Homestead Junction

The elusive morel April 12, 2016 23:11

I've certainly looked for morels on many occasions. Any time I'm in the woods in spring I keep an eye out for these wrinkly-looking delicacies. What was unique about last weekend was that it was the first time I'd hunted for them with any kind of coherent plan for success. After a bit of research, a long drive, and four hours of traipsing through scorched earth, Cait and I proudly weighed in at just over one pound of fresh morels. I guess that's not a lot by some standards, but we were happy just not to get skunked!
rick with morels
The scheming began several days before the trip. We set out to improve our odds with a few basic assumptions:
  1. morels are most abundant in the first spring after a fire.
  2. morels, like most (all?) other wild mushrooms, need temperatures well above freezing and plenty of moisture
  3. we had nothing particular planned last weekend, without another free weekend in sight. It was now (then) or never!
  4. anecdotally, morels are seemingly widespread across BC.

So, we were looking for a spot that burned last year (in 2015) with public road access and thoroughly defrosted, moist soil. Oh, and we planned to sleep in on Saturday, so no all-day drives!

Since I can't remember what happened last week, let alone last year, I took a quick peek at last year's wildfire news. This was a helpful starting point to recap the major burn sites. The BC Wildfire Service also provides this helpful summary of the current season (as of writing, still shows 2015) as well as maps of previous years' burns. Note that in some cases, access to burn sites may be restricted for safety reasons!

Ok, so now I have a mental map of wildfire sites within less than a full day's drive. Think I'll share it with you? Ha! Not a chance. The links above are shortcut enough.

On to item #2, soil moisture and temperature. Ideally, we'd want the weather to warm up and then there to be a bunch of rain. Since we haven't had much rain in the last week and a half, but have instead had warm, dry weather, we're looking to another moisture source: receding snow. Since morels need soil temperature well above freezing and grow slowly, we postulated that we'd find the corrugated rascals on ground that had been snow-free for several weeks. We wanted ground that had warmed in the sun but was still moist from melting snow.

We looked mostly to trail condition reports to try to get a sense of the variable snow level, but weren't able to get much detail from trailpeak, summitpost, or bivouac. Ultimately, we found the BC Highway Cams site extremely helpful. They've got cams in many regions with published elevations, so by cross-referencing several cams in an area, and visually confirming presence or absence of snow, we were able to get a rough idea of where the snow level was.

And off we set to seek our fortune! When we arrived at our destination, we found it hot and dry. The snow was far higher than we'd realized, to the point that even the crests of the ridges were clear. Nevertheless, we found our first morel almost immediately!

morels up close

We walked for at least 45 minutes before finding the second one. It was in good company, but they're darn hard to see. How many morels can you see here?

how many morels?

We mainly found them on the southern (shady) slope of a ravine. The vegetation was coming back, and a hand pushed into the soil was very cool. On the sunny side, the soil was warm and dry a few inches down, and we found very few.

morel-rich ravine

There's some tension between the urge to keep moving and the need to be thorough. I imagine experienced pickers find the perfect compromise between covering ground quickly and slowing down enough to pick out the crenulated fugitives against the camouflage ground.

Most of the morels we found were within a few feet of others. In particular, I found several by almost stepping on them on the way to pick other mushrooms. It's a funny mental game; I found it hard to concentrate hard enough to actually find a morel without fully believing the mushrooms to be there. Once we'd noticed the mushrooms growing more prevalently on the shady side, we lost faith that we would find any at all in the sun. Sure enough, the wrinkly rascals were scarcely to be seen on the sunny side! Or perhaps it was our prejudice that prevented us from seeing them? Truly, mushroom picking is an exercise only for the deeply introspective.

A final note to would-be morelnappers: there are many lookalikes, and some are poisonous! As always with wild foods, please be careful and seek expert advice where unsure. Even excellent guides like this one are no substitute for experience.

Happy hunting!

***UPDATE***

If you're lucky enough to find more than you want to eat right away, dried morels are delicious. Properly dried they keep for a long time - surely until next mushroom season!

dehydrating morels in excalibur

 

To use, just soak them in water for a few hours until they're fully piable again and cook 'em up like they were fresh. The flavour becomes, if anything, more developed, and BONUS the water you use to rehydrate them is now mushroom stock.

dried morels


Mushrooms, Mushrooms Everywhere! October 21, 2015 06:00 1 Comment

Walking around the city, we've been noticing a bunch of mushrooms popping up this fall. Wanting to learn a bit more about them, we asked local expert mycologist Paul Kroeger to take us on a mushroom tour of the neighbourhood. Paul agreed and took us along some city blocks surrounding our store in East Van. We went from Strathcona and walking toward Chinatown by cutting through Strathcona gardens.

Paul Kroeger - Vancouver Mycologist
Paul Kroeger, Vancouver Mycologist

Walking past MacLean Park, it was quite interesting and not surprising to hear that some of the trees that line the city have been imported from pretty far away. For those who know a bit about fungi, you might realize when transplanting trees, the tree is not the only thing you'll be taking with you. This is because there are fungi (among other organisms) that live symbiotically with trees and plants, passing them water and nutrients and receiving plant sugars in return. Pretty much every tree and plant that has been studied have either or both mycorrhizal and endophytic fungi living either at their roots ("myco" stemming from the latin word mykēs meaning fungus - and rhiza, meaning rhizome or root), or within the plant itself (endo meaning within, and phyte as in plant). Knowing this, you might not be surprised that 45 years ago (this is about the time when scientists finally took fungi out of the plant kingdom and gave them their own kingdom fungi), when the city brought in hornbeam trees from California - the trees didn't come on their own.

We learned that Hornbeam trees - Carpinus betulus - have a symbiotic relationship with a mycorrhizal fungi called Amanita phalloides otherwise known as the death cap. Since 2004, folks have been seeing these deadly poisonous fungi pop up around Vancouver. Paul noted that it's most probable that the fungi have been living at the roots of these hornbeam trees since their move here, but we've only started seeing the mushrooms come up recently because they can only fruit when their tree hits full maturity. We checked under the hornbeam trees that line MacLean Park, but there were no death caps fruiting yet. Nonetheless, this was definitely a good lesson that even though there are very few deadly poisonous mushroom species in North America, they are around and they can also look like other yummy mushrooms. So, it is really important to know your mushrooms before eating them!

Hornbeam Tree by MacLean ParkMature Hornbeam trees line MacLean Park in Strathcona

 Our walk took us on a journey learning about mushroom identification, and several common species growing locally. Paul spoke of a few identifying features to look for in a mushroom, including whether or not they have gills, the shape of their caps and stems, how delicate they are, and what they smell like. 

Mushroom GillsThis little gilled one smells a lot like salmon!

 If you're around Strathcona a bit, particularly in the areas along Princess and Adanac, you might have seen mushrooms like this one growing wildly in groups along boulevards or in lawns:

Russula
Brown russula growing on Prior and Heatly

Mushrooms of the same family can have totally different traits while still looking incredibly similar. Boletes for example can have either pores, tubes, or gills under their caps!

Bolete
The blue spots on this bolete are impressions marks and age spots

Often times, characteristics can even be masked or unveiled with age. It's really common to miss hiding stems or veils on young mushrooms. Older mushrooms can also change drastically from their younger selves. For example, as inky caps get older, they start to dissolve and drip into black ink. For this reason, it's really great practice to get to know mushrooms at all stages of their fruiting lives.

New and Old If you can believe it, these two mushrooms are the same species!

Some delicious edible mushrooms can grow in suitable spots in your garden. This shaggy parasol is super good to eat, and also likes to grow from compost! An important point to note is that the shaggy parasol has a doppelganger called Chlorophyllum molybdites responsible for the most mushroom poisonings in North America! In this case, a simple way to double check if you have the right mushroom is by doing a spore print. Leave the mushroom cap gills facing down on a white piece of paper over the course of several hours. If the spore print comes out white, you are good to go. If they are green, you can appreciate the mushroom's prettiness but don't eat it - it's poisonous!

Shaggy Parasol
Shaggy Parasol hiding in Strathcona Community Gardens

A few feet away from the Shaggy Parasol growing from soil was this little deadly lepiota. Again, it is a good reminder to know your mushroom species, and be very careful of what you are picking because you don't want to end up eating a poisonous mushroom by mistake!

Deadly LepiotaDeadly Lepiota growing Strathcona Community Gardens

Another good thing to learn when identifying fungi is what they like to grow on or with. For example, all pine trees depend on mycorrhizal fungi to survive and thrive. When they die, primary decomposers eat them and break them down. When you learn to identify trees, you can learn about the relationships they likely have with other species. Then you can make some pretty good educated guesses about what kind of mushroom is growing where, or where to look to find specific kinds of mushrooms.

 5 Needle Pine Tree By Union Market5 Needle Pine Tree by Union Market 

 Of course, deadly poisonous and edible mushrooms are not the only types of mushrooms that exist. All along Princess Ave south of Adanac we found the legendary Amanita muscaria commonly known as the Fly Agaric mushroom. This mushroom can be toxic, but has also been consumed by many cultures all over the world in ceremony as a psychoactive. In Strathcona and all over East Vancouver, this mushroom is all over the place! In David Aurora's field guide All That the Rain Promises and More... it suggests this red and white amanita to be the inspiration of Santa Claus and the flying reindeers. In Northern Europe, reindeers have grazed (and probably still do) on the hallucinogenic fly agaric. So there you have it, flying reindeers!

Fly Agaric - Amanita muscaria
Amanita muscaria popping up along Princess Ave.

There was a lot to learn in the few short hours we spent on this walk, huddling together to pass and sniff at different mushrooms growing in abundance in the city. More than for identification and edibility, mushrooms are short windows we can look into for a hint about the thousands of relationships that exist beneath our feet, even when it seems like we're just walking on concrete. 

 

by Kelsey Cham Corbett
October 21st, 2016