Olive and Pit
Living in the sticks is challenging. We have no cell reception. If the power goes out it can stay off for days and days while PG&E search the hills for the fault. Our cars need new tires… a lot.
BUT we also have found ourselves in an amazing community. We know every one of our neighbors and if we need some support (or they do) then there is always someone who has the knowledge or time that can help. One of our neighbors used his tractor to plow our field the first year we were here; in turn when they were away and a tree fell on their drive M. went up and cut it up and moved it off the drive so when they got home late they would come home to a clear road. We Llama-sit occasionally for another neighbor and in turn they chicken-sit for us. Equally one of our neighbors give E. a lift to her volunteer program in Boonville and we have yet to find something that can repay that generosity.
The Chicks: Stupid, Dash, Newsa, and Nutmeg
So last week when we got the call from one neighbor about another who had been bereaved in January and just desperately needed to be rid of a Bantam hen and her chick to ease her worries: of course we said yes. We really aren’t Bantam people (useless pet chicken anyone?) but the need was there and we had the space and time to help.
Olive and Pit
So it is that Olive and little Pit joined our farm. She is a masterful escape artist and a little firecracker with other chickens but she is sweet and placid with us. We are having to keep her in a separate enclosure as one of the white Delaware took an instant dislike to Olive and while she has that little chick Olive has no intention of making peace. The younger chickens are still in the broody-hen hutch so Olive and Pit are in a rabbit cage adapted slightly for her needs.
The Chicks: Pigwidgen, Baby, Stupid, Dash, and Nutmeg
I know she adds to our daily chore list but really that’s what living in the country is about: we look after each-other and in the end our lives are all the richer for it.
Most of these photos are not of edible mushrooms- my hands were too full of mushrooms when we were picking the edible kinds to be bothered with my camera- and PLEASE do not rely on my photos for identification of mushrooms in the field. There are a few edible ones in here: like the Black Chanterelles and the one that looks like a white beard. We collected another five edibles that I didn’t get distinctive enough photos of because we were hiking on the north facing side of a mountain in dying winter light. Quite a few of those I did photograph are very inedible.
Fly Agaric (or Amanita Moscaria): Not edible!
As a family we have always loved finding wild food. K. was 8 when she became obsessed with a book by Ray Mears which had a large section on finding wild edibles. She started by making refreshing spearmint pine-needle tea, progressed to battered dandelion greens and eventually lead to snacking on bulrush roots.
Setting out at Emerald Earth for a mushroom hike.
Coral Mushrooms- but not the edible kind.
Meanwhile M. and I began to become familiar with the mushrooms found around where we lived in England. Our first wild mushroom was a Giant Puff Ball the size of M.’s head. We were camping in a Featherdown Farm Tent at the time so the mushroom was cooked over a fire in copious amounts of oil with onions and organic free range eggs picked three minutes earlier from under the farmer’s hens. It took us three days to finish that whole mushroom! We graduated onto other mushrooms but our crowning success was an untapped field of Parasol Mushrooms which provided us with several years of free delicious food before we moved to California.
Edible: Black Chanterelles. Little black trumpets near invisible against the terrain.
Some lessons in identifying features.
Since we landed here we have looked for mushrooms but seen nothing. Or at least nothing that we could definitively recognize as edible (besides one lonely bunch of Chicken of the Woods). So months before M.’s birthday I started thinking about possibly going on a guided workshop for his gift to find out about California’s edible mushrooms and last July at the annual Boonville 4th of July Festival I met Tom Shaver. Tom lives and works on a local sanctuary called Emerald Earth. Its a lovely communal style place where the residents are the owners/managers and a regular source of information for the whole community about sustainable living.
Tom showing us common features of poisonous mushrooms.
Polypores Polypores everywhere but not a fungi to eat.
Tom runs a mushroom foraging course every December. This year it conveniently landed the day after M.’s birthday but was not possible because M’s parents were over for the week: they are very fit for their age but the landscape (steep muddy hillside) and nature of the hiking (several hours on steep muddy hillsides) would have been totally unsuitable. Tom was so gracious he asked if we could fit in at the last minute some time when the weather, mushrooms and his schedule would allow it. We were able to go as a family and slip and stumble our way around the hills behind the totally unruffled Tom and glean an amazing number of mushrooms. So many mushrooms that we have only just (two weeks later) finished off the last of them. Best gift ever and a really amazing thing to get to do as a family!
The Comb Tooth (Hericium Coralloides) which looks weird but was absolutely delicious!
This is an awful photo but it gives you an idea of the size of the thing!
Genuinely: if you are ever up for a great day and some amazing food find a local guided mushrooming tour and learn something new! Our girls who are pretty much “I will eat it if I don’t see it” mushroom haters were happily tasting (and helping to prepare) strangely beardy looking mushrooms fried in garlic batter (taste and texture of chicken nuggets), and an amazing seafood smelling fungus that when sliced into wedges and battered could easily have passed for fried prawns! We have eaten eggs and mountains of Black Chantrells which were M’s personal favorite as well as an delicious Oyster mushroom omelette. Not to mention almost two entire meals prepared from the highly prized and delicately aromatic (supposedly aphrodisiac) Matsutake!
One of our baskets of gleanings and a little sneak preview at one of my knitted WIP…
Later when we were experimenting with our gleanings.
Tom at Emerald Earth usually runs one session a year in December and spaces are always filled and no I haven’t been paid or remunerated for this post in any way shape or form… but if a few mushrooms showed up on my door step at some point… well… lets just say they wouldn’t go to waste!