Saturday, January 22, 2022

The mushroom month

On a frigid January day I look at last October's pictures as I sort and edit. 

It was a remarkably good month for mushrooms. October always means hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa, and often referred to as maitake, the Japanese name for them), and it reached a point where I would just have to ignore them and walk past. I had enough. They are one of the easiest edible mushrooms to identify and a lot of fun to spot, fruiting at the base of hardwoods like oak (especially) and beech, and even cherry and sycamore. The specimens above (the brown frilly ones) were quite young and very tender - they can grow huge. We ate some freshly cooked, but most of them were frozen (after cooking) for later deployment in mushroom rolls, mushrooms pies, tarts, and probably some mushroom treats I haven't yet thought of. 

The other easy edible mushroom is right beside the hens. And it's a...chicken! Bright orange chicken of the woods (Laetiporous sulfureus) is exciting to find because it can be prolific (see previous post for an example). It has much, much less mushroom-flavor than hen of the woods, and can be quite dry, unless it is very young. But it is a very useful filler, and I think we ate this one in a dish of delicious dirty rice.

And boletes, as the capped mushrooms with spongy tubes - instead of gills - are known collectively. I was pleased to find a trove after teaching an edible plants class at the New York Botanic Garden. I generally peel off the sponge and then slice the caps very thinly. These were sauteéd to top toast.

Late October was lush on the little terrace, with the prickly ash already beginning to turn yellow, the  sesame leaf (Perilla) almost four feet tall (beside the birdbath), cold-loving brassicas already in the windowboxes, the myoga ginger making is aromatic little edible buds, the citrus trees catching their last outdoor breaths before temperatures dipped too low, and the balloon milkweed filled with its late-season, prickly balloons.  

The gardens downstairs are now brown and empty. On the frozen terrace the milkweed has been cut back, the sesame leaf plants are dead sticks. The citrus trees are basking in southern sunlight (but indoors), and the myoga has just woken too early from a two-month dormancy, under my drawing-desk (I shouldn't have watered it).


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