Walking ’round Waptus River for a few days in October…
A mishmash of mushrooms grew from the dampened earth, but only a few were of the edible sorts. Saw one gigantic bolete, but so had the worms!
Flushes of amanita muscarina were seen along the way with their vibrant caps adding a toadstool touch to the kaleidoscope of fall color.
Amanita muscarina, viewed from above in the header picture, is an easily identifiable mushroom in the fall forest. In spanish these toxic toadstools are sometimes called “matamoscas” , which loosely translates to “fly killer”.
Mosca is spanish for fly, and originates from the latin musca, from where we get, muscarina.
In English the mushrooms are sometimes called fly amanitas or fly agaric.
The term agaric comes from ancient Greek and refers to a broad group of mushrooms which bear a cap, gills and a stem.
Basically an agaric is what 99% of people would draw if they got mushroom as a Pictionary clue. Close your eyes, think ‘mushroom’. Yep, that one.
…but why the fly?
Seems that in ye olde dayes, the colorful mushrooms were dried and sprinkled into milk which would be left out to spoil. The poisonous curdled concoction would then draw the little moscas in for a drink of doom.
Anyway, that’s a little bit about muscas, moscas y muscarinas… Not that you asked.
Later wandering led to the discovery of some intriguing white mushroom buds erupting from the forest floor in a rather straight line of staggered clumps.
These were collected and later identified as Matsutakes. Bonus!
Went for a jaunt around a favorite haunt…
Lot of inedible russulas springing from the duff, some had sprung well before I got there, probably with the recent rains. Now they decayed where they stood.
I got fooled by more than a few big leaf maple leaves that fit the right color and shape of a chantrelle, starkly gold against the shade of the heavy forest canopy. At least from a distance.
Despite the maple’s ruse (I bet that ol’ tree was just laughing it’s mossy wooden ass off!) I managed to pluck a few handfuls of chantrelles from the duff as well as a surprise trio of lobsters.
Got home and threw the whole lot of em into the dehydrator! Destined to be added to backpacking soup!
My fingertips are tingling as I write this, and no, I don’t need to go see the doctor… but maybe I should start wearing gloves… Nah!
It’s pre-spring here in Western Washington and with it comes one of my favorite forage plants Urtica dioica, the Stinging Nettle.
Anyone who has spent an amount of time tromping about in the woods will have likely encountered nettles, and for some of us that first fateful meeting of bare skin and nettle will be a lifelong memory.
My childhood lesson in nettles came while we were living in Lake Stevens…. there was a huge tract of forest (now a subdivision) behind the house we lived in and we’d play back there until the cows came home.
One time out there in a stand of alder I encountered the then unfamiliar plant, I paid it no mind until it brushed my arm and then YOWZA!
I remember not being in pain so much as bewildered at what had just happened. Then as the nettle welts appeared, I recall being concerned that they were permanent, and that I’d be deformed for life.
What was this fierce plant?
Well, the nettle got me that day but now the tables have turned….
The point is, your first experience with nettles is likely to make a lasting impression, often negative. However this is a blessing in disguise for the budding forager…
If you are the type that worries about harvesting a “DEADLY LOOK-ALIKE” then you couldn’t ask for a better plant to start with, nothing stings like a nettle, least nothing around here, so if it stings, you’re safe!
Aside from the stinging, nettles are a fairly innocuous looking green plant, with teardrop shaped, jaggedly toothed leaves, bearing a slight resemblance to mint maybe.
Later as they become older and begin to flower, nettles become lanky and spent looking, with these hanging clusters of ball-looking things, which are actually the flowers. When I was a kid I mistakenly thought it was these clusters that delivered the sting. (I decided further investigation wasn’t necessary)
In winter, nettles will have long died, however you can still nettle hunt by looking for the remaining nettle stalks. They are up to about three or four feet tall, and often sort of mottled black/white. This is a good way to mentally note hunting grounds for the coming spring.
No, not the Paul Newman/ Robert Redford flick (though I love that soundtrack) I’m referring to the “sting that puts the “stinging” in Stinging Nettles.
Most of the nettle plant is covered by very fine, hollow hairs that break off and imbed themselves in your skin upon contact.
The sting you feel is the result of a complex concoction consisting of chemicals that most of us do not recognize, nor can pronounce.
Luckily, the resultant sting and (occasionally accompanying) welts are temporary, and will not cause permanent disfigurement or discomfort.
(That being said, I’ve had tingling in my fingers for days after a big harvest, then again I don’t use gloves)
There are many folk remedies for mitigating the sting, I can’t vouch for any as I’ve never tried them, however, if you can’t handle the sting, perhaps you should reconsider harvesting stinging plants.
Friendly food for thought!
Stinging Nettles are loaded with vitamins and minerals, in fact just one cup of steamed nettles will provide 555% of your daily vitamin K!
Nettles are also used medicinally, and something of a panacea.
Just look up Stinging Nettle and medicine or herbal or something like that and you’ll see what I mean.
Extolled benefits include helping the liver, the kidneys, the cardiovascular system, the prostate, and so on and so on!
It’s wide array of benefits are lauded so much that it almost sounds like old-time snake-oil. (Who knows, could have been a key ingredient)
Historically nettle fabric was widely used as rope, sail cloth and clothing among other things.
Industrially it is not used so much these days, but if you are so interested, it can be spun into yarn, and might make for a fun project for the textile-inclined.
Nettles have been used as a hair tonic as well. (Perhaps even halting or reversing baldness… but I don’t buy it)
While it’s uses are wide and perhaps wider than I’ve mentioned here, personally use nettle most often for food and tea.
Cooking nettles neutralizes it’s sting, and only after a very short time, 30 seconds perhaps. If you are apprehensive, just try and sting yourself with it before you stick it in your mouth.
More often than not, I steam nettles and pack them into freezer bags for future use.
I really enjoy eating them like cooked spinach, with a little Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.
A new favorite trick is to chop them really fine with a Cuisinart and add them to soups. My split pea/nettle soup is especially good, as the nettle imparts a slightly sweet earthy taste which really melds well with the peas and other ingredients.
I was thinking of juicing some cooked nettles as well!
Nettle tea is another favorite, and I find it has an almost “magic” way of warming the body and soul on a winter day.
Nettle tea is pretty good on it’s own, in addition to earthy and slightly sweet I’d describe it as green, very green.
It can be easily blended with many other teas too, as it’s flavor melds well, never being too overpowering.
Many of the medicinal benefits of nettle can be imparted in tea form.
To make the tea, simply dry the leaves, don’t worry, drying also neutralizes the sting. I find this is easiest in a dehydrator, but on a cookie sheet in an oven at it’s lowest setting is another option.
You may also be able to just air dry, either by spreading the leaves out, or by hanging the whole stalk up, and crumbling the leaves off when dessicated.
To glove or not to glove, is it even a question?
When I first started nettling many many years ago, I always wore gloves. Then at some point after being stung for the thousandth time, I gave them up.
Going back to uses, I forgot to mention self-flagellation, more specifically known as urtication. (From Urtica, yeah, latin, you see what they did there?) This is an old folk/Native American technique to treat rheumatism, er, take ones mind off of rheumatism rather.
I always thought it sounded crazy, I mean who in the hell would whip themselves with nettles? Well, as it so happens after working without gloves for so long now I can honestly say, “I can see that”
After getting used to the sting, and sort of accepting it, it’s not so bad. In fact after the sting starts to “mature” it actually does seem to have a sort of numbing quality, or maybe I’ve just gone nettle crazy.
Anyway, gloves or none, it’s your choice.
Nettles intended as tea or food should be harvested while they are young. Usually this means less than a foot tall or so. Some people will harvest up until just before the bloom, but generally the younger the better.
After they are over a foot tall or thereabouts, and begin to go into flower, they produce cystoliths (mineral deposits) in the leaves which it is said, can be irritating to the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract.
So far as eating or drinking, it might be best to err on the side of caution here, however nettles at this stage can still be used for other purposes such as fiber or as a hair tonic. Read deeply and experiment broadly!
I usually go out harvesting armed with a pair of scissors and a bag. Simple as that.
I find it is best to cut the nettle cleanly, leaving a few sets of leaves below the cut so that the plant may continue to grow.
Make sure to look over the plant good, save yourself the trouble of excessive cleaning by omitting infested, or overly filthy plants from your picking bag.
I usually process my nettles while in the field, finding myself a good place to rest my butt while I overlook the leaves and snip them into a bag, leaving something of a nettle skeleton midden as proof I was there.
If you wanted to try and do something with the fiber however, you should hang onto the skeletons.
I have also brought home nettles, stalk and all, for hanging to dry for tea. This can even be sort of decorative if you are into that neo-hippie/old timey look.
Only once has someone ever advised me “Don’t harvest the whole plant and leave some of the nettles behind”, which is in stark contrast to the vast majority of passersby who suggested I use RoundUp rather than weed by hand.
Here in Washington State the nettle is a native plant and should not be treated like an invasive weed, so despite what the public consensus is regarding nettles, bear in mind conservation.
Also know the rules regarding where you harvest, some areas are a free for all, while other areas such as Ravensdale Retreat or McGarvey Park are Natural Areas in which foraging is forbidden.
It’s that magical time of year when people start stampeding over one another for the best deal on the latest Elmo and our brains are constantly bombarded with the same Christmas songs we’ve heard since time began.
Christmas tree nomads take the place their firework brethren stood only months before as the cosmic ballet of hawking holiday cheer marches on.
Living here in Washington, it’s always perplexed me why anyone would go and buy a tree. I mean take a look around you. (Unless you live on the dry side)
Maybe people buy farm trees because they don’t know that you can buy a tree permit for like $10 from the Forest Service.
It varies in price depending on where you intend to cut or how tall of a tree you want to harvest. Anyway you chop it (lol), it’s a hell of a deal.
In the Mt.Baker-Snoqualmie National forest, a permit for a tree under 12′ tall is only $10.(DEC2014)
Only $20 if you have vaulted ceilings the likes of the Mercer Island crowd and need somethin’ a little taller…
Permits are available for sale at the local Ranger station or at a handful of fine retailers. (REI sells them)
Once you have your map and permit it’s time to go hunting.
Important things to equip yourself with:
1. Weather appropriate clothing.
2. Work gloves.
3. A saw (I’d suggest a bow saw, but I’m not going to tell you how to do your job)
4. Ample rope to secure your tree to your vehicles roof.
5. Emergency supplies; i.e. shovel, chains, extra food emergency blanket etc.
Depending on the weather and/or type of year we are having, you may experience snow in the high grounds, so be prepared.
This is especially true if you intend to bag the elusive Noble Fir.
A Christmas tree hunt can be whatever you make it:
Establish a base camp, snowshoe for days, cut down the tree with your teeth!!!
…or you can just drive around til you find it.
The map will tell you where you can harvest, so having it is vital.
It doesn’t mention however that you may not cut a tree within 150′ of streams, ponds, lakes or wetlands.
Knowing is half the battle.
When you finally find and cut your perfect tree whether it be Yggdrasil or the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, you gotta attach your permit prior to transport. The forest service generously supplies a zip tie!
Make sure to punch out the correct date on your permit and you are good to go!
All that’s left is to securely fasten your tree to your vehicle or mule team, ox, whatever you got.
I’m no knot master, so all I’ll say here is make sure that baby can’t come flying off.
Do a good pre-freeway or highway check. No need to cause anymore undue Christmas casualties.
Not a bad idea to inspect your tree for small mammals or bee’s nests while you are at it.
Autumn brings with it many things, the falling leaves, the long rains, and the mysterious return of the McRib. Here in the great state of Washington, as many people start to settle into the holiday hibernation, others of us are breaking out the thermals and the rain gear and getting ready for WDFW to announce the years first Razor clam dig.
Razor clamming is a great way to spend some winter weekends and doesn’t require a lot of expensive gear. (Though this year I noticed clam tubes on the shelf for over $100 wtf!? Don’t worry, a regular PVC tube should only cost about $20+-)
Razor clamming is also a great opportunity to get friends and relatives, who aren’t exactly outdoorsy, to experience what the outdoors has to offer. I mean c’mon what better motivator than fresh caught razor clams?
The WDFW (Washington department of fish and wildlife) sets the Razor clam digs and posts the opening dates on their website: wdfw.wa.gov Here you can find much information such as current closures, future digs and even a handful of razor clam recipes. A hard copy of the regulations is handy, but for razor clams, access to this site is vital to know when and where you can dig.
To get started you will need the necessities:
1. A shovel (clam gun) or clam tube
2. Something to carry your clams in (each person must have their personal limit of clams in a separate container while clamming)
3. A light source (Flashlights and headlamps work, but in my experience, a Coleman propane lantern is the choice)
4. Rubber boots (you WILL get wet)
5. Gloves ( Warmth and water resistance, I usually buy the Atlas thermal types)
6. Weather appropriate clothing (The coast is often merciless at best, steady high winds, rain and ocean spray conspire to sap your body heat, Rain gear, thermals, wool socks, warm knit cap, balaclava etc.)
7. A cooler and ice to keep your catch fresh.
8. Don’t forget to buy a shellfish license!
I think thats about it, some other things to consider are: You will be driving on the sand, it’s best not to take the road less traveled here because you can get stuck, also driving on the clam beds is very illegal, take the beaten path. (You can march to your own drum later) Another handy tip is to bring an LED light you can set on your dashboard while you are on the prowl for clams, this makes finding your car in the pitch black a helluva lot easier.
Now that we got all our necessities out of the way, Let’s go clamming!
Being your first time, as you walk toward the surf, keep an eye out for previous diggings and what the others are doing, often people will completely miss clams as they rush along, and also many times new “shows” will appear.
A little terminology: What we are looking for is called a “Clam Show”, which is a little dimple, or volcano, or even an irregularity in the sand. You will eventually develop an eye for this, maybe even by the end of the dig, in the meantime, don’t be afraid to ask. I’ve found people are more than happy to help, sometimes even offering their assistance without being solicited. There is usually a pretty jovial spirit during a dig and most clammers are pretty friendly.
Once you have found your show it’s time to dig! I’ve found the name of the game here is speed, those little buggers can dig pretty fast, so you gotta dig faster. If using a clam tube (which is what the vast majority of people are using) place the tube on top of the show, with the show being more or less directly in the center. You’ll want to press down quickly, rotating the tube side to side to get a better bite into the sand.
When you have gone down as far as you reasonably can, cover the hole on the top of the tube and pull up and out of the sand. A vital key here is to LIFT WITH YOUR LEGS, if you pull with your back, your dig will be over in no time at all, and maybe so with your career as a clammer as well. When you have exhumed the tube, release the hole and shake out the cylinder of sand inside, with any luck, your prize Siliqua patula will be in there waiting. If not… Get digging! Get that clam S.O.B.! You going to let some bivalve get the best of you?
If I don’t find a clam in about three pulls, I move on, looking for another show. Quietly brooding, knowing some wiseacre mollusc is down there, bragging to the pile worms about how he pulled a good one on that tube wielding ape. Next time clamboy… next time.
Occasionally you may hear a crunching sound while you bear down on the clam, this usually means that you have mortally wounded the clam, and what you’ll pull up is a partial clam or worse. There will still be plenty of clam meat there, and also the law states that your limit is the first 15 clams dug, this counts toward your 15. You’ll sometimes see mangled clams laying about as some people don’t seem to follow the rules, but wastage is wrong, and against the law. Do the right thing.
Well thats clamming in a nutshell. You’ll undoubtedly find your own methods, tips and secrets, and thats all part of the fun. I have a few tips and observations I’ll share, they might be helpful, or you might call me a filthy liar, your choice!
It seems to me clamming in the surf can be very productive, here you aren’t looking for shows, but rather the very tip of the clams siphon, kinda looks like a little dark colored star. You’ll have to move quickly here, you’ll see when they know you are coming as they’ll zip right under the sand. They won’t leave a show because the water will wash it away so you gotta get right on top of em’ and dig fast.
When you are clamming the surf though, always keep an eye towards the sea, the waves can be very irregular, the one that barely lapped at your ankles can and will be followed by the one that fills your boots or dumps your unobservant butt right into the drink! Be careful!
Another thing I’ve noticed is that during certain times of the year, usually earlier in the season, you’ll see the occasional big show, now it might be tempting just to dive right in, but if it looks unusually large it sometimes is a female dungeness crab, laden with eggs buried beneath the sand. You can’t keep them, and really it’s in everyones best interest not to disturb them, because she’s down there incubating that next generation of yummy Dungeness crab… mmmm, I’ll get to them in a future blog.
I’d like to add here that small businesses on the coast often sell clam tubes and shovels and other necessary equipment. There are many restaurants, shops and motels down that way as well. I’m not trying to be preachy but, skip the Wal*Mart and save your dough for the little guy, the dollar you spend at Wal*Mart goes back to Bentonville, Arkansas and then to China.
The one you spend on the coast, tends to hang around the coast, and for a lot longer. That being said, always be prepared because there are some things you won’t find. On my last trip tubes, shovels, and clam nets were abundant, but I didn’t see any rubber boots or lanterns. Food for thought.
After all is said and done, you’ll have to clean your clams. Some find this daunting, but with a little practice you’ll be shucking them in no time flat.
1. First I take the clam in my hand, slide the knife against the inside of the shell, then slide it against the other side.
2. Pull the shell apart and it should open up like a butterfly, what you’ll see is the gut bag, siphon and foot.
3. Grab the gut bag and pull it out, this will take the foot with it. Cut the foot off at the bottom of the gut bag. Discard the gut bag, keep the foot.
4. The remaining piece is the siphon “assembly” Cut off the dark tip of the siphon (discard or save as fishing bait) Slide your knife up the sipon, splitting it open.
5. Rinse and repeat, it’s that simple.
I’ll spare you my recipes for now, the Internet is absolutely full of them, so I have no doubt you’ll find one you are looking for. Razor clams are very versatile though, from clam fritters, to clam sauce, sauteed clams, shrimp gumbo, shrimp and potatoes, fried shrim… oops, wrong blog. The culinary possibilities are many…
Thanks for reading, I’ll see you in the surf! Get out there and dig some clams!
Woodland seafood seems to me like a rather dubious thing. I remember being introduced to Rocky Mountain Oysters as a kid via the classic “The Great Outdoors” (still one of my faves). In “Fear and Loathing” I remember when Gary Busey mentions the Land Crab, though to this day I’m not exactly sure what Land Crab is, it sounds like a distinctly bad word.
Lobster mushrooms might sound weird, and they certainly look weird, but so far as woodland seafoods go, they are on the level.
Once you get an eye for these delicious fungi they are difficult to miss, their bright, vibrant color leaps out of the dusky forest floor, and after you’ve been properly introduced, you are unlikely to ever mistake this guy with anything else.
Lobster Mushroom is actually something of a misnomer, as it is actually a parasite of other mushrooms,
Mushroom Parasite that is Lobster colored doesn’t quite roll of the tongue as nicely though.
Lobster Mushrooms usually attack russulas or lactarius mushrooms, transforming them from inedible to edible in the process.
There is a a lobster mushroom on the east coast, Hypomyces hyalinus that parasitizes Amanita mushrooms (some of the most deadly mushrooms) turning them into a pimply or warty upright club, but this species is unknown on the west coast.
That being said, it seems there are no known poisonings by our local lobster, Hypomyces lactifluorum.
It is interesting to note that in my experience the taste of these mushrooms varies greatly depending on what the host mushroom was. I have had the range from very peppery in flavor to quite innocuous, but always of very appealing texture and edibility.
Lobster Mushrooms often seem to burst right out of the ground, and because of this, they are often pretty dirty, sometimes even seemingly impregnated with little bits of forest floor. They seem to also be a favorite of the woodlands own mushroom connoisseurs, the beetles, flies and mushroom maggots.
It takes a bit of work to clean up a lobster mushroom, and for this reason I encourage you to look your quarry over well before snatching it from the woods, sometimes they are just too forlorn to do anything culinary with and are best left to disperse their spores to make future generations of lobsters.
Ok, so you’ve found yourself some Land Lobster, now what do you do with it?
First and foremost, be absolutely sure of what you have. The internet is a great resource for sure, but I highly recommend field guides and even better and experienced mushroom hunter. There are two books I’ll highly recommend here “All the rain promises and more….” and “Mushrooms Demystified” both by David Arora. The first one is a great pocket guide and the second, which is often referenced by the first, is an expansive tome that you will certainly want should you delve further and further into amateur mycology.
Second, lets clean up those lobsters! You’ll need a bush, something with moderately stiff bristles as some of the grime is tenacious. I start with a good superficial brushing before storage and then, when ready to prepare, I’ll cut the lobsters up into more manageable chunks to really eradicate the crud.
It’s best not to get the mushrooms wet, as this can really make them soggy, and to go back a few paragraphs, if they are SO cruddy that you’d need to wash them, maybe they are best left in the woods.
Lobster mushrooms and be cooked immediately or dried for future use. Drying, so it’s been said, can concentrate the flavor making for savory soups or whatnot.
On the drive home an image came to me, it was a heavenly image of sauteed lobster mushroom served over noodles and white sauce.
So I went to cleaning,
and cleaning again,
and chopping (some onions and garlic too)
and then sautee-ing (for 10mins on medium give or take)
and the Voila! I had my Woodland Seafood Pasta!
Lobster mushrooms are versatile in the kitchen, fun to find and a good beginners fungi for that first step into the wonderful world of mycology. That being said, I’ve got a surprise day off today so I’m heading off to look for more, Happy trails and happy hunting!