Fall Feast

The forest is covered with a quilt of orange, yellow, and red. The cool wind swirls around us, hardening our faces, as we peer far ahead, up and down, looking for a hint of gray or brown that doesn’t belong.

We are mushroom hunting– “Vegetarian hunting” as my partner describes it. Since she doesn’t deer hunt like I do, mushroom hunting is as good as it gets for her (and I have to say it’s pretty fun for me as well). In many years, October offers the last and often richest major mushroom haul of the year. There are several species you can find after October if the weather is right, but the greatest abundance often occurs just before and after the leaves change.

Unfortunately, a draught plagued the first half of the fall and many of the common mushrooms we rely on could not be found. But, we began to notice that boletes were thriving in these unusual conditions. In fact, I struck gold one day when walking through the woods of New Hampshire. I saw dozens of what looked like buns fresh out of the oven. Could it be the King I thought?

As I stepped closer, I could see their stout stalks holding up even wider caps. And, upon closer inspection, I could see the tell-tale matrix webbing just under the cap. It was the King! King Bolete. We dried a bounty of mushrooms to last through the winter for use in soups, pasta sauces, and pies. We also left many more in the woods to propagate.

Fall is about more than just mushrooms. I take great pleasure in harvesting nuts too, especially butternuts, black walnuts, hickories, and acorns. Some may view it as a long arduous process (and frankly it is), but I look forward to it every year and treat it as a meditative process.

Fall is also the second root season (the first being spring), so it’s a good time to dig for primrose, parsnips, dandelion, chickory, wild carrots, burdock, garlic mustard and others. And, it’s the last chance to preserve food for the winter. Given my bad track record for preserving food, I knew I had to take it up a notch this season, especially given my personal goal of eating wild edibles every day for an entire year. I used the opportunity to dry and freeze several varieties of late season plants, mushrooms, and nuts.

This fall I also faced the biggest challenge to keeping up with my daily consumption goal. I had to take a business trip to Minneapolis, MN, a city I’ve never been too. The place I was staying was downtown, a daunting prospect for finding wild edibles (at least clean wild edibles). Moreover, my schedule was pre-planned from 6 am to 7 pm, with some obligations running even later into the night. How could I possibly find and consume wild edibles while I was there?

Could I bring wild edibles with me? I could check a bag and put whatever I wanted in it, but I refuse to check bags since everyone I know has lost luggage at least once.

Could I bring wild edibles on the plane? Maybe, but it would have to be something dried that would survive the journey. Dried mushrooms perhaps? Hmmm… maybe that’s not such a good idea. Imagine the look on a TSA security guard’s face when he asks what I have in the bag, and I say just a few mushrooms!

Given my unlucky track record of being searched by TSA, I figured I needed something inconspicuous. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t understand why anyone would want to eat wild food and might think I’ve got something up my sleeve. I especially didn’t want to have to explain anything out of the norm since I was transporting over 5 lbs of camera batteries, without a camera (I was planning on filming a video with some of my colleagues from other colleges, while at the conference).

The solution to this strange modern-day conundrum? Trail mix. Trail mix with wild black walnuts! I cracked the nuts the night before so they would be fresh and mixed them in with some store bought trail mix, so I wouldn’t have to answer any questions about my unusual bag of nuts that smells like gasoline (they really do smell odd). Problem solved!

It’s a good thing I brought my own wild edibles, because I walked over 20 blocks across the city and couldn’t find anything that wasn’t covered in fast food wrappers, used condoms, and dog shit.

Perhaps I was over-reacting with wanting to bring inconspicuous wild edibles on the plane. Sure, but it just so happens I was pulled out of line in the security gate, my bag was searched, and my laptop was tested for bomb residue. I gotta say, I’m kinda glad I didn’t have dried mushrooms with me, even if they were just harmless, non-psychedelic edibles.

I didn’t eat as many varieties this fall as I normally would have because we had to deal with a personal tragedy, so our time in the woods was limited. All I had time to harvest was acorn, wood sorrel, wild grape, mountain ash, black walnut, comb’s tooth, dandelion, fiddleheads (frozen from the spring), barberry, ginko, hickory, goldthread, chaga, wintergreen, king bolete, goldthread, patridgeberry and juniper.