5.21.12 Natural High
Back to earth, quite literally. I spent 5 hours weeding yesterday. Before we left for Venice, I had noticed a new kind of weed proliferating throughout the garden. I ignored these slim stalks for a few days and they took advantage by inviting all their kinfolk to the party. By the time we returned from our trip, the whole enormous crop of them had dried up, turning most of our beds into brittle, grassy fields. The kicker? When you pull them up, they literally spit their seeds into your face, showering them everywhere. So we are assured of a nice big crop next year. Mother Nature sure is clever. On the flip side, she has rewarded us with so many other signs of gloriously burgeoning life. The chipmunks are back, fat and sassy, chasing each other around the yard. Woodpeckers syncopate the goings-on. The cherry tree and the lilacs are in bloom, and their sultry perfume never fails to remind me that life is sweet.
In the 7 years that we have had our little house in the woods, this wild black cherry tree has gone from being sickly and bedraggled to full and bountiful. I have no explanation other than that we cut off a few diseased-looking branches. Maybe that was enough to bring it back to life. Good to know.
are still going strong, though this one is the finest specimen. The mottled green of the leaves is my favorite part.
The jack-in-the-pulpit I planted from seed in October
are up, gracing the shaded areas of the garden along with ferns, trillium and wild ginger.
I was fascinated to learn this year that hickory trees form beautiful pods that look almost like incipient magnolia blooms, that then open to reveal clusters of new leaves.
This is the first of my bearded irises to open. They are truly works of art. If you'd like to plant some this coming fall, start fantasizing here
G allowed a crop of scallions to overwinter and they have all put out these big fluffy flowers. The bees are going to town on them. I cut a few and dropped them into some chicken soup the other day and they were delicious, soft and imbued with a faint onion flavor.
I heard the distinctive thrumming sound that marks the arrival of the hummingbirds. They come to us for this red honeysuckle that has gone crazy, climbing beyond its wicker frame and reaching for the sky.
The rhubarb is showing off, throwing up big ruffled blooms as if to call attention to the bounty of stalks below. It's about time I made some syrup or something.
A trip over to our property in Forestburgh was richly rewarded with the discovery of a large, flourishing patch of lilies-of-the-valley! This is tantamount to finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I danced around like a lunatic and had visions of myself as on old crone, filling my lake house with vases stuffed full of these insanely fragrant blooms and feeling young again. Next to Moroccan orange blossom, this may be my favorite floral scent of all time.
I also found this pair of buttery collybia under some pine trees on our land. They are edible, but the buttery part actually refers to the slightly slimy texture of their caps. Because these were the first of this kind I had encountered, I did a spore print as part of my identification process.
The color of spores can be an important confirmation of a mushroom's identity. All you do is remove the stalk and place the mushroom gill-side down on a piece of sturdy white paper; it's actually a good idea to use both black and white paper, as pale spores will be more distinguishable against a darker shade. Then you cover it with a glass and leave overnight. Unless the mushroom is very old, it will release its spores onto the paper. The pinkish-buff color confirmed that these were collybias.
For last week's meeting of the Delaware Highlands Mushroom Society, I got inspired to bring along a mushroom snack, using some of the many black trumpets, yellow-foot chanterelles and maitakes I had dried last fall. This is a great pantry snack you can make with any dried mushrooms you might have on hand. I also mixed in a few fresh shiitakes I had on hand. The first step, of course, is to soak the dried mushrooms in boiling or very, very hot water for at least 30 minutes. You want to give them a chance to really get soft.
Mushrooms go well with thyme, and I was able to find a patch of lemon thyme that is already coming in nicely in the garden. Pick the leaves off while your mushrooms are soaking.
May I clarify something here? Bruschetta is pronounced with a hard c, not a sh sound. The word is from bruscare, Roman for "to roast over coals," and refers to the bread, not the topping. Done right it should be well-toasted or grilled and then rubbed with a cut clove of garlic. After that, it can be topped with virtually anything, from chicken livers to honey-drizzled ricotta.
Definitely save the soaking liquid after you've strained it through a very fine mesh. As I cooked my mushrooms, I reduced this liquid to a thick syrup and added it to the final dish. It has a deep, rich color and a flavor to match. I spread a slick of lovage pesto on my bruschetta and topped it with a tangle of chewy mushrooms. Served at room temperature, this made a hearty, immensely satisfying snack.
Wild Mushroom Bruschetta
— 2 cups dried wild mushrooms
— 1 cup fresh shiitakes, optional
— 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
— 1 tablespoon olive oil
— 1 large shallot, minced
— 1 tablespoon minced garlic
— 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
— 1 teaspoon red chile flakes
— 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
— sea salt & fresh pepper, to taste
— 4 slices toasted garlic-rubbed bread, for serving
— chopped fresh chives, for garnish, optional
Place wild mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside to soak.
Meanwhile, mince your shallot and garlic, pick your thyme leaves and squeeze your lemon.
When the mushrooms are quite soft, drain and reserve soaking liquid.
Heat a large, heavy skillet over a medium-high flame and add the butter and olive oil. Saute the shallot and garlic until lightly golden, then toss in the thyme, chile and a couple of pinches of salt. Add the mushrooms (including fresh, if using) and stir well to coat.
Meanwhile, strain the soaking liquid through a very fine mesh to remove any grit, place in a small saucepan and reduce by half or more over high heat.
You don't want the mushrooms to stick, so add more butter and/or olive oil as needed. As the soaking liquid reduces, you can begin adding that a couple of tablespoonsful at a time. Stir in the lemon juice towards the end of cooking.
Ultimately, you want the mushrooms to be very tender, caramelized and glossed with a light sauce. Season with more salt as needed and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature piled atop bruschetta, garnished with chives, if you like.