Chicken of the Woods

Am I the only person confused by mushroom taxonomy? Root Simple friend, Brother Lee, let us in on a well kept secret stash of delicious Chicken of the Woods mushrooms growing out of a diseased carob tree in a easily accessible public location. Figuring out the scientific name of this particular mushroom has proven a lot more complicated than harvesting.

Chicken of the Woods is listed in Clyde Christensen’s 1943 “Foolproof Four,” easily identifiable edible mushrooms that lack poisonous look-alikes which also includes Puffballs, Morels and Shaggy Mane. Alas, life is more complex and this “foolproof” list has changed over the years as lookalikes were found and DNA testing complicated the mushroom family tree.

In the case of Chicken of the Woods it turns out that what was once considered one species, Laetiporus, might actually be five or six. From what I can tell on the interwebs all are edible but some are associated with nausea in some people. Some mushroom pundits caution against eating Laetiporus found growing on conifers or eucalyptus. The very same mushroom pundits suggest thoroughly cooking all Laetiporus. I can report having consumed a lot of the mushroom we foraged with no ill effects. It was, in fact, one of the most delicious mushrooms I’ve ever consumed. But one should not trust the musings of an aging urban homesteading blogger when foraging for mushrooms. Find yourself a local mushroom nerd or run it past your cats.

That said, don’t be too fearful either or you’ll miss out on a free source of gourmet food. Chicken of the Woods is distinctive and still considered one of the easier mushrooms to identify. And, yes, it really does taste like chicken.

133 Trees of Power with Akiva Silver

On this 133rd episode of the Root Simple podcast Kelly and I talk to Akiva Silver of Twisted Tree Farm, described in his author bio as a “homestead, nut orchard and nursery located in Spencer, New York where he grows around 20,000 trees a year using practices that go beyond organic.” Akiva’s background is in “foraging, wilderness survival and primitive skills.” He is also the author of Trees of Power: Ten Essential Arboreal Allies (Amazon, library) just published by Chelsea Green. In our conversation we discuss how trees could replace a lot of the staple crops in our diet. During the podcast we also rap about:

  • J. Russel Smith Tree Crops (Free download on Archive.org)
  • Kat Anderson Tending the Wild
  • Mulch, soil and water
  • Processing acorns
  • Exotics vs. natives – should we learn to love the invasives?
  • Tree of heaven!
  • Coppicing and pollarding
  • Arborist fails and #arboristfails
  • How to plant trees

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

The Virtues of Gerard’s Herbal

That last bastion of sanity on the internets, Archive.org, hosts a copy of John Gerard’s 16th century bestselling foraging manual, The Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes. I’ve embeddified it as an alternative to spending an evening staring at the Netflix browse menu or as an opportunity for workplace dinkering.

Here’s how the University of Virginia describes it,

Gerard was superintendent of the gardens of William Cecil, advisor to Queen Elizabeth. Gerard was one of the most respected plant experts of his time, but, strangely, he was not the primary author of the famous herbal that bears his name. Except for the additions of several plants from his own garden and from North America, Gerard’s herbal is simply an English translation of Dutch scholar Rembert Dodoen’s highly popular herbal of 1554.

I appreciate Gerard’s (Dodoen’s?) Herbal for two reasons, first the beautiful illustrations but principally for one word that Gerard uses. Where a modern plant guide would have a section devoted to the “uses” of a particular plant, Gerard uses the word “virtue” instead. I propose a revival of this word when we speak of plants.

“Use,” like so many other things in our culture, is far too utilitarian. Speaking of the “uses” of plants reminds me of a professor in my music department who, when arriving at a party, asked the department secretary, “who’s the most powerful person in this room?” so that he would not have to “waste” his time with simply enjoying the company of other people.

Speaking of the “virtues” of plants seems much more civilized.

A Fennel Drinking Straw

I don’t get the straw thing. Why do all drinks served in restaurants have to come with a plastic straw? Don’t we have enough plastic trash swirling around our oceans?

While the drinking straw dates back to ancient times, the modern straw renaissance arises alongside the 19th century popularity of juleps and cobblers. Nineteenth century gentleman needed a straw to keep the mint out of their beards and they took to using humble stalks of rye grass. As rye breaks down quickly, some enterprising genius figured out how to make straws out of paper. In the 20th century straws evolved into the bendy plastic horror we’re all so familiar with. Ecological guilt led to a glass and stainless steel drinking straw trend during a brief period in the late aughts.

Our front and back yard have what I like to think of as fennel gyres that, just like those ocean plastic votices, just can’t be stopped. Having hollow stems, it occurred to me that fennel stalks might just be the ideal replacement to the ubiquitous plastic straw and could just spark the latest hipster trend. I vowed to give it a try.

As one might expect, a fennel stalk imparts a licorice taste to your beverage. Some might find this objectionable, like drinking toothpaste, but others might sense a cocktail opportunity. Dr. Google informs me that I’m not the first with this fennel stalk cocktail idea. Emily Han, a guest on episode 67 of the Root Simple Podcast, outscooped me back in 2013.

But perhaps, via crowd-sourced knowledge, we might make a vegetative drinking straw breakthrough. What other plant stalks could we replace all those plastic straws with?

103 Ugly Little Greens with Mia Wasilevich

mia
Listen to “103 Ugly Little Greens with Mia Wasilevich” on Spreaker.

Our guest this week is chef and forager Mia Wasilevich. Mia is the founder of Transitional Gastronomy and teaches culinary workshops, wild-food identification and food styling. She was a featured consultant on “Master Chef” and “Top Chef.” She is also the author of a brand new book, “Ugly Little Greens: Gourmet Dishes Crafted from Foraged Ingredients.” During the show we discuss:

  • How she got started cooking.
  • Mia’s new book Ugly Little Greens.
  • Eating invasives.
  • Working with mustard.
  • Elderflower ghee.
  • Nettle aid.
  • Mallow.
  • Currants.
  • Working with acorns.
  • Lambsquarters.
  • Meal planning.
  • Fish sauce.
  • James Townsend and Two Fat Ladies.
  • Mia’s website Transitional Gastronomy.
  • Cottonwood Urban Farm.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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