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12/4/2014

It is time to share one of my favorite holiday dishes: the stuffing, or in this case, the dressing. This is a recipe my mom has made for as long as I can remember, which she got from her grandmother, my great-grandmother. My great-grandmother called it her celery onion dressing, but this is so much more than just onions and celery.

Onion Celery Dressing Recipe

Great-Grandmother's Onion-Celery Dressing

We don’t stuff the turkey with it, which is why we call it dressing, since we serve it on the side. You could stuff a turkey with it, but just remember that it will substantially lengthen the time you have to cook the bird to ensure that it’s safely cooked through.

When I asked my mom for this dressing recipe, she told me she didn’t actually have it written down and just made it from memory. In my opinion, these always seem to be the best recipes, especially when my mom is involved, because she is seriously one of the best cooks ever. I’m not joking. She’s never made a bad meal and she can pull all the leftovers out of the fridge and make the best meal you’ve ever eaten in your life. Of course, she’ll never be able to repeat it again, but you know the next meal will be just as delicious. Even though she always made this recipe by memory, she humored me and wrote it down.

Ingredients:

• 1 large round loaf of sourdough or French bread
• 2 yellow onions, chopped
• 3/4 cup mushrooms, chopped (assorted is best—button, crimini—and add some shiitake if you have them)
• 1 pound of spicy HOT sausage (Italian is great)
• About 5 stalks of celery, chopped
• 4-6 large cloves of garlic, minced
• 6-8 eggs, whisked
• 1/2 to 2/3 cup melted butter
• salt and pepper
• 3 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
• 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
• 1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
• 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
• 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
• 1/2 tsp curry
• chicken broth
• nuts, cranberries, or apples (optional)

Instructions:

1. Cut the loaf of bread into 1/2-inch to 1-inch cubes the night before and put them in a warm oven (a pilot light is sufficient) until the cubes are hard.

2. Don’t chop the vegetables too fine or the dressing will lack texture.

3. Sauté the sausage first then add the onions, mushrooms, celery, and garlic, cooking until the onions are translucent and the sausage is cooked.

4. Mix the bread cubes with the sautéed sausage and veggies then add the melted butter, eggs, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, curry powder, thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley, whatever other spices you might like, and fruit and/or nuts, if you want. Then add chicken broth until the mixture is quite moist but not mushy.

5. Put the stuffing in a covered casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes. Enjoy and happy Thanksgiving!

This post previously appeared on HOMEGROWN.org and Dog Island Farm.

Rachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

More Homegrown Holiday Helpers

12 Days of DIY: Gifts You Can Making in a Single Sitting
HOMEGROWN Life: It’s Fall. Time to Eat!
Hungry for the Holidays: A Spotify Playlist

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



12/3/2014

pumpkin granola

From the familiar fall flavors of pumpkin, pecans, and oats to the warm and welcoming spices perfuming the air as the mixture bakes, this granola truly embodies the season. 

It’s also a great recipe for bringing the family together in the kitchen. After the pumpkin mixture comes off the heat, my three-year-old loves to dump the dry ingredients into the saucepan and vigorously stir it all together. Breaking the cooled granola into pieces is a hit with the little ones as well. 

While the recipe is fairly simple, keep in mind that there is a fine line between crisp granola and burnt granola. Spreading out the mixture in as thin and even a layer as possible is key. Since ovens can be quite variable and temperamental, use the specified cooking times as a guideline, but be sure to peek in on the granola—especially after increasing the heat to 400—to make sure you don’t scorch your pecans.

The sprinkling of salt and sugar over the top is completely optional. I think it brings out the best flavor and adds a touch of interest to the texture; plus it gives you something to do while the oven is coming up to the higher cooking temperature.

I adore the combination of pumpkin and Chinese 5 spice powder (typically a mix of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel, and black pepper), but you could absolutely substitute pumpkin-pie spice if you prefer.

A perfect addition to a homemade-goody basket or care package, the granola travels well and keeps up to two weeks, tightly sealed at room temperature. Make it as a breakfast cereal, yogurt topping, or fireside snack for you and those you are thankful for.

Pumpkin Spice Granola Recipe:

• 1/3 cup coconut oil
• 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
• 1 cup pumpkin puree
• 1 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder (I use The Spice Hunter brand)
• 1 tsp ground cassia or cinnamon
• 1 tsp kosher salt
• 2 cups old-fashioned oats (not steel-cut or instant)
• 1 cup chopped pecans
• 1/3 cup golden flax seeds
• 1/2 cup toasted, salted pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
• Pinches each of kosher salt and granulated sugar for sprinkling, if desired

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and line an 18-x-13-inch (or larger) rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a reusable silicone mat.

2. In a medium-sized saucepan whisk together the coconut oil, brown sugar, and pumpkin puree until well-mixed, and cook over medium-to-medium-low heat just until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture begins to boil — about 5 minutes. 

3. Off the heat, use a rubber spatula to stir in the salt and spices and then the remaining ingredients.

4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet, using the spatula to spread out and flatten the mixture as much as possible without touching the edges of the pan. 

5. Using the flat tip of the spatula, make a series of dashes across the mixture (about every three inches or so). This will help the mixture cook evenly and break apart more easily when cooled.

6. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, rotating pan halfway through if necessary.

7. Remove the pan from the oven and increase heat to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

8. Sprinkle just a pinch each of kosher salt and a granulated sugar over the top (if desired) and cook an additional 10 to 12 minutes.

9. Allow the granola to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before carefully transferring the parchment or silicone mat to a cooling rack to cool completely.

10. Once completely cool, use your hands to transfer the granola into an airtight container, breaking it into irregular pieces as you go (larger pieces are great for snacking; smaller pieces make the best cereal or yogurt topping). If the granola is not quite crisp when completely cool, place back on the baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure it does not burn.

Morgan Crumm is a mother, blogger, recipe-developer, and real-food advocate based in Dallas, TX. More of her work can be found at BeingTheSecretIngredient.com, a blog about food, life, and love.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


12/1/2014

veggiepie                                        

When I was a child, my mom would buy those ghastly frozen individual pot pies at the grocery store when they were on sale. Chicken, turkey, beef.. all encased in a fat laden crust that turned golden brown when you baked them. I loved those things.  Every now and then, she would make big ones from scratch, usually after Thanksgiving when she was looking for ways to use up leftover turkey.  She'd get the big 9-by-13 baking pan out (there were 8 of us) and she'd put a pastry crust on the bottom, load it up with turkey and frozen peas and carrots and cooked diced potatoes in a yummy gravy and top it with more crust.  

I'm a sucker for anything in gravy to this day. Luckily, I married a man from northern Wisconsin who fell in love with me because I was the first woman he'd met that knew how to make gravy.  I wowed him over and over with these one dish pot pies.  As the years went on, I learned better ways to make that dish that were a little healthier,  most times, using my organic produce from the garden and leaner cuts of meat and sometimes no meat at all.  I make the pie crusts with butter instead of shortening, and use whole wheat pastry flour or at the very least unbleached flour to make the crust. Sometimes I make it with no bottom crust, and a biscuit crust on the top.  That's what we have today.

We belong to a discussion group that started out reading and discussing sustainability and ecology and food choices. At the end of each session, we have a big vegetarian potluck. This is fun because we have so many good cooks and there is a magnificent array of dishes.  One time I was trying to decide what to fix with what I had on hand, and it was a cold winter evening and I thought, boy...pot pie would be good. I went sleuthing around in the pantry and the cold room where we keep our root vegetables, came out with a handful of yummy things and an idea for a roasted root vegetable pot pie. 

You can make this dish with whatever you like. One secret ingredient in this added a layer of sweet richness to this that knocked everybody out.  I washed and thinly sliced an apple.  It made a world of difference in the taste.

carrots                                         

Making the Filling

Here's a list of ingredients I used for the filling.  I decided to make the biscuit crust for this one (simpler). After rummaging around in the pantry, I came out with.

Ingredients:

• 3 carrots
• 1 small butternut squash
• 1 large sweet potato
• 1 large onion
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1 overripe apple
• 2 medium-sized red potatoes

In the fridge I found a stalk of celery,  some wild mushrooms (hen of the woods), and some butter.  In the cabinet, I found some dried basil from last years garden, some sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

My vegetables are all organic. I wash them, I peel the ones that I have to (in this case the squash) and scrub the potatoes. I plant Beauregard sweet potatoes which have a very thin skin and we eat them skin and all. You can peel them if you want to, but I'll take the easy way every time. 

Instructions:

1. Cut the vegetables into bite sized pieces, spread out on a baking pan.

2. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and roast them in a 400 degree Fahrenheit  oven. Roasting vegetables first will bring out the sweet earthy flavors of the caramelized sugars in them.  And experiment with different kinds of vegetables. Does your family like turnips? Or beets?  Parsnips ?  Play with this dish and make it your own !

3. In another pan, melt some butter and slice your celery and mushrooms and apple into it.

4. Saute gently until the celery is tender.  

5. The mushrooms should put off enough liquid to make a broth base, add some hot water and your spices.  

6. Basil or rosemary or thyme will all complement your vegetables.  I have all 3, but I always have more basil than anything and that's what I grab first.  

7. You can lightly thicken this mixture if you want a nice gravy. Use cornstarch mixed in a little cold water.  

8. When your veggies are finished roasting (expect this to take about 30 minutes), you can mix all this together and pour it into a baking dish. For this amount, I used a round quiche dish with high sides.

Biscuit Dough Recipe

Now, the biscuit dough recipe I use is from a friend named Mary who lives in South Africa. We have been friends for several years and we were chatting one day and she mentioned she was making scones. And I said-- "oh! I love scones !  Send me your recipe."  And she did. And as I looked at it, scratching my head, I thought, "this looks like my granny's buttermilk biscuit recipe."  Well sure enough, the scones that we eat in this country are a whole different animal from the classic scones in Europe and beyond, which are, actually, biscuits.  Apparently.  At any rate, they're the easiest and best tasting biscuits I have ever eaten.

Ingredients:

• 2-1/2 cups flour
• 3-1/2 tsp baking powder
• 1 tbsp. sugar
• 1-1/2 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp baking soda
• 1/2 cup softened butter
• 1-1/4 cups buttermilk

Instructions:

1. Mix together the dry ingredients.

2. Cut the stick of butter into small cubes and then work into the flour mix with a pastry cutter.  

3. Once the mixture is nice and crumbly, stir in the buttermilk.

4. You don't want to overwork this dough, so knead it on a floured piece of waxed paper about 5 times.  

5. Then gently pat it out to about 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick.  

6. Use a cookie cutter of your choice (I had to decide between the angel and the star), cut out the biscuits and lay them on top of your pan of vegetables. 

 veggiepotpie

 veggiepie

7. Cook this beauty in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven until the biscuits are done, about 15 to 20 minutes.

8. When it comes out of the oven, brush those little angels with some butter to make them glisten and shine.

It's a beautiful dish, healthy and hearty, and sure to please your family and friends. 


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12/1/2014

Artificial sweeteners, for example Splenda, Equal, Sugar Twin, or any of the house named brands of the same thing, are used by millions of people every day, with the hope of helping to lose weight and prevent dental decay (Wikipedia, Nov. 28, 2014). These products have been on the market now, some of them for over 40 years, or even longer if you want to look at saccharin or cyclamates. Controversy has, and still does, swirl around their safety and effectiveness. They are in many, many food products, making it nearly impossible to avoid them. Yogurt, ice cream, sodas, fruit drinks, juices, puddings, gelatin products, cookies, snacks, candies, the list goes on and on, and people just keep consuming more and more of them. Exactly as their manufacturers had hoped we would. We’ve been consistently warned about the ill effects of too much weight, and the so-called obesity and diabetes epidemics now for 30 years or more. Yet, people gain more and more, and more and more of us are diabetic, exemplified now in young children and teens. We were told these “safe” products would help us win the Battle of the Bulge, cut down on the carbs we consume, and prevent tooth decay. Evidence now points to the obesity epidemic starting about the time artificial sweeteners became mainstream. I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in soft drinks, ketchup, etc. So, have they lived up to their promises?

artificial sweetener

I would have to answer with a resounding no. We’re all fatter than ever (at least a lot of us are), and diabetes is the disease of the decade. I can’t speak to tooth decay, perhaps that’s one area we’ve gained in. If it is, is it worth the risks? Save your teeth and become diabetic or obese? There have been arguments on both sides of the fence, pro and con. Why, if they’re so wonderful, aren’t we all slim and trim, with no hint of diabetes anywhere? What about the side effects, such as digestive distress with Splenda, and addiction to Equal? Even my doctor, a GP, got addicted to it, drinking more and more diet soda (he ended with drinking 10-12 cans a day!). I got addicted to it many years ago by putting more and more of those innocent little blue packets into my tea. After a while, I just couldn’t get enough tea with that stuff in it. After my GP warned of his experience, I did an experiment. I cut them all out, the cravings for sugar or aspartame were awesome, but after 3 days it all went away. The second part of my experiment was to see if I could re-create the addiction. Sure enough, after less than a week of putting the aspartame back in, the cravings all came back. Cut them out again, it all went away. The lesson learned here, after using myself as a guinea pig, was yes, it’s absolutely addicting. Also, have you ever wondered why they say don’t bake with it? The answer is that at high oven temperatures, or lower temperatures but over a longer period of time, aspartame breaks down into formaldehyde. That sounds really yummy.

Further evidence to back up the damming nature of these products comes from a recently released 2014 study on artificial sweeteners in Israel (Suez, Jotham, et al, 2014). Researchers in Chicago concurred (Wikipedia, 2014). Many of you perhaps have heard about this already, but if you haven’t, here’s the gist: Those who consume artificial sweeteners have different fauna and flora in their gut than those who don’t consume them. Also, those with the altered gut organisms develop diabetes. You heard correct, it was their conclusion that these products actually cause diabetes, just by changing the gut fauna and flora. The irony here is, that sugar was believed to cause diabetes. It does not, but does aggravate it once you have it. Their 381 test subjects, all volunteers, were fed a diet of this stuff, becoming diabetic, but when their gut bacteria was all killed off with use of an anti-biotic, they went back to their non-diabetic selves. It also seems to be a cause of obesity as well. This opens up a number of intriguing possibilities, but also an awful lot of troubling questions. What are these things actually doing to us? Did the manufacturers know this would be the result? Now that the evidence is pointing in the direction that it is, will they ban these products? Where does the FDA among others go from here? If anywhere? My fear is that it will all be swept under the carpet and ignored. After all, there is big money to be made, and it’s almost always at the public’s expense. It isn’t the first time our health has been held hostage for profit. It will be most interesting to see what the European Union (EU) does with this information, as they are usually quicker to respond to these issues than the US or Canada.

We do have a choice (amazingly): We don’t have to eat this stuff. It would appear that the terribly maligned sugar (sucrose) may still be the safest. And we don’t have to use tons of it either: I regularly cut all sugar called for in a baking recipe in half, usually with no ill effects to the finished product. Another trick is to substitute brown sugar, again a reduced quantity, for the white sugar. Your foods will have more flavor. You do need to use your common sense however, so what I recommend is to cut some of the sugar the first time you make your recipe, if it works, and you still want less sugar, cut it some more the next time you make it. This is a system of trial and error, but we’ll all be healthier in the end.

Go to her website to follow the further adventures of Sue Van Slooten.

Notes:

Wikipedia: Sugar Substitute - Retrieved November 28, 2014.

Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota - Nature

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11/28/2014

Roasted Root Vegetables

As Thanksgiving Day winks at us, what a great time of year to celebrate root vegetables. Carrots this year have been particularly sweet and colorful. While I tend to focus on the a big turkey leg and dressing smothered in gravy, my vegan daughter loves the mashed potatoes (churched up with some vegetable stock and soy milk) and vegetables roasted to a crisp caramel-brown in the oven.

The recipe for roasted veggies is below. It’s the most unfussy dish you will ever throw in a pan. Key ingredients can vary depending on which are your favorites and which look best in the store. Or, if you're really lucky, which grew best in your garden. Carrots, sweet potatoes and onions all tend to be low priced this time of year.

If you read my earlier blog post about potting up rosemary and wintering it in a sunny window, here's a photo of my rosemary which is doing very well so far. That’s what I’ve used in the recipe below.

Roasted Root Vegetables Recipe

Ingredients:

• 1 pound carrots
• 1 pound yams or sweet potatoes
• 1/2 pound parsnips
• 1 medium onion, cut in chunks
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
• 1 tsp sea salt
• 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
• 1/4 cup olive oil

Instructions:

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a cookie sheet and slide it into the oven to heat on the middle rack. Putting the vegetables on a sizzling pan kick-starts the browning process. In my case, removing the hot tray from the oven also gives me one more chance to burn myself – so I can get that out of the way early.

2. Cut the vegetables into consistent pieces, each about the size of a small French fry. Place them in a large bowl along with the onion, garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper and oil.

3. Spread the vegetables evenly over the hot cookie sheet and put in the oven. After about 15 minutes, turn the veggies over. Continue to bake until they are tender on the inside and brown on the outside. Remove from the oven and season to taste. Vegetables can absorb a lot of salt. 

Using Leftovers

If you have leftovers, they are best quickly sautéed just to heat through before serving a second time. You can also microwave them, but they may get a little soggy. For something slightly more transformed, put them all in the blender, add some vegetable stock and make a sweet, nutritious puree.

You can read more about Dede's publishing credits at her website, DedeRyan.com.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



11/25/2014

Making your own chili powder or other spice mix is a quick DIY project. It takes five minutes, using ingredients you probably already have in your spice drawer. The price benefit is significant, proportionally — one blogger calculated that his homemade taco mix cost 18 cents to make instead of the $2.39 it would cost him to buy a ready-made packet. Neither of those is big bucks, but the mix is twelve times the price of mixing your own. And the wellness benefits are significant: you get to skip the preservatives and fillers, ensure freshness and adjust the recipe to your tastebuds.

I started making my own spice mixes because I grow and preserve some of the ingredients and I wanted to utilize them. I want to blend my oregano, ancho pepper powder and garlic powder into homemade chili powder; add my rosemary, thyme and oregano into an Italian mix; dry my own parsley and include it in a green salad dressing mix.

Use With Chicken

These are all reason enough for me, but when I got started, I quickly realized the benefits are deeper for me. I am gaining valuable education in the kitchen.  I now know what makes chili taste good. It is garlic and cumin and paprika and cayenne and oregano. I am learning more about spices, their individual fragrances, how they combine with other spices, and the magic they offer to culinary dishes. Once I become more familiar with spices, I will learn how to use them better.  Making my own spice mixes will teach me more about how to cook with them.

Making my own is teaching me more than buying a spice mix ever could. A mix that says “use with chicken” offers some good information, but that can only get me so far. I’m going to end up with even more understanding when I know its component spices and how they work. I will de-mystify the “chili powder” or “taco seasoning”. I can start to identify the nuances of the ingredients and tinker with the proportions, to make an even better chili.

Here’s a story of how this simple DIY project went array. But as in many cases, that is when the learning begins.

First I grew and dried and dehydrated and powdered ancho chilis, straight from the garden. A very satisfied gardener gone spice maven, I labeled my jar “Ancho Chili Powder” and I added it to the spice cabinet.

 Ancho Pepper Powder

Chiles in Your Chili

My brother Ron, an innocent bystander, set out to make a crock of chili in my kitchen. He used the jar of Ancho Chili Powder, and he used extra because he likes it spicy. You may recall that chili powder is a blend of spices. Ron used this pure ancho powder, rather than a chili powder mix, and WOW did it punch back! He learned the hard way that chili powder is made of paprika, cumin, and garlic as well as chiles, usually ancho or cayenne. And he learned that he better be wary of the homemade home-labeled spices he will find in my spice cabinet.

My friend Leah taught us something we needed to know about the Spanish language—chile is the Spanish word for pepper and chili is the stew made with peppers. I have only ever seen the spelling for “chili” in a recipe, so I did some investigating. I walked around our natural food co-op for some spellings. Bags of dried whole peppers were labeled as “dried chiles”. And there was the “chili powder” in the spice section. OK, I see the distinction. But look at the first ingredient of the Frontier brand chili powder: it is chili powder. Now do not try to convince me that they are referring to the blend they are making. That’s chile powder, dried peppers, right? See, so I’m not going crazy here. Americans are using the word “chili” for both chiles and for chili stew, confusing the issue further. How am I supposed to know when the recipe needs my dried ancho chile powder and when it needs chili powder blend?

Chili Powder

So I am experimenting. I combined my chile powder with cumin, oregano, paprika and garlic to make chili powder. I combined my newly mixed chili powder with more paprika, oregano and cumin to make fajita seasoning. It doesn’t smell strong enough. But now I think the “chili powder” listed in my fajita recipe really meant pure chile powder and not chili powder? I would have no idea. At 18 cents a batch, I will try both. I look forward to testing them out and tinkering the recipes to perfection.

If you are concerned about Ron’s crock of chili, rest assured, we fixed it. We poured out the liquid, added a jar of ketchup and tomato puree and garlic and cumin, and simmered it another day. It was still spicy but better. Mixed with some pumpkin soup, it was great.

When people started using ready-made spice mixes, we lost education in the kitchen. We lost education about what spices do, so now everyone buys mixes, even though they are so inexpensive and easy and better to make. Reignite your appreciation for cooking and spices by understanding what goes into those mysterious mixes. But I’m warning you, you may uncover some mysteries along the way.

Recipes are readily available online, especially by way of Pinterest. You can start with my Pinterest board, which will lead you to many others.  And please, share with me a good chili powder recipe that does not include chili powder as one of the ingredients.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and House In the Woods Blog, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to  House In The Woods Blog


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


11/25/2014

As Boletus edulis is the mighty king and Cantharellus cibarius, the dainty queen of Kingdom Fungi, Chicken of the Woods and Witch’s Butter are brightly costumed jokers.  Parasites in the mushroom realm, these shelf mushrooms feed on trees, unlike saprophytic mushrooms that live on dead organic matter or mycorrhizal fungi that form symbiotic relationships with soil and roots.

Chicken of the Woods

Laetiporus sulphureus is a showcase find. Spiraling skyward on live trees or hiding on the under side of dead ones, Chicken of the Woods flaunts her neon feathers to all who pass by.

Witch's Butter

Key Features 

Chicken of the woods is easily distinguishable, growing laterally from trees, like a shelf, overlapped and often in great quantity. The cap is bright yellow-orange to orange, with brightly yellow tips that stands in stark contrast to the neutral colors of the forest.  Tiny pores are found on the underside of the cap. When older, this variety is medium-size to very large, tough, and faded in color.

Where and When to Find

Surprisingly, this species is not uncommon. Take a walk deep in the woods and you will probably see the flicker of a tail feather that leads to the whole flock. Chicken of the Woods grows on living and dead hardwoods and conifers, such as: eucalyptus, oak, plum, fir, hemlock, and spruce from late August to November. Harvest Chicken of the Woods when small, brightly colored, and tender. Otherwise, tree bark may be a softer, more palatable choice.

Identification of False Varieties

Although there are no false varieties or poisonous look-alikes, dietary distress has been linked to varieties found on eucalyptus trees and conifers. Instead of pocketing the mushroom field book, you’ll want to reference your tree guidebook for this one.

Cooking with Chicken of the Woods

Lemony, tofu-like, and hearty, Chicken of the Woods is a culinary treat. Like any other wild variety, cook thoroughly, and take advice from David Aurora, author of Mushrooms Demystified “if you eat and enjoy this mushroom…do not serve it to lawyers, landlords, employers, policemen, pit bull owners or others whose good will you cherish!” Only cook the tender tips, and be creative with recipes.  

witch's butter

Witch’s Butter

Slimy and weird, Tremella mesenterica, is the perfect Halloween treat. The first time I found Witch’s Butter, I stood transfixed by the gelatinous mass oozing from the tree branch. I was on a backpacking trip in the Hoh River Valley, in the Olympic Mountain Range in Washington State. Each step was a narrow avoidance of bright banana slugs and monstrous black slugs. Could this be yet another snail variety? No, to my amazement, I was in the presence of the strange species of Witch’s Butter.

Key Features

Aside from slimy and weird, a more technical description of Tremella mesenterica would be a gelatinous substance, yellow to orange. The shape can vary from bloblike to wrinkled and brainlike. It is one mass body, with no stalk present. The size is small to medium (1-3 inches) and it is more prevalent in moist areas.

Where and When to Find

Witch’s butter can be found year round, but thrives in a cooler environment in late fall and early winter. Like Chicken of the Woods, it is a common parasitic species, thriving on logs, stumps, or fallen branches. If the weather turns dry, it will shrivel up, only to swell after a good rain.

Identification of False Varieties 

Witch’s butter is a safe mushroom in the respect that no toxic lookalikes exist. However, Dacyrmyces palmatus, otherwise known as dissolving mushroom, is its doppelganger. This twin is considerably smaller, more orange, and has a whitish point of attachment to its host.

Edibility

Edible? That’s your preference, but yes, you may butter your toast.


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