Wild Mushroom Luck Strikes Again

oyster mushrooms magnolia

Ron spotted these oyster mushrooms for me when he was out walking Mikkey. They were a little past their prime, so I trimmed off everything that wasn’t fresh.

This was what I had left after trimming.

This was what I had left after trimming.

Since there wasn't enough to do much with, I added store bought criminis, onion and peppers, sautéed them together, and served them over a fajita bowl. YUMMM!

Since there wasn’t enough to do much with, I added store bought mushrooms, onion and peppers, sautéed them together, and served them over a fajita bowl.
YUMMM!

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How to Make Dandelion Coffee, Cook Poke Salad Shoots & Other Wild Tips

This is the only photo I have left from one of my hiking-foraging trips.  These are ingredients to a lunch soup, which includes oyster mushrooms.

This is the only photo I have left from one of my hiking-foraging trips. These are ingredients to a lunch soup, which includes oyster mushrooms.

A few years back, I was reading an article by Thomas Elpel, author of Botany in a Day and several articles and books on all kinds of primitive skills.  He’s a true master.  But he had attempted to make dandelion coffee, and it didn’t turn out for him and he was disappointed with the results.

The reason is, he had tried to make it in a drip coffee maker.  I thought of writing him and telling him how I do it, but figured he is the expert and I’m just a little hobby forager, so decided to let it go.

Poke salad shoots

Poke salad shoots

The dandelion root coffee that I have made is rich, mellow, smooth, complex and has chocolate undertones.  It’s truly a superb beverage.

The way I did it is to dig the roots with a weed digger. (You probably know that you can’t pull them up!)  Then I scrubbed them, put them on a baking sheet, and put them in a 250 degree oven for 5 hours.  At that point, you break a couple of the roots to make sure they are a rich, dark brown inside.  Then you “grind” them in the blender.

This type of wild lettuce is very mild without a hint of bitterness.

This type of wild lettuce is very mild without a hint of bitterness.

Dandelion roots do not grind properly!  You will end up with some powder and lots of irregularly shaped chunks.

To properly prepare dandelion coffee, you need to use an old time stove top percolator.  But once when I was visiting my sister in Florida, I was going to make some for her but she didn’t have a percolator.  So I took a pot, lined a large sieve with a coffee filter, then added the dandelion coffee, and made sure it was submerged in the water.  I brought the water to a boil, then simmered it until the coffee was the strength I liked.

This is another type of wild lettuce.  It's slightly bitter and is best mixed with other greens.

This is another type of wild lettuce. It’s slightly bitter and is best mixed with other greens.

And that’s how you make real dandelion coffee!  Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of that operation to share with you.  Maybe I’ll do another tutorial with photos in the spring.

Today I’m going to post a lot of photos because this will be my last wild edible post until spring comes.  I plan to not only take photos of wild plants, but show you how I use them.  That will be a lot more useful than just pictures of plants that I’m posting now.

Another wild edible that has been a staple to people during hard times, particularly in the Deep South during the Depression, is poke salad.  Poke salad is a highly nutritious vegetable, but care has to be taken in its preparation.  The poke plant is poisonous.  The roots are deadly poisonous.  But the young shoots, and the leaves while they are a bright, translucent emerald green, are easily treated to remove the toxins, resulting in a safe, healthy edible.

This is called an Indian strawberry.  It is sometimes confused with a wild strawberry.  Its fruits are a dark, cranberry red and its seeds are held out from the fruit on tiny stalks.  It won't hurt you, but it will certainly disappoint you!

This is called an Indian strawberry. It is sometimes confused with a wild strawberry. Its fruits are a dark, cranberry red and its seeds are held out from the fruit on tiny stalks. It won’t hurt you, but it will certainly disappoint you! Unfortunately, it’s very aggressive and is wiping out the wild strawberries in my yard.

To prepare the poke shoots, bring a separate large pot of water to boil.  Fill a smaller pot with some of the boiling water, add the poke shoots, and simmer for 5 minutes.  At that time the cooking water will be reddish and cloudy.  Pour off that water, cover with more boiling water, and cook another 3 minutes.  This time the water will only be slightly cloudy.  Pour that water off, fill the pot with boiling water one more time, and simmer a few more minutes.

At this point, the cooking water will be perfectly clear, assuring you that all the water soluble toxins have been safely removed.  Dip the poke out of the water, discarding the water, and serve with butter and salt.  Do NOT pour cold water over the poke shoots in the pot or you will set, rather than remove, the toxins.

For comparison, here's a real wild strawberry with its scarlet fruit and seeds embedded on the surface of the fruit.

For comparison, here’s a real wild strawberry with its scarlet fruit and seeds embedded on the surface of the fruit.

In spring, I will do a picture tutorial for you.

Delicious raw.  I have found that the purple greenbrier shoots do not have the slightest hint of bitterness like the green ones sometimes do.  I don't know if it's a different variety of greenbrier, or if the new shoots are purple because they are in the shade.  Cooking will toughen these and ruin them unless they are added to a soup at the last minute.

Delicious raw. I have found that the purple greenbrier shoots do not have the slightest hint of bitterness like the green ones sometimes do. I don’t know if it’s a different variety of greenbrier, or if the new shoots are purple because they are in the shade. Cooking will toughen these and ruin them unless they are added to a soup at the last minute. I don’t believe it is a bullbrier (also edible) because the leaf shape is wrong.

Here's a green greenbrier shoot.  Often they are tender and sweet without a hint of bitterness, but sometimes they are a little bitter.  That's great in a salad where you like a contrast of flavors.

Here’s a green greenbrier shoot. Often they are tender and sweet without a hint of bitterness, but sometimes they are a little bitter. That’s great in a salad where you like a contrast of flavors. To pick, break the stem off at the point where it snaps off easily without flexing. The entire stem and leaves are eaten.

Common plantain.  It is edible when the leaves are young and tender before the leave veins get tough.  It can be eaten raw, but I don't like it raw.  I do like it cooked.

Common plantain. It is edible when the leaves are young and tender before the leaf veins get tough. It can be eaten raw, but I don’t like it raw. I do like it cooked.

These are sassafras leaves.  One winter camping trip, a group of us dug us sassafras roots and made a huge stockpot of sassafras tea.  I can't imagine anything more delicious on a cold, winter day.

These are sassafras leaves. One winter camping trip, a group of us dug us sassafras roots and made a huge stockpot of sassafras tea. I can’t imagine anything more delicious on a cold, winter day.

Solomon's Seal.  Note the way the double flowers (and later berries) hang down below this plant.  That distinguishes Solomon's Seal from False Solomon's Seal.  The roots aren't delicious and I have never cooked them long enough to get them tender, but they are a nice addition to a wild edibles soup.

Solomon’s Seal. Note the way the double flowers (and later berries) hang down below this plant. That distinguishes Solomon’s Seal from False Solomon’s Seal. The roots aren’t delicious and I have never cooked them long enough to get them tender, but they are a nice addition to a wild edibles soup.

The birds-nested seeds of wild carrot.  I just love this picture.  If you are new to wild edibles, avoid the carrot family as there are some fatally poisonous members in it.  When they bloom next year, I'll post good photos showing you foolproof ways to identify wild carrot.

The birds-nested seeds of wild carrot. I just love this picture. If you are new to wild edibles, avoid the carrot family as there are some fatally poisonous members in it. When they bloom next year, I’ll post good photos showing you foolproof ways to identify wild carrot.

One more photo of tender greenbrier leaves just because I get such a kick out of picking them and eating them right off the plant.

One more photo of tender greenbrier leaves just because I get such a kick out of picking them and eating them right off the plant.

Playing with Fire & Primitive Skills

My first DIY backpacking stove, built around 2001 or 2002

As much as I dearly love camping in the Casita, at times I truly miss backpacking and primitive camping.

The Pocket Rocket. (image from Amazon)

I’ve enjoyed making a lot of stoves over the years, from hobo stoves to tuna can stoves to various alcohol stoves.

I fell out of love with alcohol stoves while hiking back in 2003 when I was caught in a surprise snowstorm.  The wind was whipping, I was freezing, and was trying to get water to boil for hot chocolate.  Normally 3/4 ounce of alcohol would bring my little .7 liter titanium pot full of water to a rolling boil in 5 or 6 minutes.  But since I didn’t have a decent windscreen for my stove, I used up 4 ounces of my precious alcohol fuel and the water was nowhere near boiling.

A couple of days later I stopped into an outfitter’s and bought a Pocket Rocket stove… and it’s jet-like blast of high pressure isobutane fuel assured me of boiling water on demand.

But I hated having to worry about where I’d be able to find my next (expensive) canister of fuel.

Solo Stove — wood burning gasifier hiking stove (image from Amazon)

I was lurking at a hiking forum the other day, vicariously reliving the good old days, when I saw a new-to-me hiking stove mentioned.  It’s heavy for a backpacking stove — 9 ounces.  BUT you need NO FUEL since it burns sticks and twigs.  And in the East, that means a limitless amount of fuel is always available — free!  (Add an Esbit tablet, piece of wax, or Wet Tinder to get wet wood going.)  It has a fire grate up above a solid stainless steel bottom so you don’t leave any trace of your fire on the ground.  And it burns so completely that all that is left is white ash.

So I’ve got the Solo Stove in my Amazon cart…. until I can talk some sense into myself and delete it as the unnecessary item it is.  But man!  What a COOL TOY!!!!

And remembering the stoves and how much fun I had with them reminded me of all the fun

Primitive bread (like chapitas) with no yeast and no oven.

I had learning to do primitive cooking over coals.

Cooking directly over a fire gives you very little control over the heat — and it coats your pots and pans with a nasty layer of soot.  But I learned that if I built a small fire and let it burn until I got a good bed of coals, then moved the fire over with a couple of sticks exposing the coals, that I had a perfect outdoor “stove.”  A pan placed in the center of the coal bed would get very hot and quickly bring water to a furious boil.  Move the pot out from the center and I’d have medium heat.  And if I wanted a simmer, I just moved my pot to the edge of the coals.  And when you cook on coals instead of over fire, you get NO SOOT on your pan!

The first oyster mushrooms I found on our property

Thinking about all the fun Ron and I had building campfires and cooking over them naturally led to reminiscing about our adventures with wild edibles.  I got interested in studying wild foods in the late 1990’s.  It took a few years to become proficient at being able to make decent meals from foraged ingredients.

Then I started getting bored with roots and veggies, nuts and berries, so decided that wild mushrooms would add a nice touch to my wild meals.  So I plunged into intensive mushroom study.  I was very fortunate in that David Fischer, author of Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America, was extremely approachable by email and cheerfully helped me positively identify photos of my earlier finds before I dared to eat them.

Chanterelles found in the Talladega National Forest

I used to like to hike out into a national forest with no food except salt, sugar, coffee, tea and a small bottle of olive oil, and eat only what I could forage.  The first day was always a little scary, but after that I would just keep finding good things to eat so the problem would be to not gather so much that it would be wasted. (Except in winter, of course.  I would starve to death then!)

There were also experiments with all kinds of primitive shelter building.  My most elaborate was a wickiup, pictured here partially built.  Since I didn’t have good thatching material on our property, I cheated and bought hay.  😀

Wickiup building in progress

I think that what has made all of those experiences resurge in my memory is the knowledge that, due to health problems, I won’t ever be able to backpack again.  I guess that’s something everyone has to come to grips with as they age.  Some of the good times are forever gone.

But it has reminded me that even if I can’t climb mountains or backpack anymore, I can still get out, build a campfire, and relish the satisfaction of being self-sufficient enough to cook without all the modern trappings of society.

And, in doing so, to capture a little of what our ancestors must have felt as they went about their daily affairs.

(NOTE:  Since this subject is so special to me, I am re-posting this as a permanent page so that it won’t disappear into my blog’s archives.)