Short stemmed Slippery Jack Mushroom

Small cluster of slippery jack's
Small cluster of slippery jack’s

Sometimes you don’t even have to walk into the woods to find interesting mushrooms.  I found these just outside the door at work growing under a small pine tree.  Like many species of the genus Suillus, S. brevipes is edible, and the mushroom is considered choice by some. The odor is mild, and the taste mild or slightly acidic. Field guides typically recommend to remove the slimy cap cuticle, and in older specimens, the tube layer before consumption. Fact of the day: this mushroom is common in the diet of grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park. I have never eaten these or know of anyone that has. Even if I know it is edible I am very cautious of eating a new mushroom.  Even if they are reported as edible there is always  chances for them to react badly with the digestion.  I passed on eating these and am sticking with eating my large amount of Chanterelle and King boletes that I have found so far this year.  But in the interest of adding more mushrooms to my list of potential food I thought I would write about these. Listed below are a some great books that are of use when trying to identify a new mushroom species.

Now some general info on this type of mushroom from wikipedia:

Habitat and distribution: Suillus brevipes grows singly, scattered, or in groups on the ground in late summer and autumn. A common, and sometimes abundant, mushroom, it occurs over most of North America (including Hawaii), south to Mexico, and north to Canada. This species has been found in Puerto Rico growing under planted Pinus caribaea, where it is thought to have been introduced inadvertently from North Carolina by the USDA Forest Service in 1955. Other introductions have also occurred in exotic pine plantations in Argentina, India, New Zealand, Japan, and Taiwan.

Suillus brevipes is a mycorrhizal fungus, and it develops a close symbiotic association with the roots of various tree species, especially pine. The underground mycelia form a sheath around the tree rootlets, and the fungal hyphae penetrate between the cortical cells of the root, forming ectomycorrhizae. In this way, the fungus can supply the tree with minerals, while the tree reciprocates by supplying carbohydrates created by photosynthesis. In nature, it associates with two- and three-needle pines, especially lodgepole and ponderosa pine. Under controlled laboratory conditions, the fungus has been shown to form ectomycorrhizae with ponderosa, lodgepole, loblolly, eastern white, patula, pond, radiata, and red pines. In vitro mycorrhizal associations formed with non-pine species include Pacific madrone, bearberry, western larch, Sitka spruce, and coast Douglas-fir. Fungal growth is inhibited by the presence of high levels of the heavy metals cadmium (350 ppm), lead (200 ppm), and nickel (20 ppm).
During the regrowth of pine trees after disturbance like clearcutting or wildfire, there appears an orderly sequence of mycorrhizal fungi as one species is replaced by another. A study on the ecological succession of ectomycorrhizal fungi in Canadian jack pine forests following wildfire concluded that S. brevipes is a multi-stage fungus. It appears relatively early during tree development; fruit bodies were common in 6-year old tree stands, and the fungus colonized the highest proportion of root tips. The fungus persists throughout the life of the tree, having been found in tree stands that were 41, 65, and 122 years old. There is, however, a relative reduction in the prevalence of the fungus with increasing stand age, which may be attributed to increased competition from other fungi, and a change in habitat brought about by closure of the forest canopy. Generally, S. brevipes responds favorably to silvicultural practices such as thinning and clearcutting. A 1996 study demonstrated that fruit bodies increased in abundance as the severity of disturbance increased. It has been suggested that the thick-walled, wiry rhizomorphs produced by the fungus may serve as an adaptation that helps it to survive and remain viable for a period of time following disturbance.

Not a very large type of bolete. The largest ones I saw were 4 inches at the most across on the cap
Not a very large type of bolete. The largest ones I saw were 4 inches at the most across on the cap

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Foraging for Acorns

I have always wondered what acorns tasted like.  It seems that everywhere you look in the Willamette valley you see oaks trees.  Which is a remanent of the oak savanna that used to exist across the valley years ago.  The most common one in the area is the Oregon white oak.  During my daily lunch walks at work I pass several oaks that are loaded this year with acorns.  On a good year a mature oak can have close to 2000 pounds of acorns on it.  I havent seen any with close to that many on them this year.  So with my handy bucket I picked up a couple of gallons of acorns to experiment with and see how they taste, and how long it takes to process them to eat.  Acorns are high in tannin and cannot be eaten in their raw form.  The tannin makes them very bitter and if you eat them it will bind with proteins and make you constipated.  Which is also why if you get diarrhea while out in the woods you can make a quick up of hot acorn tea and it will bind you back up.

The first you need to do while gathering acorns is to make sure you don’t pick up any with little holes in them.  The holes are caused by the acorn weevil grub.  This hole is not caused by it getting into the nut it is caused by them boring out from the inside.  By the time they get through the shell they have eaten almost the entire nut.  After you have gathered them fill up the bucket with water and remove any that float.  These are the ones that the grub has not broken through on yet.  It will save you from having to open them and then tossing them out. After you have sorted your acorns you can either dry them in the oven at as low a setting as it will do or put them in a dehydrator.  I put mine in the dehydrater at 120 F for 3 days.  This accomplishes two things, the first dry the nut, and the second kills any eggs or grubs that might be inside the nut.  Out of the gallon nuts I have cracked open I only saw three with grubs in them.

There are two main methods for leaching out the tannin that I found after doing a little research.  Well methods that are used today anyway.  There are many ways that have been used by cultures all over the world to leach out the tannin.  The first method is to leach out the tannin in cold water.  Grind up the nuts and put them in a jar with twice the amount of water as you have nuts.  Each day pour off the colored water and refill with clean water.  Depending on the type of acorn that you have will determine the level of tannin in the nut.  The white oak have low tannin levels so will only require 3-5 days to leach out the tannin.  take a pinch of ground nut and taste it to see if it is ready.  You will get a slight bitter taste at first then it will be a bit bland to sweet.  Pour the water and nuts into a cloth lined colander and drain off all the water. After you get all the water out you can dry it out in the oven or a dehydrator.  This method will give you a flour that will bind together and will work great in breads (I have yet to try this)

The second method is to boil the tannin out of the nuts.  This involves using two pots of boiling water to leach out the tannin.  If you put the acorns in cold water at any time after starting the boil it will lock in the tannin and you will never be able to get them out. Bring both pots of water to a boil and add your acorns to one of them.  Boil for 10-15 minutes and drain.  Then pour the acorns into the other pot of boiling water.  Then refill the first pot and bring it back to a boil.  Repeat until you can taste an acorn and don’t taste any more bitterness from the tannin.  For the white oak acorns I had pick it took 4 changes of water to get them to the point that they didn’t taste bitter. Kinda taste like boiled peanuts at this point.  Drain off the water from the last boil and then dry the nuts either in the oven on low or in a dehydrator.  After being dried my acorns were very hard and not really a nut you could just grab a handful and eat.

The first thing i made with my acorns was a batch of trail bars.  I replaced the hazelnuts I normally use for some coarsely ground acorns.  They gave it a different flavor and more of a crunch then the normal.  Once I run the course ground nuts through the coffee grinder I am going to try some in a batch bread and see how they taste.  Homemade bread sounds good anyway.

Shelled raw acorns before they are processed
Shelled raw acorns before they are processed
First boil less then a minute after I dropped the acorns into the water.  The water was almost black.  I saved the water from the first boil to put on my poison oak to dry up the blisters
First boil less than a minute after I dropped the acorns into the water. The water was almost black. I saved the water from the first boil to put on my poison oak to dry up the blisters
Acorns after all the tanning is leached out of them
Acorns after all the tanning is leached out of them
Dried acorns in the grinder getting ready to get a nice course grind
Dried acorns in the grinder getting ready to get a nice coarse grind
ground acorns
Course grind of the acorns made them about the same size as corn grits. For a fine flour they just need to be ran through a coffee grinder

Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium)

This is a great berry to find while hiking anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.  They really do grow nearly everywhere west of the Cascades.  Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) is a species of Vaccinium native to the western North America, where it is common in forests from southeastern Alaska and British Columbia south through western Washington and Oregon to central California. In the Oregon Coast Range, it is the most common Vaccinium. It occurs mostly at low to middle elevations in soil enriched by decaying wood and on rotten logs, from sea level up to 1,820-metre (6,000 ft).  I see it a lot on rotten old growth stumps.  Which usually means it is to high off the ground for me to reach to eat the berry without some climbing and gymnastic.

Ripe huckleberries out in the sun along a powerlin cutting in the coast range
Ripe huckleberries out in the sun along a powerline cutting in the coast range

Indigenous people’s found the plant and its fruit very useful. The bright red, acidic berries were used extensively for food throughout the year. Fresh berries were eaten in large quantities, or used for fish bait because of the slight resemblance to salmon eggs. And yes this does work.  I used to do it in Alaska when I was younger to catch Dolly Varden.  Berries were also dried for later use. Dried berries were stewed and made into sauces, or mixed with salmon spawn and oil and eaten at winter feasts. The bark of the plant was used as a cold remedy thanks to the therapeutic acid called quinic acid. The leaves were made into tea or smoked. The branches were used as brooms, and the twigs were used to fasten western skunk cabbage leaves into berry baskets. Huckleberries make a good jelly, or can be eaten as dried fruit or tea.

fairly large bush with quite a few berries on it
fairly large bush with quite a few berries on it

Current uses: Red huckleberries are edible and widely used today for pies, jams, jellies, and are frozen or canned. A wine can be made from the fruit. Red huckleberries are quite tart, so some people prefer the blue huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum). The berries can be dried, mashed, or pressed for juice. The leaves can be used fresh or dried to make tea. Red huckleberry makes an attractive and versatile ornamental. Sometimes, the branches are used for floral arrangements. It takes a lot of berries to make some of these so gather as much as you can.

Huckleberry jam (this recipe is from a book published from the Siuslaw National park in the 1970’s)

  • 6 cups crushed huckleberries
  • 1 pkg powdered pectin
  • 8 cups sugar
  • 9 1/2 pint jars

Wash and drain berries then crush.  Put the 6 cups of berries into a 6 quart pan. Stir in pectin and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Add sugar, stir until mixture comes to a boil then boil exactly 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and skim. Place in jars and process.

 

Spring time Dandelion uses

Dandelion boardering the yard.
Dandelion bordering the yard.

Spring is a season of renewal and new beginnings.  All of the trees break out in bright green growth as the leaves unfurl from their winter sleep.  Ahh the joys of spring, I can go on and on about it.  It is by far my favorite time of the year.  One of the great things about spring is if you like to forage and try some of the bounty of nature you can get many delicious greens.

The easiest one for anyone to find is what many people consider an annoying weed.  The common dandelion is the easiest of all edibles to find.  The plant is native to Eurasia, but was brought by settlers as a hardy green to grow and eat.  Dandelions are found on all continents and have been gathered since prehistory, but the varieties cultivated for consumption are mainly native to Eurasia. A perennial plant, its leaves will grow back if the tap root is left intact. To make leaves more palatable, they are often blanched to remove bitterness.  The bitterness is mostly in the leaves late in the growing season when water starts getting in short supply.  In the spring it is only mildly bitter and makes a great addition to salads.  I am actually thinking of growing them on purpose. Every part of the plant can be used for something.

The flower petals, along with other ingredients, are used to make dandelion wine. This is very very strong, but also very good. The ground, roasted roots can be used as a caffeine-free dandelion coffee. I add mine to roasted chicory root for a tasty coffee alternative.   Dandelion was also traditionally used to make the traditional British soft drink dandelion and burdock, and is one of the ingredients of root beer. Also, Dandelions were once delicacies eaten by the Victorian gentry mostly in salads and sandwiches. Dandelions leaves contain abundant vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C and K, and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron and manganese.

They grow everywhere.  Even in the cracks in the walkway
They grow everywhere. Even in the cracks in the walkway

Roasted dandelion root is a simple thing to make if you are interested in trying to do it yourself.  First gather up a dozen or so plants with as much of the root attached as you can get.  The two-year old plant will have a nice large root on it.  Remember to save the leaves and any flowers for a nice salad or to add to a sandwich. Cut the individual roots into 1-inch sections and cover with water. White sap will leach from the roots causing the water to cloud. Agitate the roots with your hands to remove any remaining soil and to remove the sap. Pour off the water and repeat the process until the water is clear. If you skip this step you will have a much more bitter tea.  Process the roots in a food processor until they are coarsely chopped.  Spread a 1/2-inch layer of chopped dandelion roots on a cookie sheet, and set the oven at 250 degrees, leaving the oven door open a crack to allow moisture to evaporate. Roast the dandelion roots for 2 hours or until the roots are the color of coffee grounds. Stir the dandelion roots every 15 to 20 minutes to allow them to dry evenly. Remove from the oven when the roots are the color of ground coffee. Allow to cool and store in glass jars. You can further grind them with a coffee grinder, but if you don’t have one, that’s okay too, as they can be used as is.

Dandelion root has long been known for its healing and medicinal effects. It has long been thought that dandelion root is a liver tonic, and can be used to detox the body of toxins; however, research does not support this at this time. I wish they would do more studies on medicinal herbs. What dandelion root can do for you is treat digestive disorders and constipation, and stimulate appetite. Those taking insulin or medication to reduce blood sugar levels and those taking diuretics or lithium should consult their physician before consuming dandelion root. The root has a mild diuretic effect when consumed (as does the coffee you are using it to replace). Otherwise, the herb is considered safe for human consumption.

Hedgehog mushrooms (Hydnum repandum)

hydnum_repandumbk-01

This is a great winter mushroom to start finding at this time of year.  It is nearly the same coloration as the yellow Chanterelle just much shorter (there are always exceptions).  Generally you find these mushrooms growing alone with others close by, usually a couple feet away.   Hedgehogs are one of the great mushroom to dehydrate.  After dehydrating they can be used crumbled into soups and stews to give them a unique flavor.  This is one of the mushrooms I like to use when I make my wild mushroom soup. It gives a great creamy texture if you can make the soup with at least a third of the mushrooms being used as hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs are usually found under conifers and occasionally under mixed deciduous trees.  South facing slopes in the coast range will give you the highest chances to find them.  The hedgehog mushroom forms a symbiotic relationship with the trees it grows around. This means that if you find a patch of hedgehog mushrooms you can return year after year for a reliable picking to eat. For this reason, many mushroom hunters will not say where they found this delicious mushrooms, to prevent poaching. It is an excellent choice along with Golden Chanterelles and Yellow foot Chanterelles for an inexperienced mushroom hunter, but the identification should always be verified by someone with more experience and education before eating.

hedgehog-mushroom

Some great reference books:

All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms by David Arora (smaller pocket guide that is excellent to use)

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms (National Audubon Society Field Guides) (all inclusive but fairly large)

There are also several E-books that can be found on Kindle unlimited

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