Fresh oyster mushrooms are a mainstay of autumn, and are often found in the deep woods, especially in a beech forest.
By nature, humans are foragers. However, over the course of thousands of years our species evolved from foraging as hunter gathers and advanced to the stage of farmers, and herders. Over the years, the majority of humans have largely forotten about the fruit of forest and the field.
There were many processes and hardships involved as our species made the transition from gatherers to hunters and finally to farmers and herders.
Possibly, the greatest tool used in the process was the domestication of the wild dog, which eventually provided humans with protection, companionship, increased hunting abilities and most importantly herding capabilities.
But despite all of the advancements we have made in cultivation and nearly complete mechanization of the agriculture industry, humans continue to seek out opportunities to forage. Quite simply, it is in our nature.
We will still travel to apple orchards or a strawberry farm to pick our own, if such opportunities are available. By and large, these are quaint, old fashioned activities that are now considered a part of ‘heritage tourism’, rather than subsistence efforts.
However, there is also much to be said for the charm, and pure enjoyment of spending a morning or a full afternoon just pickin’.
Although the season’s heavy rains are partly responsible for driving hordes of mice into our homes, the rains also have an positive upside. They served to keep our area rivers flush with cold, freshly oxygenated water, and they also kept the area well watered.
In turn, we have been on the receiving end of lush foliage and fantastic crops of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, some of which are the size of a ‘fat lady’s thimble’.
Berry picking is an activity that is likely as old as mankind, and yet while I am participating in it; I always feel like a kid again.
Sure, I usually eat more fresh berries than I take home in my container, but it’s difficult not to, especially when they’re still moistened by a glimmering morning dew. I’ve spent a great deal of time picking’ blueberries, raspberries and blackberries this year, and I know that there’s plenty of the crop still left in the field.
Another positive consequence of this summer’s regular deluge has been the preponderance of mushrooms, which are seemingly popping up everywhere In fungi circles, this has been a year of vast flushes, as a patch of mushrooms is called.
While I am far from being a skilled mycologist or fungi expert; I have learned which species are edible and where they are often to be found.
There is an old saying among ‘shroomers’ as these enthusiasts prefer to me known. It has to do with the dangers of knowing too little about mushrooms, and too much about foraging.
As foraging goes, berries, apples and nuts are relatively safe picking for amateurs. Not so for mushrooms. There are old ‘shroomers and bold ‘shroomers, but there are no old, bold ‘shroomers’.
If you have ever considered taking up the pursuit, there has rarely ever been such a wealth of local knowledge and opportunity.
In Saranac Lake, mushroom expert Susan Hopkins regularly offers mushroom walks and seminars, and not just for those with a culinary interest. Ms. Hopkins also harvests fungi to use as dyes with natural, organic colors for yarn.
While she regularly offers mushroom walks at the Paul Smiths VIC, and occasionally elsewhere, Hopkins is also available for private sessions on your own property.
Although the Saranac Lake and Lake Placid region does not have a preponderance of oak trees, which are common in the Champlain Valley, there are a few that were planted after the fires in Saranac Lake. Oaks are a prime location for a variety of delicious mushrooms including chanterelles and Hen of the Woods.
There are literally hundred of edible mushrooms available in the Adirondack region, which sadly go to waste because the local population doesn’t recognize the delacies that are literally under their feet.
Over the years, I’ve learned of a few choice locations for oyster mushrooms, which seem to like the beech forests, and I’ve also found some fine flushes of morels and chanterelles in the spring.
Adding such foraged delacies to a pan filled with a freshly caught brook trout, or a venison steak has an overwhelming appeal to anyone who has spent a long day in the woods or on the waters, and...it’s only natural!
For those who want to know more about ‘shrooming ‘ in the Champlain Valley, the CATS organization will be offering a series of Mushroom Foraging Workshops at Black Kettle Farm in Essex.
CATS is the acronym for the Champlain Area Trail System,. They are a not-for -profit organization that has been working on an effort to build trails that will help connect a variety of Champlain Valley communities.
The organization has quietly been offing a wide spectrum of fascinating outdoor education programming for a number of years now, which is one of the best kept secrets in the North Country.
Fortunately, it is time to let the CATS out of the bag. They will be hosting Mushroom Foraging Workshops in the Champlain Valley with Ari Rockland-Miller, co-founder of The Mushroom Forager.
The workshops are about two hours in duration and center on ‘shrooms that are common in the region.
Participants can choose to attend one or two of the workshops, for $35 each on Tuesday, Aug. 26 and Sunday, Sept.14.
The workshops will feature a brief introduction to foraging techniques, sustainable harvesting, and the “Mushroom Forager’s Forage-Cast” approach, followed by a foray while hiking the one-mile Black Kettle Nature Trail loop.
The workshops will begin promptly at 9:30 am at the Black Kettle Nature Trailhead on Cook Road in Essex. Please arrive 15 minutes early to sign-in.
Preregistration is required. Class size is limited to 20 participants, so please register early as the classes fill up fast at a cost of only $35 per person. For more information, please email email@example.com or call our office at 518-962-2287.
Mycologist Susan Hopkins lives in the Saranac Lake area and is a member of several professional organizations including the North American Mycological Association and the Northeastern Mycological Federation.
She will again be offering regular mushroom walks at the Paul Smiths VIC on Sept. 11 and 14, as well as Oct. 5.
Susan has been the featured guest speaker at numerous seminars, lectures and workshops throughout the country.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.