Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How One Thing Leads To Another...

Saturday was a day chock full of overlapping errands, interconnected tasks and nested interruptions—a typical Saturday, made more hectic and frazzled by the expectation of company’s arrival in the coming week.
But certain things cannot be ignored, and the irrepressible enthusiasm of a house-bound dog who believes a walk on a sunny afternoon is imminent ranks high on that list. At one point mid-afternoon, we set our cleaning and other projects aside to take Carrie and Schroeder out for a brief walk, if for no other reason than to calm Carrie down a bit.
We set out down the gravel driveway for the usual round of peeing and sniffing (Schroeder marks, Carrie examines). As we dawdled into the pine woods—where much sniffing was required—we could not help but notice the pine litter everywhere erupting with mushrooms. The piney ground was an undulating carpet, where the pine needles were pushed up and aside by countless clusters of tan mushrooms.
They looked like ‘short stacks’ scattered through the woods—mysterious little clumps of glossy golden brown discs, some perfectly round, others missing a chunk here and there, where some woodland creature had nibbled on them. They were beautiful, and looked utterly benign in the afternoon light.
But the mystery of the mushrooms did not concern the dogs, so we pushed on through the pines, and down the lane, and wound our way back to the house and the chores and cleaning and errands, stopping to chat with the neighbors along the way. But later that afternoon, as the shadows lengthened and the evening light cooled, we revisited the pine grove, guidebook in hand.
Kneeling in the cool fragrant litter with sample mushroom in one hand and taxonomic key in the other, we carefully worked our way through the key, learning proper mushroom nomenclature, mushroom physiology and making a few false starts before tracing our way to a definitive identification: Dentinum Repandum, (also known as Hyndum Repandum, sometimes called 'Hedgehog mushroom' for its teeth on the underside of the cap)—an edible mushroom!

The 'Hedgehog' is our fourth foray into the world of wild fungi: a massive sheepshead mushroom in Pennsylvania decades ago, a solitary morel in Arlington, and another solitary morel a few years ago here.
We picked a handful, marveling at their oddly sticky surface and beautiful coloration. They became the centerpiece of our dinner, sautéed lightly in butter and folded into the center of an omelette made with a handful of the day’s newly gathered eggs. The mushrooms were delicious, delicate and tender, with a mild, subtle yet distinctive flavor.
We survived the night without ill effect, and returned Sunday evening to pick a small basketful. Some of those became part of Tuesday’s dinner, along with fresh pesto and braised carrots; with luck, we will dry enough of the bountiful crop to supply us through the winter. We even recommended some to our neighbors, who were trusting (or bold) enough to take us up on the offer—though, now that I think of it, I haven't heard from them since...
There’s something pleasingly…empowering…about trusting your land and your judgment enough to identify wild mushrooms. I'm very happy we did this; I hope we continue making discoveries like this.

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