Are Salal berries edible? Why yes they are!

As summer hits it’s midpoint it is time to get ready for late summer berries. One of my favorites to forage for locally is salal berries.  This native plant to the Pacific Northwest is usually seen in flower arrangements as decorating leaves. The leaves are thick and waxy and make a great color addition to flower arrangements everywhere.  This plant is also a relative of the blueberry and produces a delicious berry.  I eat it fresh and have used it to make wine and jam. The high pectine content of the berries does require some extra help to make a wine.  Otherwise it will almost gel like a jam.

Its dark blue “berries” (actually swollen sepals like a blueberry) and young leaves are both edible, and are an effective appetite suppressant. Salal berries were a significant food resource for native people, who both ate them fresh and dried them into cakes. They were also used as a sweetener, and the Haida used them to thicken salmon eggs. The leaves of the plant were also sometimes used to flavor fish soup. More recently, Salal berries are used locally in jams, preserves and pies.  They are often combined with Oregon-grape because the tartness of the latter is partially masked by the mild sweetness of Salal.  There is so much naturally occurring pectin in the berry that when you make jam you do not need to add any to make it jell up.  The jam is so dark that it is almost black in color.  

The berries grow in rows along a main stem.
The berries grow in rows along a main stem.

Salal occurs in such high numbers that the chance of seeing plants on a hike anywhere west of the Cascades in Oregon is almost guarantied. This year I intend to pick enough that I can try to make at least a gallon of wine out of them.  But even if I don’t they are a good addition to yogurt throughout the year if you freeze them.  Or a dark jam to add to yogurt.  Have I ever mentioned I love yogurt?  

The plants can be found from Northern California up into southeast Alaska.  If it is in the that area there is some around.  The flavor of the berry changes depending on the soil conditions.  If you find a spot where they taste great remember to go back year after year for them.  

Flowers and unripe berries
Flowers and a mix of ripe and unripe berries

The plant itself also has been used for medicinal purposes. Salal leaf has a long history as a medicine for wounds, coughs, colds and digestive problems.  The Klallam, Bella Coola and Quileute People have chewed salal leaves, and spit them on burns and sores.  The Samish and Swinomish People have used the leaves for coughs and tuberculosis, while the Quinault People have used them for diarrhea and flu-like symptoms.  Herbalist, Michael Moore mirrors Northwest Native People’s uses of salal in Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West when he says that, “The tea is astringent and anti-inflammatory, both locally to the throat and upper intestinal mucosa, and through the bloodstream, to the urinary tract, sinuses and lungs.” 

If you are ever in the mood to try a unique flavored berry I highly recommend salal as a delicious one.  As my normal word of warning if you are not 100% sure of what you are eating do not eat it!  

Some useful books on foraging and using medicinal herbs in the area:

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Yellow Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)

One of the first mushrooms of the fall is the delicious Yellow Chanterelle. A week or two after the first heavy fall rain small little yellow buttons will start appearing throughout the forest. Since this time of year coincides with hunting season in Oregon it is best for anyone out in the forest picking mushrooms to be wearing bright colors so they are not mistaken for a deer. This has always been one of my personal favorite mushrooms to look for, and is one of the easiest to find. But with every mushroom unless you are 100% certain of what you are picking DO NOT EAT IT! Now for a little about this treasure of the forest.

Since I love using Wikipedia for info here is a little bit of history and uses for this tasty treat:

“Though records of chanterelles being eaten date back to the 1500’s, they first gained widespread recognition as a culinary delicacy with the spreading influence of French cuisine in the 1700’s, where they began appearing in palace kitchens. For many years, they remained notable for being served at the tables of nobility. Nowadays, the usage of chanterelles in the kitchen is common throughout Europe and North America. In 1836, the Swedish mycologist Elias Fries considered the chanterelle “as one of the most important and best edible mushrooms.”

Chanterelles as a group are generally described as being rich in flavor, with a distinctive taste and aroma difficult to characterize. Some species have a fruity odor, others a more woody, earthy fragrance, and others still can even be considered spicy. The golden chanterelle is perhaps the most sought-after and flavorful chanterelle, and many chefs consider it on the same short list of gourmet fungi as truffles and morels. It therefore tends to command a high price in both restaurants and specialty store.”

Over the years I have dried, canned, pickled, and sautéed chanterelles in as many recipes as I can. Other mushrooms might be stronger flavored or different tasting, but this one is the easiest to find in large quantities. There are always several small stands of mushroom buyers around that will pay by the pound for these if you want to put in the time to find large amounts. The only thing about selling them that I never liked is that there is a subspecies of chanterelle that are white that the buyers will never take. I can’t tell any difference in taste between the two so that means more for me to enjoy. On a successful day I have found 20+ lbs of yellow chanterelles with only a few hours of searching.

When picking a patch of chanterelles it is best to cut them off at the base with a sharp knife. Pulling them out of the ground can damage the fungal matt that is under the ground. By cutting them you can get several crops out of the same location until the first hard frost hits under the forest canopy. Also alway remember to leave a few mushrooms in a patch so that they can continue to reproduce and produce even more in the years ahead.

For more detailed information please check out this link to the full Wikipedia article. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chanterelle

Some of my favorite recipes:

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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A winter day fishing on Tahkenitch lake

Early morning gloomy day  to start out the day.  It never cleared up on us.
Early morning gloomy day to start out the day. It never cleared up on us.

Today was the day to test out the old Aluminium boat that I had donated to me.  This should make the lakes more easily fished.  I don’t mind fishing from shore, but the big fish just seem to be out reach of my cast.  With all of the reservoirs drawn down for winter the only open lakes I could think of that might have some fish biting was the lakes on the mid-coast. So off we went to Takenitch lake.  The lake was a bit on the murky side when we got there.  The two inches of rain that fell Saturday probably had something to do with that.  We trolled from the boat launch up one of the arms of the lake and only had one bite the entire way.  Thinking that the murk in the water was making trout fishing a bit of a wash out we anchored off in a cove and did a bit of casting.  And once more not a bite.  So to kill some time and maybe catch a catfish we finally opted to use worms on the bottom.  After another 15 minutes of only a single bite we were getting ready to call it a day and I finally got a bite and reeled in a 13 inch cutthroat trout.  After 5 hours of fishing we got one fish!  It may have been a long slow day on the lake but it was a good check of the boat and motors.  No leaks on the boat which is good considering that it had been sitting in the woods for 7 years.  It will need a paint job soon since a lot of paint is flaking.  The electric trolling motor worked great.  It had a lot more power than we thought it would.  The little 2hp gas motor worked well even though it doesn’t go very fast.  A little bit of a stutter to it every 30 seconds or so after it warmed up.  Going to have to check the oil mix ratio.  Might need to add a little more oil to the recommended mix to stop it from doing it.  It was more annoying then anything else.  I now have one fish in the freezer for 2014.  Just need to catch a few more and it will be fish fry time. The boat opens up a lot more fishing areas for us now.  And I can teach Katy to fish a bit easier.

Jeremy and his day glow rain gear.
Jeremy and his day glow rain gear.

The pole that wasn't catching anything most of the day.
The pole that wasn’t catching anything most of the day.

Both of decided to do a panorama at the same time.
Both of us decided to do a panorama at the same time.

the weird world of Coral mushrooms

Every year when I walk through the woods I see these odd shapes that remind me of a coral reef.  Oregon is home to several different species of coral mushrooms and are well worth a minute to stop and look at them. So far on my journeys I have seen white, yellow, red, and purple corals growing in the coast range.  There are several edible species of coral, but I have never picked or eaten any. Supposedly they are great to eat and some species are sold in markets. But with most mushrooms there are also some poisonous species.  I don’t know anyone that has eaten them so I am most likely not going to try them.  They are very common anywhere in the coast range so if you step off the road into the trees you are likely to find them.  I snapped a couple pictures when I was looking for chanterelles.

yellow coral
A whitish-yellow coral. It was fairly large

A peach colored coral mushroom
A peach colored coral 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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Lobster mushrooms

Strange looking mushroom but very tasty.
Strange looking mushroom but very tasty.

While wandering around the woods for chanterelles we came across several Lobster mushrooms.  Why is it called a lobster mushroom you ask?  It is because it is the color of a cooked lobster with the faint taste of seafood when you eat it.  A lobster mushroom is not truly a mushroom, but is a parasitic ascomycete that grows on mushrooms, turning them a reddish-orange color that resembles the outer shell of a cooked lobster. It colonizes members of the genera Lactarius (Milk-caps) and Russula, such as Russula brevipes and Lactarius piperatus in North America. At maturity,it completely covers its host mushroom, rendering it unidentifiable. Lobster mushrooms are widely eaten and enjoyed; they are commercially marketed and are commonly found in some large grocery stores ( I have never seen them sold anywhere around here though). They have a seafood-like flavor and a firm, dense texture. According to some, they may taste somewhat spicy if the host mushroom is an acrid Lactarius.  Even though the outer part is red the interior is a dense hard white color.  unfortunately the ones that I found were too old to eat and had already started to have bugs eat them.  But it is nice to find them so I can go back to the same location and look for them again.

Lobster mushrooms have a velvety texture when sautéed, not unlike cooked lobster, and their succulent meat hints pleasantly at seafood. Processing one can be a chore: Lobster mushrooms collect more than their share of dirt on a cap riddled with nooks and crannies. Don’t be afraid to scrub them hard, and then dice them up and saute with a little butter, cream and cognac to make a colorful duxelles.

Lobster mushroom just breaking the surface of the forest floor
Lobster mushroom just breaking the surface of the forest floor

Siuslaw river

River with fall colors
River with fall colors

One of my favorite rivers for all seasons is the Siuslaw River in western part of Oregon.  The Siuslaw River is nearly 110 miles long.  It drains an area of approximately 773 square miles in the Central Oregon Coast Range.

steep banks in places make for some interesting tree shapes
steep banks in places make for some interesting tree shapes

The river has historically been a spawning ground for Chinook and Coho salmon. And at one time was the only river in Oregon that had a higher return of salmon was the Columbia.  Although the Chinook population is substantial, Coho numbers have declined from an annual average of 209,000 fish between 1889 and 1896 to just over 3,000 fish between 1990 and 1995. Since the early 1990’s the Coho have slowly been increasing in number, but they still have a long ways to go before returning to historic numbers.  The estuary of the river is surrounded by extensive wetlands that are a significant habitat for migratory birds along the coast.  It is one of the very few Western Oregon Rivers where all major forks are undammed.

There are lots of boulders throughout the lower river
There are lots of boulders throughout the lower river

During the summer months the river is a great place to swim and get away from the high heat of the Willamette valley.  Even though the water can be very low there are many deep holes throughout the length of the river that can easily be over 10 feet deep.  Also during the summer there a many crawfish that call the river home that can be easily collected and eaten.  We made a crayfish alfredo one year that was wonderful.  After the first heavy rains of fall the Chinook and Coho will start running up the river to their spawning grounds.  Fishing is currently open for salmon until the middle of November.  But always check online for updates and changes to the season and catch quota.  As you move into winter and spring a very large run of Steelhead will run up the river.  Most of them are hatchery fish that only go up as far as Whittaker creek.

River just below the edge of tidewater
River just below the edge of tidewater

The drive along the river is a beautiful one no matter what time of year you go.  Enjoy the beauty of the coastal valleys and sample some of the fares of the wilderness.

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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A visit to Face Rock Creamery

On our trip to Bandon for Staci’s birthday I was able to squeeze in a trip to the newly opened cheese factory that is at the site of the original Bandon cheese factory that was bought out by Tillamook cheese factory years ago. My grandparents used to take my sister and I to the original one for cheese curds.  Ahhh the memories of tasty cheddar curds.

Face rockThere are several varieties of cheese that they make that is available with samples to try before you purchase

  • Grand Opening Cheddar
  • “In Your Face” Spicy 3-Pepper Cheddar
  • Vampire Slayer Garlic Cheddar
  • Monterey Jack
  • “Face Rockn’ Jack” Pepper Jack,
  • “Black Jack” Monterey Jack with black olives and garlic
  • Fromage Blanc in various flavors

All three varieties of cheddar are also available as curds.  I picked up a bag of the 3-pepper and a bag of the garlic cheddar.  Both were delicious.  It is a great place to explore and taste test.  If you are in the area i recommend stopping to taste.  Their web site has a lot of information on the history of cheesemaking in the area

Cases full of wonderful cheese
Cases full of wonderful cheese

Cleaning up after cheese making it looks like
Cleaning up after cheese making it looks like

Curds!!!!!!!
Curds!!!!!!!

Silver creek south falls and lower south falls

Silver creek has a total of 10 falls inside the state park.  The trail of 10 falls is a mild 8.7 mile loop with only 600 ft elevation change.  Next time I go I would like to do the entire loop.  For this trip we only hiked the first two falls.  It would have been a bit difficult once we got to the stair to take the strollers down to the base of lower south falls.  The first 2 falls are an easy two-mile hike down and back that is very easy for children.

South falls as you hit the first fork in the path
South falls as you hit the first fork in the path

Getting There: From Interstate 5 exit 253 in Salem, drive 10 miles east on North Santiam Highway 22, turn left at a sign for Silver Falls Park, and follow Highway 214 for 16 miles to the park entrance sign at South Falls.

The short hike: From the South Falls Picnic Area C parking lot, follow a broad path downstream a few hundred yards to historic Silver Falls Lodge, built by Civilian Conservation Corps crews in 1940. After inspecting this rustic stone-and-log building, continue a few hundred yards to an overlook of 177-foot South Falls. From here take a paved trail to the right. Then switch back down into the canyon and behind South Falls.

A few hundred yards beyond South Falls is a junction at a scenic footbridge. Don’t cross the bridge unless you’re truly tired, because that route merely returns to the car. Instead take the unpaved path along the creek. This path eventually switchbacks down and behind Lower South Falls’ broad, 93-foot cascade.

The creek in between the two falls
The creek in between the two falls

My sister on a log that crosses the creek
My sister on a log that crosses the creek

The lower south falls near the base of the staircase
The lower south falls near the base of the staircase

Both of the first two falls have a path that goes behind the waterfalls
Both of the first two falls have a path that goes behind the waterfalls

 

 

 

Elk Creek trail #3510 into the Mink lake basin

Me at the 4 mile mark hiking in to the Mink lake basin
Me at the 4 mile mark hiking in to the Mink lake basin

A journey for my birthday this year.  Our original goal was to hike all the way into mink lake.  But we only made it to Junction lake before we collapsed from exhaustion.  Next time we will start from a different starting point. There are a lot of mosquitoes in this area so bring lots of bug repellent

  • Trail name: Elk Creek Trail #3510
  • Distance: 7.6 miles to Junction Lake
  • elevation gain: 2000 ft  (2950 to 4970)
  • Difficulty: Difficult

Directions:
From Blue River proceed east for 4 miles on Hwy 126, turn right on Rd 19 (Cougar Dam) and continue for 22 miles, turn left onto Rd 1964 for 2.7 miles, then turn left onto Rd 456 to Elk Creek trailhead ½ mile.

Trail map in reverse direction but it shows the trail well
Trail map in reverse direction but it shows the trail well

The first three miles of the path up from the parking area are the most brutal of this climb.  1600 foot climb in just under three miles.  Well it was brutal for the two of us.  We got passed by a group up near the three mile mark and it didn’t even look like they had even broke a sweat.  After reaching the top of the plataeu the path is mostly small rolling hills for the rest of the way in.

Start of the path up the steep part


The end of the hill climb is in sight

 

Most of the path is flat the rest of the way as it alternates between central oregon dry and western Cascade forests
Most of the path is flat the rest of the way as it alternates between central Oregon dry and western Cascade forests
Mink lake sign
Mink lake sign

Just past the five mile mark you will reach a trail crossing the path.  The intersection has a well marked sign on what is each direction.  The trail to Mink lake is on the northern trail (turn left)

The first lake you come to is Rock lake.  There are no fish in the lake, but it is a nice spot to stop and take a break.
The first lake you come to is Rock lake. There are no fish in the lake, but it is a nice spot to stop and take a break.
Our camping spot for the day ended up being Junction lake
Our camping spot for the day ended up being Junction lake

By the time we made it to Junction lake we were barely moving still.  In hindsight doing a eight mile hike as our first backpacking trip was probably not my best idea.  But it was a good measure of how good of shape we are in and how far we still need to improve.  For me losing a bit more weight will make a big difference. By my 40th birthday next year I want to be in good enough shape to hike up to the top of South Sister mountain.  Which is a 11.5 mile round trip with a 4900 foot elevation climb. There are supposed to be Cutthroat and Rainbow trout in Junction Lake, but we did’t have any bite or see any raising to the surface.  We were on the shallower side of the lake so the fishing might be better around the back of the lake.  We were just to tired to walk around to the other side.

Friendly giant toad we found in the mountains
Friendly giant toad we found in the mountains
Morning on Junction Lake
Early morning camp

Day trips and hiking places in Oregon

Several great books for the local areas

Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon: A Guide to the State’s Best Waterfall Hikes

Day Hiking Bend & Central Oregon: Mount Jefferson/ Sisters/ Cascade Lakes

100 Hikes / Travel Guide: Central Oregon Cascades

100 Hikes / Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range

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