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Mosquitoes and mushrooms. September 13, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, pets, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. We’ve been having quite a late-summer experience here in scenic PA: our first-ever earthquake, followed in quick succession by seemingly endless drenchings from two hurricanes. Thanks, Mother Nature! We realize that you’re not too happy with the human species at the moment, given all the outrages we’ve been perpetrating on the rest of creation. But here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and I do our best to live responsibly and sustainably. Please don’t take it out on us!

Two results of this super-wet August/September weather are an out-of-control mosquito population and an amazing bloom of mushrooms in our yard. OFB and I can’t even take our black German shepherd Shiloh outside without all three of us becoming coated with mosquitoes. (I’ve neglected to mention the headlines about the notorious mosquito-borne West Nile virus turning up again in PA to OFB; we’ve got enough to deal with around here.) So far, at least, none of us have turned up with suspicious symptoms, and hopefully a week of dry weather coupled with nights in the mid-40s at week’s end will bring the hateful little wretches under some semblance of control.

As for the mushrooms, yesterday I noticed what appeared to be piles of downed branches covered with dried russet-orange leaves at the far side of the backyard. We’re always playing pick-up sticks here in our heavily wooded yard, but this struck me as a bit off, since OFB had been diligent about picking up the fallen limbs from the storms and there hadn’t been much in the way of wind lately. Oh well, I thought, taking Shiloh out for a bathroom break this afternoon, I’ll just pick these up and toss them in our fire pit.

Imagine my astonishment when I went over and saw huge, glorious mounds of russet-orange mushrooms! Visions of a mushroom feast danced in my head. But I knew I had to check into this before serving up a mound of sauteed mushrooms for supper. OFB’s great-great uncle had been poisoned and subsequently died after feasting on wild mushrooms at a very ritzy restaurant in 1890s Edwardian London; I had no interest in the two of us following in his ill-fated if illustrious footsteps.

Heading back to the house, I pulled Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America: A Field-to-Kitchen Guide (David W. Fischer and Alan E. Bessette, University of Texas Press, 2004) off the shelf. Eureka! The first edible wild mushrooms described and shown were the delicious chanterelles. The cinnabar-red chanterelle, Cantharellus cinnabarinus, was described as reddish orange, less than 2 inches wide and high, and fruiting from midsummer through midfall in eastern North America. The flavor of chanterelles was described as rich, fruity, and aromatic, prized by gourmets in the same category as truffles. Yowie! I could hardly wait to get out there with my trusty Victorinox paring knife and a big bowl.  

However. In the “Similar Species” section was the poisonous Jack O’Lantern mushroom, Omphalotus illudens. Found throughout eastern North America and fruiting in clusters on deciduous stumps and buried wood from midsummer to late fall, it also has yellowish-orange to orange caps and matures at 2 to 7 inches wide.

Hmmmm. My mushrooms were definitely in clusters, and could very easily be growing on the large underground roots of our backyard maples. Time to head back outside for a definitive ID. Armed with my trusty book, I risked West Nile yet again, crawling face-first as close to the undersides of the mushrooms as I could manage. Well, they sure looked more like the cinnabar chanterelles. None were more than 2 inches wide, most much smaller. The caps attached to slender stalks, not the thick stalks shown for the Jacks. The gills forked at the edge of the caps, as described for cinnabars rather than Jacks. And the gills stopped where the caps met the stems, rather than continuing down the stems for a bit as in the photos of the Jacks.

So am I serving up a couple of plates for supper tonight? Alas, no. Such a coward. I feel like a total foraging failure, passing up this marvelous and unexpected bounty in our own backyard. But what if they really were Jacks after all? While they’re apparently not fatal, the extremely unpleasant and graphic symptoms described in the book, which can malinger for days, would do nothing to endear me to OFB, to say the least. It’s not a chance I want to take without the guidance of a mushroom expert.

Darn! Now I’m all fired up to take a mushroom ID class, since so many of our edible mushrooms are fruiting now. I have a whole crop of other mushrooms springing up beside my shiitake logs under our giant maple. Hmmmm…

Well, all righty then. Readers, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. If you don’t know your mushrooms or have an authority who can tell you good from bad, don’t eat them. Even the extremely distinctive morels have one poisonous lookalike relative. You don’t want to end up like OFB’s great-great uncle! And try to keep those doggone mosquitoes at bay.

           ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

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