Shrooms, Ramps, and Snakes… Oh My!

There’s something about foraging that I love. After being inspired by this VPR segment on discovering backyard edibles, I decided to go on a hunt for my own morels and garlicky ramps. So, yesterday I put on sweatpants, a baseball cap, and my husband’s mud boots and headed into the woods. (I was looking like a fashionista, as always.) I carried a hand shovel (just to make me look more like a woodsman) and covered myself in bug spray (just to make me smell more like a Boy Scout.) I was ready to gather anything remotely digestible.

When a friend called moments before I left the house, I told her that I could only talk for a moment because I was mushrooming. She was horrified. “You are OFFICIALLY a Vermonter,” she said with a sigh. “Call me when you get sick of the woods and want to go to TJMaxx.” I hung up the phone and trampled on to the Great Outdoors.

I didn’t tell my friend that this wasn’t my first mushrooming expedition. Two years prior, another friend pointed out a morel under a blossoming ash tree in my backyard. He taught me the art of poking around the ground of the “Big-Ash” trees in mid May. That spring, I had found three morels on my own, nestled under a cluster of ash trees near my backyard brook. It was beginner’s luck, and it was great fun.

Yet, it took days to work up the nerve to actually eat those morels.  (I compared my finds to internet morels for a full twenty-four hours before bringing them to a local forester for confirmation.) Finally, I threw them in a pan with butter, and sautéed the heck out of them. It was lot of work for three mouthfuls of fungi. But, they were delicious. (Then again, cardboard is delicious when it is soaked in golden-brown butter.)

So, I had visions of saute pans when I headed towards the same cluster of backyard ash trees yesterday. No luck.  So I went to another “Big-Ash” tree. Nothing. One hour and twenty minutes later, I had  thoroughly checked at least a dozen or more trees. There were no mushrooms in sight. And to add insult to injury, I couldn’t even find one lousy little ramp in the surrounding areas.

I did, however, find one plastic trash bag and a small garter snake which scared the heck out of me. (And I hate snakes more than I hate the Connecticut Turnpike… which is a lot.) It was my worst forage bounty ever. I returned home smelling like DEET and worried about ticks. I showered the hunt away… trying to forget my losing battle.

Next year, I’ll go ‘shrooming again. But it’s not fun foraging in the woods when your odds of finding a snake are better than finding an actual edible. Perhaps I should cover a larger territory, and bring a friend or two for fresh eyes on a camouflaged landscape.

Or perhaps, I should just stick to the farmer’s market.

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photocredit: mushroom-collecting.com

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