Thursday, May 22, 2008

Green (but Unproductive) Pastures

Both the apples and the lilacs are in bloom, and still no morels on our hillsides. Maybe I haven’t been hunting hard enough, but it has been raining. Rain and hail, actually.

Looking for more information, we found Tom Seymour’s Foraging New England. Although unhelpful about morels (they are “where you find them”), he does recommend some greens that we haven’t previously considered as food, including nettles and trillium.

In an entertaining and well-written piece, Sharon Parquette Nimtz of the Rutland Herald says that she often has good luck on high cliffs.

Time to start climbing, I guess, before the season is gone.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Where Next?

Now that mid-May approaches, our hunt for morels has taken on a new urgency.

Apples have begun to bloom, and strawberries, while the fiddleheads are waist high.

We’ve covered a lot of ground, from streambanks to hillsides, with nothing to report, but others have found them in their gardens.

Part of the problem is not knowing where to look. This article in Mushroom, the journal of wild mushrooming, notes that “if you find false morels in a location, it’s probably a good place to look for true ones a little later in the season.”

We’ve found a lot of false ones, many of which have dried up since first sighting. So rain might be the missing ingredient.

In this 2006 newsletter from the New York Mycological Society, Dennis Aita argues that “If you’re hunting at the right time of year—the apple blossoms are out and the lilacs are half in bloom—and you’re not seeing morels under the decaying apple and elm trees, then you should get in your car and drive somewhere else.”

Monday, May 5, 2008

Lust, Caution

At long last, something to eat. We found the fiddleheads near the top of a hill, by an old stone wall. They were just starting to rise, but easily visible in a groundscape newly released from months of flattening snow.

We ate them steamed last night, unadulterated even by salt, and again tonight, with crumbles of gorgonzola and a dash of fig-infused vinegar.

As it turned out, I also acquired a tick, and a rash, and a prescription for a two-week dosage of antibiotics. Lyme disease is not widespread in Vermont, but common enough to err on the side of caution.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Beware False Hopes

Because most of the fall and an entire winter passed without a single incidence of harvest, I am making resolutions. To spend more time outdoors this year, eyes open, on hands and knees if necessary.

In Montana we have sometimes found morels by this date, and wild asparagus.

So far this spring I’ve discovered only false morels and a seemingly inedible variety of fiddlehead.

Unlike true morels, the cap of a false morel is not hollow. For a good description of this potentially poisonous imposter, check out the Great Morel.

Morels occupy a hallowed place in our family lore. If you’re interested in the story, you can find it on this page at Prairie Home Companion.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Flatlander in the Woods

According to old custom, newcomers to Vermont are called “flatlanders.” Because our family recently moved here from Montana, where the elevation of many riverbanks is a good deal higher than the peak of Mount Mansfield, I consider that a peculiar term. But, since I’m undeniably an outsider, I’ll save that discussion for another day.

This is not our first attempt to set up house here. In 1988, a few months before we left New England for the second time, we scanned the real-estate ads with eager eyes, looking for anything within 30 miles of Woodstock that might prove affordable on a teacher’s salary.

As you might expect, we didn’t have much luck, although one enterprising agent did show us a derelict farmhouse with running water in the cellar. It was more of a brook, actually, and made a pleasant sound as it burbled through the foundation stones.

I was tempted by the prospect of flyfishing from the basement steps, but we couldn’t manage the mortgage. And in any case, there was barely room for a backcast.

So we headed west to Montana, where we fished, hunted, rowed, paddled, hiked, skied, collected fossils, mined crystals, and gathered mushrooms. Anything that took us outside, alone or as a family, including woodcutting and gardening and even ditch-digging.

Now that we’ve committed to at least four seasons in Vermont, I want to do all of those things again (with the possible exception of ditch-digging). But everything’s different here, of course: climate, landscape, habitat, behavior.

It’s not that I’m a creature of strict habit. I’ve worked as a fishing guide in Florida, Wyoming, and Mongolia. Hunted elk in the high country, snow geese on the northern prairie, antelope in the sagebrush. But what to do in these forests of birch and maple?

When I look around me, I sometimes try to imagine what a stocked trout feels in its new environment. The transplant’s initial confusion—and then what? Possibility, promise? Both of these perhaps, combined with apprehension, followed by hope, then hunger.

I’m a flatlander, a stranger to these woods, but there’s nothing like a good meal to help a guest feel at home.