Wednesday, October 26, 2011


A puffball is a magical thing to find in the wild.  It erupts out of the ground and hides under tall grasses.  It sneaks in plain sight!  I have seen these in my life but had never known what they were...and almost always I was finding them when they had long since expired.  They had turned black and emitted the poisonous spores in a small puff when you touched them.  

Back in 2005, we saw a young girl running down the street in Verona with the most enormous puffball mushroom I had ever seen!  Hubbie stopped the girl and it must have seen strange that a tall skinny man with long hair and a beard asked her what she was going to do with it.  Her answer seemed perfectly logical to a child...she was going to smash it!  Hubbie offered her money to give it to us instead of smashing...she of course had to run home to ask her mom if that was alright.  We brought it to our Jack and Jill that night and someone in attendance told us we could get $500 at the St Lawrence Market for it!  

4 yr old Noah in 2005 with THE biggest puffball we've ever seen!

We just like to eat them!  A mushroom that large though would take a room full of people to eat.  It turned bad before we could eat even half of it.  We did through it in the swamp behind our old house hoping it would let out spores and make new ones...we never did see if that turned out or not.

This year were are on the hunt for puffballs again.  Its the right time of year for these pearly white beauties. 

Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) are wonderful wild pickings as there are virtually no poisonous lookalikes.  I will not pick a mushroom (I'm just not schooled enough yet)...but I am confident in my puffball identification to know one when I see one.

They range in size...I've seen little golf-ball sized ones on our lawn.  I've also seen ones the size of basketballs!  They are round-like objects that are weighty.  When cut through, the puffball looks like a button mushroom but without the black parts.  Just bright white flesh throughout.  They smell like a store bought mushroom...but a bit earthier.

For a more in depth look at the puffball on the link below:

I was showing Hubbie the recipe for Puffball Piccata that was posted on The 3 Forager's blog.  I was glad I showed him....he called me at work the next day to tell me he'd found a puffball on the way home! 
What luck!!!

If a puffball is starting to turn yellow...don't bother picking's already past its prime.  Bright white is what you want to look for!

This one was fist it made for a great side dish that night.

Sliced about a centimeter thick...or half an inch for my american readers.  Dust in flour and simmer in a pan or flat grill until golden brown.  These suckers are thirsty, so you'll need a good helping of veg oil.

Add butter and veg stock to the drippings.  (We didn't have any wine though...I wished we did.  The recipe would have been AMAZING!)  We added milkweed capers to the mixture and simmered it down to a nice sauce.  Salty!

For the full recipe, click here on The 3 Foragers link (where we originally got the recipe)

In the end, we had mild italian sausages with a spinach salad and puffball picata for dinner.  Good eyes on Hubbie for spotting the puffball!  We were lucky enough to trade with Local Veronite Joe for some wild grape wine.  A great compliment to this wild meal! 

Noah (shown here at his current age of 10 yrs old) tries the puffball, but it was a little too mushroomy for his tastes.

I, on the other hand, dug right in.  These are definitely a seasonal item.  They only come once a year and you have to get your fill while they are in season.  We've eaten them fried in butter or prepared a la Parmesan with breading and tomato sauce.  The Puffball parmesan tastes a bit like veal to me.  Hubbie thinks I'm crazy. 

Have you ever foraged mushrooms?  Tell me about it in the comments section...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Family Attempts A Fall Foraging Trip

It has been a troublesome few weeks, with Noah getting over his back-to-school cold and Owen contracting a wicked cases of hacking coughs.  I have been trying to get our kids out for a wilderness hike but between illness and poor's been tough. 

I'm still a novice at foraging.  There are only a handful of things I can confidently identify and would bother to grab.  A few months ago, I ordered a few edible plant books in an effort to educate myself a bit more.  A side-line passion of mine is to identify wild flowers in South Frontenac...but foraging wild edibles is a bigger risk that just which kind of dandelion am I looking at. 

I had ordered the book "Identifying Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and not so Wild) Places" by Steve Brill.  It just so happens I knew about Steve Brill from one of my favorite foraging blogs called "The 3 Foragers".  There are a family (not unlike Hubbie and I) with a child that loves the outdoors and the wonderful surprises that nature provides. 

The 3 Foragers posted a video that featured a nature walk hosted by Steve Brill or as he is known "Wildman Steve Brill". 

Steve was reknowned as the "Man who was Arrested for Eating a Dandelion in Central Park"...but there's more to that story if you check out his website (link posted above)

I ordered his book without even putting it together that they were in fact the same man.  Literally days after I watched the video on Forager's blog, I received by very own Steve Brill book!  Coincidence?  I think not!

Hubbie and I packed the kids up for a hike in the backwoods of Desert Lake Family Resort (literally 15 min drive from our house).  We packed a bag of bags for collecting and a couple of useful books (see below).

Can't go wrong with the Audubon!

He started down the nature trail and it wasn't long before we hit the beaver dam.  It's a special place.  At night-time in summer, if you can brave the mosquitos, you can listen to the thundering sounds of a million frogs singing their night song to each other.

We discovered our first specimen!  I grabbed a stalk and stuck it on an old tree while Noah and I got the identifying books.  We thumbed through pages of berries.  The berries were orange-red and round.  That ruled out a lot of options already!  The leaves were oval, toothed and about 2 inches long.  That ruled out everything else.  We still couldn't identify it using edible guide behind it stayed.  I'm not even sure I would have eaten anything that was growing out of a beaver "Beaver Fever" me.   

These were growing right next to the other berries...and I couldn't find them in any of our books either.

Early Canadian writing paper! (aka birch bark)

Owen marches to the beat of his own drum...walking stick and all!

We live in an area with lots of mica.  You find it on the ground now and again.  This piece was the thickest piece I'd seen yet.  Early settlers used this mineral for stove glass due to its ability to withstand high temperatures.  There is an old mica mine in Frontenac Park...worth a hike to see it!

The boys were on a steady search for juniper berries.  It took them off the beaten trail.

AH HA!  Found em!
The juniper bush only sprouts berries on the female trees.

Some valuable father-son time spent in the woods.

Hubbie took this pic as we were coming back from our trek in the woods.  This is the long shot of the beaver dam were started out at.

In the end we came back with Foxtail grass seeds, juniper berries and cedar berries.  The cedar berries were just falling off the trees in bunches, so I grabbed some on the way out and decided to look them up after we got home.

Foxtail grass is found just about ANYWHERE!  At this time of can take the tops and knock them into a bag and collect seeds very easily, provided they are dark.  Turns out the sell a form of this seed at health food stores under the name of millet!  You can add it anywhere you would normally add poppy seeds.  You can grind it up using a grain mill and add a bit to your general baking.  We'll find out and let you know!

We had gone fishing a day or so ago...and while the boys were busy catching rock bass...I was looking for vauable foragables.  I ended up finding some wild grapes right next to our favorite fishing spot in Verona!!!  It was like finding gold!  I grabbed a few grapes and had Noah and Hubbie try it out.  It tasted just like Welch's grape juice!  (be careful of seeds though) I'll be sure to keep an eye on that spot for next year. 

Foraging seems to be an act of patience.  It requires restraint and knowledge.

I look forward to many more trips out with the family...(i thought I spied some massive glasswort and want to go back next year when its sweeter and new...rather than late in the season and woody.)  I will endeavour to read up on stuff this winter.  Next year should be full of foraging surprises...

What have you found in the woods? 

If you've ever foraged before, let me know what's your favorite forest goody?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Venison & Guiness Stew...

Living light on this earth and vegetarianism often go hand in hand.  Literature from some of the vegan camps will have you believe meat is the root of all evil.  I'm certainly not here to dispell any myths about the meat industry.  I prefer to get my sustinence from places where mass production does not exist.  I prefer to take control over where I get my foods (where I can) and prefer to support the guy next door, rather than the corporate machine.  On the other hand, I do want to discuss hunting as a form of foraging. 

Many outdoor magazines of late have discussed hunting as the ultimate on living lightly on this earth.  The meat is fresh, virtually fat free (making it extremely lean meat indeed!), toxin and hormone free as well as being a very healthy course of many minerals and protein.  Sadly, game meat has been cast in a dark light due to the bad practises of a precious few hunters.  Many hunters use conservationist practises and only take what they are willing to eat or pool their resources within the camp to make each animal go farther. 

The summer 2008 issue of Outdoors Canada (The Edible Wild edition) is an issue dedicated to the idea that anglers and hunters ARE in fact conservationalists.  In the introduction to the article "The best of living off the land", the editor waxes on about the days of growing environmental awareness and health consciousness.  It states "Well, that's where anglers and hunters come in.  They've long been doing what many others are only now beginning to sustainably off the land."
Our family members are the beneficiaries of free wild meat from families who either aren't sure how to prepare it or don't like the unique taste it affords. 

We are not too proud to accept free meat!

I proudly give to you a recipe that arrives from our garden's hard work as well as nature's hard work.  It has very little impact on our earth.  It doesn't support the meat industry.  It took almost no fossil fuels to create.  It also tastes like something my ancestors would have created in Ireland upon their arrival to Canada.  (not saying that cans of Guiness were readily available to settlers...but you never know what they threw in their stews...tee hee)

The first steps deal with the preparation of the meat...

I rinse the meat several times over.  Using fresh water each time.  I sealed the meat in a zip loc bag over night.  I stuffed the meat in the bag with veg oil, 3 cloves of garlic and salt.  The next day, I cooked the meat off in a frying pan (drain off the fluids first, depending on the cut, it can be oily and bloody...kind of a shock compared to commercial meats.)

Once the venison is browned, I add it to the slow cooker and begin to add the rest of the yummy ingredients.  Chopped celery, chopped parsnips from the garden from last year, potatoes from the garden this year, beef broth, the Guiness (about 1/4 of a can), 2 bay leaves (whole)...

These weird carrots are from our garden (above) as are these onions (below).

Well, of course the Guiness wasn't from our garden...but it was FREE!  What more can you ask for???

The stew simmered covered for 7 hours.  I added some sifted flour to the bubbling mix to thicken it up a bit.

This is another recipe that makes me feel like fall is here.

Red meat, root vegetables, thick brothed souped & stews...all things that my tastebuds have been craving since the cooler weather has arrived.  Cloudy days are made for soups & stews!  

You can make this stew ahead of time and freeze it for future use.  It went over really well at the Omemee Jam this past August.  The adults went crazy for it (the kids, not so much)!  Its also a great meal to have in the slow cooker for those days when its cold out, but there's work to be done.  Keeps the body warm and working!

Have you ever gotten your meat from a forest as opposed to a store?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A day in the wild...

Let me start by saying that this post has nothing to do with cooking or you'll just have to bear with me.

After 7 weeks away in Ottawa, I really had to come to terms with the amount of time I had just spent away from my family and my home.  One of the things I had no idea I was going to miss was just being in nature.  It was such a simple thing that I missed.

The ability to go somewhere without hearing man made noise.

Fortunately, I am able to drive less than 20 min from my home and find such a place.  Even more fortunate am I that I have wonderful family that invites me to share in this place.

I drive the long country road that takes me to this place on a grey day that was threatening rain.

I feel not just that I have escaped from the city, but that I may have been transported back into the times of the settlers.  This may have been my backyard as an early pioneer in these parts.

Paddling around a secluded lake on a day without work.

Its actually the backyard of the hunting camp that is a part of my husband's family.  This day trip was not about hunting though.  It was about reconnecting.  With family, friends and nature.

The hunting camp started with humble beginnings but now features such luxuries as indoor toilets and a tv.

I was excited to get out on the bikes.  I haven't been on an atv run in a long while.  Its a popular past time with my I get to visit with them while exploring a raw and rudged landscape that swings from bold and beautiful to other-worldy and alien.

The familiar trees were oak and sumac.  Amazing that these trees could grow on top of not much more than rock.  The ground cover plants started to take on alien life forms.

Down a pine-needle filled pathway we discovered the gateway
to Scanlon Lake (or as some maps say Sexton Lake). 

The lake was misty and quiet.  Like glass laid in front of the rocks at the shoreline.  I could picture native gatherers crossing this body of water in stealthy canoes.  

We took our lunch break and enjoyed the peaceful quiet.   I could image early settlers fishing in small boats or playing one of the first recorded games of hockey. 

This was a relative of mine back in the early 1900's (picture actually taken in the Tweed area I believe).

I could picture this as my home.  I could be a hunter/gatherer and live in this land.  My mind began to race with the possibilities.  Is there enough in this rocky area to survive?  Our tour pressed on and my eyes were trying to spot the possibilities...

I suddenly wished I had spent the last 7 weeks reading Steve Brill's book call "Identifying & Harvesting Edible & Medicinal Plants in Wild (and not so wild) Places" I have no idea what these berries were.  They had a kind of spike on their I took the hint and moved on.  It was on the verge of rain all I was glad that I HADN'T brought the book with me.

Mushrooms are another thing I know virtually nothing about...I can spot a puffball and a morel with confidence, but that is where I draw the line.  These white suckers were enormous!  Probably could have made a meal out of each of them....but I was smart enough to take pictures now and do the research later.

One of the great things about this property is the personal history.  There is a monument built to my mother-in-law's parents Chester and Sarah.  It represents a spectacular view of the property and a connection to nature that is being passed down through the generations.  Owen is the next family member in our wee family that has yet to see the monument. 

On the plaque is the phrase "Some people go their whole lives, without seeing anything like this".  A pause to reflect how true that statement really is.

At what felt like the peak of a mountain, the landscape started to feel alien.  The groundcover plants looked like they should have been grown in an aquarium.  The textures of these plants were spectacular!  Spikey stars with bright orange mushrooms erupting from them. 

Like coral but on the surface of a rock! 

Wild strawberries and their runners in action.

Moss that looks like shag carpeting...

Juniper berries by the bucketload...but not quite ripe enough.

Moss that appears to form little higways aross the rocks...

I could imagine pioneer beaver trappers traversing through land like this to make their wages.

The rocks suddenly changed the colour of the landscape!

We could see the rain coming in the distance and decided to head on back to the camp. 

I had one last commune with the landscape before it was time to head back to my home in cottage country.  My mind was filled with thoughts of early settler life, getting back to basics and reading that encyclopedia by Steve Brill.  I vow to know more edible plants the next time I get invited back to the hunting camp.

What do you do to escape the urban sprawl and get back in touch with our natural selves?