. I hate mud. I don’t want to walk in it, drive in it or have it in my house. It’s usually too gross to be in the woods once the snow is gone, but until the snow goes, it’s prime maple sapping time.

John started making maple syrup a few years ago to spend time with our oldest son. This soon became a time spent with the youngest son (pictured above). Now it’s my turn. This is the first year that I’ve helped put taps in the trees and checked on the sap buckets, and helped with the boiling process. I’m learning a lot even though I’ve been a spectator for many years. We don’t have a lot of fancy equipment or complicated setups; just some pails, tree taps and nails to hang the bucket.

Before the season even began, John found a couple dead maples to cut, split and stack by the fire pit. The fully dry wood makes for a really hot fire. The fire has to be constantly tended so that it stays hot, and the boiling sap watched so that it doesn’t burn.

Maple syrup season begins when it’s freezing at night and warm during the day. The sap will run until there’s no longer a swing in temps from night and day. We’ve only had our taps out for a week and a half, but the first day we got six gallons of sap. Then came a couple fully cold days followed by rain so no sap flowed. Today Maine broke a record and hit 65 degrees. And the sap flowed again.  After collecting sap, John had it the lobster pots and boiling before I even drove in the driveway from work.

In no time, he had boiled down all the sap we had collected today and added it to the sap he had boiled down on Sunday. Once it reaches a small enough amount and is gold honey colored, we bring it inside and finish the boil down process on the stove. Once the syrup reaches a full rolling boil and closes in the center, the syrup is ready to be poured through a filter into a jar.

This part is tricky so not to overfill the filter and not burn yourself. I held the filter and watched for over pour as John poured syrup. We had to alternate the filters because they get plugged with sugar sand or the syrup cools so that it flows slower through the filter. We ended up with a full quart of syrup. This will be great to enjoy at breakfast on Easter and Christmas, hopefully in the company of our kids.

I have a feeling our sap season won’t be long this year. That’s okay, because I just started getting my water alerts for the river levels on the Dead River…and that means fly fishing season will be here soon…hopefully sooner if they ever drop the river. In the meantime, I’ll tolerate the mud with some fly tying, and I’ll enjoy my chaga tea with a little bit of maple syrup. Yum!

IMG_20160309_200640010