Sunday, October 22, 2006

Pleurotus ostreatus, so good

24 degrees this morning on the hill, minor clouds visible in the east and a red sky an hour ago suggesting that perhaps more rain or snow is on the way. Friday night was quite a storm with anywhere from 2" of snow in Burlington to 5" in Williston to 7" up towards Sheffield. We had about 2" of slush on the ground at 9 PM Friday night and ended up yesterday morning with a couple inches of white. The snow pushed hunters out of bed early to get out to scout deer territory or to try to fill a moose permit if the luck of the draw had been in their favor.

There is a peace this time of morning that is interesting. The birds begin to stir before there is much human activity and it's fun to watch everything wake up. I really shouldn't have but a few days back I pulled out a bird feeder and put the stake in the ground about 10 feet from my office window. Bird feeders are troublesome because until black bears hibernate, they roam around looking for an easy meal. This feeder is a 30" square piece of plywood mounted on a 3/4" pipe with a flange to hold it on. There's a little 1/2" piece of molding around the edge to keep the seeds from blowing off. I fill it in the morning as I just did with just enough seed to be consumed before nightfall. So far it has worked well.

I'm trying to find a source for a bag of millet as I enjoy mourning doves and millet is their favorite. So far I have struck out with the farm supply places who assure me I'd like the "mix" which I already know I don't. I use coarse cracked corn for the blue jays and grosbeaks and black oil sunflower for all the birds. After Thanksgiving when I know the bears are asleep, I hang big chunks of suet in old onion bags for downy and hairy woodpeckers. Chickadees and nuthatches compete with the other birds for the high calories that keep them warm when the temperature drops.

Yesterday was a busy day here. Snow has a way of defining the real beginning of a quick end to fall. The list of things to do has to be reorganized several times as cold weather affects what you want to do versus what you have to do to close things up. Yesterday I had to get the cover off the shade house as the wet snow was already stretching it. It was supposed to have been removed last week but I was gone several days, wanted to get the lower daylily garden rototilled one last time--you know--those kind of changes in priorities.

On weekends I always try to find a small period of time to do something for myself. It's a great practice because it provides a sense of measurable accomplishment. Yesterday I wanted to get out back and walk the boundary of the Peacham land which I hadn't done in many years. I was happy to have such a nice walk but was surprised by how things have changed. I guess it's been longer than I thought since I've been out there.

A neighbor up on the Route 232 bought the adjoining property. He located the boundary and reestablished it with his chainsaw and a bunch of work so the first part of my walk wasn't half bad. Then I got down into the section that adjoins the Groton State Forest. It is mostly softwoods and swamp land which hold Peacham Pond in a tight squeeze. This is a very interesting ecology which is the sum of some very important parts.

It had been a lot longer than I thought since I walked from tree to tree looking for the red paint that a state forester had marked the forest property line with years ago. Fir balsams which were 18-20" in diameter where now long since dead and toppled back to the forest floor. The sugar maples, ash and black cherries were still standing but the balsams had reseeded thousands, no hundreds of thousands of trees over the years since the area was clear cut. Travel was difficult at best.

I moved through the balsams like an explorer in a jungle movie except I had no machete to clear a path. I tried to follow the trails the moose had used but in places my size prohibited forward movement and I had to stop and turn where there was less resistence.

As I exited into a little clearing a spotted a maple with a giant swath of red paint. Maybe the forester was using the last of the paint in his bucket that day as the mark he left was more like that of a sign painter than a woodsman. The tree was very old and was heading into terminal stages of life. It was covered for over twenty feet with one of my fall favorites, Pleurotus ostreatus, The Oyster Mushroom.

I got into hunting and eating wild mushrooms back in early adolescence. My father worked at a job site one time where a Portuguese would spend lunch time in the woods looking for edibles. He taught my father 6-8 mushrooms which were choice and couldn't be confused with something poisonous. This mushroom was one of them.

I almost always have a plastic bag in a coat pocket so I can make collecting easy but today when I reached in every pocket, I came up empty. The mushrooms were plentiful and had just gotten a foothold on the maple so they were small. I pulled off layers of the little ones and filled both coat pockets. As time goes on, these grow to 8" across but I prefer the smaller ones pictured above.

Oyster mushrooms are super to eat. I soak them first in salt water to be sure they don't have any insect life hiding between the gills. A small black beetle eats these too but today's gathering was clean and nice. A big dollop of butter and some slices of fresh garlic make a fry pan of these "oysters" very special. They are also delicious addded to a seafood cream sauce and served on linguini or a nice pasta and Italian sauce with lots of diced tomoatoes and some sliced pecorino.

If you try these mushrooms just once, you'll know why I don't mind filling my pockets. This time of year there are many outside courses where you can walk with an expert and learn what to pick and what to leave alone. I have always used Orson K. Miller. Jr.'s book Mushrooms of North America as the identification keys work for me. I've used it since the late 70's and know it well even though there are books available now with more detailed keys.

A crow just coasted over the birdfeeder and the voracious jays exited as if it was a raptor looking for breakfast. They'll be back in a minute but I have to get going here. Much to do today even though it's Sunday.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where tiny snow caps still adorn each Rudebeckia 'Goldsturm' seed head as if to provide warmth from the nights cold.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

No comments: