Friday, October 26, 2018

To the woods!

For the two months before our move the Frenchman and I had to cool our hiking heels. Instead of woodland trails, we pounded sidewalks and Brooklyn neighborhoods, hunting for a new place to live. Once we had moved, it was with huge relief that we headed out again to Harriman State Park, the minute the last box was unpacked. Our usual Catskills haunt is over two hours from the city, while Harriman - discovered this summer - is just over an hour's drive. For my injured back, this is a godsend: while I can walk and exercise as much as I like, sitting for longer than half an hour becomes very painful, so long drives are not fun.

Harriman is a gorgeous park, with hills and woodlands, blueberries for miles, and many lakes. We visited four times in July and early August. Different every time.

We park on Kanawauke Road - Route 106 - and head south towards Lake Skenonto. The trail (yellow above) we chanced upon is still our favorite, although there is much more to explore. We use Gaia Maps (app and web) - you pay an annual fee, and they have superb maps as well as coverage. This lake is also accessible by public transport, from Tuxedo Park.

Cute corts, as the mushroom people call them. Some blue mushrooms (like blewits and milk caps) are very good to eat. Some are not. Cortinarius iodes - above, probably -  is not recommended. It has a tell-tale slimy cap. But so does its identical lookalike Cortinarius iodeioides - confusing, yes?! They also have similar spore prints. Enthusiasts tell them apart by licking the cap. C. iodeioides has bitter slime.

No, I don't lick. And I don't bother with corts at all, for eating - there are easier mushrooms to enjoy.

Like my dear friend the hen of the woods, Grifola frondosa. Also called maitake, or dancing mushroom, by the Japanese. Easy to identify, hugely generous, and delicious. It has been a bumper year for hen of the woods and they have been so prolific that just about every other oak tree in Brooklyn seems to have borne a crop this fall. Not a good sign for the trees, as this fungus causes butt rot, which eventually kills the tree. We saw many on our walk and I collected just one clean specimen, turning it into pâté and soup and a few other things back home. Especially fun when they sell for $20/lb in shops.

The woods were also bristling with honey mushrooms, members of the Armillaria complex. They are also delicious (and destructive to trees), but not a beginner mushroom: they must not be confused with some toxic lookalikes. Fortunately their white spore prints differentiate them from so-called deadly gallerinas (rusty-brown print) and sulphur tufts (purple-brown).

The Frenchman's favourite edible mushroom, after chanterelles. The beautiful black trumpet.

Many fallen logs were studded with little puffballs. While these diminutive Lycoperdons are edible (while young, firm and white inside), I don't see the point. Although on a pretty plate in a restaurant...maybe.

The tall blueberries in open spaces were already burnished with the changing season.

Invasive barberries doing their best to convince us to plant them in our gardens. Don't. They displace local plants and harbor ticks. And birds disperse the seed.

Equally destructive and pretty Rosa multiflora festooned with rosehips (good for jelly, syrups, and Vitamin C).

Also in openings in the woods are stands of hay scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula).

Here, at our halfway mark, we stop on a cliff above the lake and have lunch. Almonds I roasted in coconut oil with lots of berbere spice and salt. Manchego, and an Italian sausage from our new hood (we didn't like it and will go back to our Columbus staple). After having gone breadless in April, picnics without a crusty baguette do lack a certain...'ow do you ne sais quoi. But both our waistlines thank us. And I do cheat. The Frenchman doesn't cheat. He never cheats. Consequently, he is thinner: Minus 35 lbs since April, me a mere 15...

After lunch we turn back towards the other side of our loop. Lots of moss, everywhere. 

Pixie cups belong to a species of lichen called Cladonia. Lichen is classified in the Fungi Kingdom, and moss in Plant. But lichen is really algae living in symbiosis with fungi. Fascinating.

The woods are late turning, possibly because we had so much rain in August and September.

Back in the car and driving home along the beautiful windy road, I was lucky enough to spot between the trees a glimpse of my first-ever coyote.

Good end to a very good day.



  1. What a delightful wander in the woods. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. The coyote sighting was definitely cool!

  3. 15 pounds? Brava!! May i steal the blueberry and barberry photos for my pastels class? And, kudos on the coyote! Looks like a great day all around.

  4. I'm glad to hear you had a very good day! I had missed a few entries and was just catching up and it sounds like you sorely needed it. We had 6 stressful years with my mom and dad (both gone now, a blessing for both in different ways) TG for my sis and the fact that neither of us was very far away) It's difficult to say the least and I wish you peace and strength as well as well as many more very good days.

  5. We had a diseased tree removed last year and now we have red stinkhorn fungus; it looks as if someone dropped a box of lobster legs on the ground! I have read that the white "egg" mushrooms underneath are edible, but I don't know about the red horns (the ones without brown slime on the tips). any thoughts?

    1. The eggs are actually nice to eat - peel and sauté. It would not occur to me to eat the more ghastly and smelly horns, so I have no personal observations to send your way! :-) One word of excess caution. Amanita "eggs" could maybe be mistaken for stinkhorn eggs. Cut your stinkhorn eggs in half to make sure they they have that jelly layer under the skin, and research amanita eggs.


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