Friday, October 28, 2011

How to Not Die While Eating Wild Mushrooms.

An addendum from Farmer Brian (to this post):

"Tell them Farmer Brian says:  How do you tell a Clustered Brown Honey Mushroom from a bad random stump mushroom?  You remember what the neighbor lady showed your mother 50 years ago.  You see it-you pick it-you eat it!  If you don't die or get sick in 24 hours, share it with family and friends, and then brag about it!  After all, mushroom hunters are the only people remotely competitive with coon hunters and deer hunters about the size and number of their prey."

See, that clarified everything for you, right?! :)

If you don't have a half-century old lesson (or a father-in-law) to rely on, perhaps you should just come out and visit me, and get the Farmer Brian experience in person.  It comes with beer, and delicious mushrooms.

On a similar note, we are starting a new blog series called "Ask Farmer Brian".  If you have questions about farming, country life, agriculture, Monsanto, combines, corn, government payouts, or anything else you can think of, email me, post on my FB wall, or leave me a comment, and either Brian, or one of the other farmers in my life (hi Hubs!) will answer.

A ton of you guys have asked me questions that I can't answer, so this is your chance!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Canning 2011

I'm sure all of you are just dying to know what I canned this year, right?!  Of course you are.  But I do keep track, so that I will know what we had in the pantry/freezer, and then I can figure out what we had too much of, and what I need to do more of next year.  And if I post it here, I can't lose the sheet of paper that I wrote it on.  Not that things like that ever happen.

(Someday I want my pantry to look like Mary's, but I just started canning and I need to work my way up to it!)

Here's what we did this year:

     9- 4 cup bags, frozen

     Jam: 20 qts, frozen
     Sauce: 6 qts, frozen (this is already gone)

     6 pints jam, frozen
     3 qts jam, frozen

     7-3 cup bags pie cherries, frozen (never enough)
     1 batch dried cherries in dehydrator

     13 qts applesauce
     4 pints applesauce

(Jam: 23 quarts, 6 pints total)

     Green Beans
      7- 3 cup bags, frozen (bad green bean crop, this is gone already)

     Sweet Corn
     39- 3 cup bags, frozen
     1- 6 cup bag, frozen

     Pickles and Relish
     30 qts dill-18 spears, 12 slices (anyone need pickles?!)
     6 pints dill relish
     2 qts dill relish
     10 qts bread and butter slices

     9 batches tomato sauce, frozen
     4 qts tomato sauce with ground pork, frozen
     29 qts crushed tomatoes
     18 pints salsa-12 mild, 6 very hot
     1 qt salsa, mild

     4- 8 oz jars pureed basil

I still have a lot more applesauce to do, and winter squash/pumpkins, but other than that, my canning season is almost finished, hallelujah!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Teach Me to Number My Days

For my Children.

Dear Kiddos,

Almost every time we go to the grocery store together, an older lady-a different woman every time, always a stranger-comes up to remind me that these are the best days of my life.  These women always look a little surprised to be alone at the store after so many years of hauling babies, to be pushing a shopping cart without children hanging all over it, to be clutching a list with so little needed to make the meals, now that it is back to just her and her husband.  They look at you guys wistfully and tell me that time passes so quickly.

I always assure them that I know.  But of course I don't, not really.

Someday, when you are grown, I want you to know that I found every day with you precious.  That I always knew in my heart that even when the road looked long, the days of you all being babies in my arms and on my lap and around my feet would be gone in a blink.  I want you to know that I noticed.  I noticed how fast a month went, and a year, and five years.  That even when things were hard, and four of you were crying at once, I wanted to be exactly where I was.

I want you to know that sometimes things will be hard.  That you may often wonder why life isn't easier than this.  I do too.  But doing hard things is what refines your character, buffs off the rough and selfish edges.  I know that I still need a lot of refining, trust me.

I want you to know that it was always worth pushing the hundred pounds of double stroller up a mile of hill to get to a secluded lake.

There are moments that you won't get back.  Take your chance to be there, all there, right now.  You guys naturally do this.  But I can forget.

Today we went to the lake, and you read me the sign.  "Beach closed.  No swimming."  You were shocked when I let you put your feet in anyway.  Sometimes you have to break the rules a little.  After all, an Indian summer in childhood is fleeting, and the winter will be long.  I know that, even if you don't yet.

One day, if you ever wonder why your Daddy and I wanted a big family, I want you to know that we were giving you a gift.  The best and most lasting gift we could give you.  That there is nothing that money could buy that will ever replace this in your life:

And because of the joy here.  We had every single one of you because you made our lives full of joy.  There are no choices that we could have made that would ever have been better than this.

By the time you are grown, I want you to have learned that happiness and joy are different.  You may not always feel happy when you are scrubbing the carpet from yet another potty accident.  There are times when you are all fussing that I feel more harried than happy, yes.  Happiness can be a little selfish in its demands.  But I hope you always felt the joy here, that you always saw in my eyes that you were precious.

Every day, at least one of you slips your hand into mine.  You fight to sit on my lap.  You call me imperiously in the middle of the night.  You creep between us in bed.  You trust me with your heart.  I want you to know that I recognize that as the great gift that it is.  Your Daddy and I know what it means to be rich, and it has nothing to do with money.

I want you to know that I genuinely liked you, not just loved you.  That I liked spending all my time with you guys and your Daddy.  That being together was my favorite thing.

Sometimes I am busy.  Sometimes I am cranky.  Sometimes I am discouraged.  Most days, I am tired.

But there are no days when I am not grateful to be your Mama.

I don't need to be reminded that these are the best days of my life.  I already know.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Foraging for Mushrooms with Farmer Brian

I know that urban foraging and guerilla gardening have become trendy with the big city folk lately.  (I love the idea, by the way).  That being true, it's not exactly what I would call a trend in rural Illinois-it's more like what people have always done.  Among other things, farm families here have certain spots that they hunt for mushrooms, berries, wild asparagus, and watercress.

A very long time ago, a neighboring farmer's wife taught Seth's grandma how to forage wild mushrooms.  She taught her son, Farmer Brian, my favorite father-in-law.  And last week, Brian took me out to show me some of the family's traditional mushroom spots.  I don't think I'll be comfortable searching on my own anytime soon, but it was fun.  And delicious.

(Note: You're all smart enough to realize that it is dangerous to eat random mushrooms you find without knowing what kind they are first, right?  I highly suggest you take someone who knows what they are doing with you-many edible kinds of mushrooms look incredibly similar to the kind that will kill you.  This is definitely not a how-to post.  Lecture over.)

So here are one of the mushrooms that you can eat, growing in their favorite spot underneath a tree.  There was some debate over the type of tree and whether or not the tree should be dead or alive, but we found them under all kinds of trees, both alive and dead, so there doesn't seem to be a hard and fast rule.  This is called a stump mushroom, or more specifically, a Clustered Brown Honey Mushroom.

Because the mushrooms grow up through the dirt and grass, you can expect them to be both dirty and grassy (surprise!).  Cut their stems down low to the ground.  Both the caps and the stems are edible.  Avoid any mushrooms that are mushy and smell rotten, obviously.  They should be firm and dry.

Farmer Brian find success in a shady spot...

This is another type of edible mushroom, Hen of the Woods, or in local vernacular, Coutlage Mushrooms.  (Google has no record of the name Coutlage Mushroom, but they do come up under Hen of the Woods).

This is what the bottom looks like-no real stems.

It was a gorgeous time of day for hunting:

This is another mushroom we found nearby.  It looks very similar to the one above, but it is NOT edible.  That we know of.  So we left it.  (Well, one of us wanted to try it anyway, but the other said no thanks, I don't want to die.  Guess who was who).

There are even mushrooms growing inside tree trunks here.  Also not edible, friends.

Not only did I get to learn about hunting for mushrooms, I got to do it with this view:

Thanks to Mama Jo coming over to stay with my kids, it felt a lot like a one hour vacation.  I'm serious.

Here's a closer shot of the Honey Mushrooms at home in a bowl, getting ready to be cleaned.

How to Cook Wild Mushrooms

This is my father-in-law's method, and it was perfect:

Take them home and wash them well under running water, cutting out any soft spots.  (You will be able to tell if they are past their prime because they will feel slimy and smell just like regular button mushrooms do when they are bad).  Cut them into large pieces (see below) and put them into a large skillet with a good amount of butter (maybe 4T).

The wine is for you, of course, to improve your cooking experience.  And it will.

Cook them down on medium-high until they release their juices, like this:

Keep cooking until the pan is mostly dry again.  Salt and pepper.

And voila:

These are gorgeous, no?  Farmer Brian is a good cook.

We served ours with garlic toast and blue cheese, and they were extraordinary.  But the options here are endless.  We decided that they would be great with any kind of pasta, in an omelet (Brian texted me a video of his breakfast this morning, and it was beautiful), with steaks...  (And yes, red wine.  Because wine helps you cook better.  And it makes everything taste even better).

There are tons of books out there on beginning mushroom hunting, but I still suggest finding an expert for your first time.

Have a fun (and safe!) time hunting near you!  Report back if you find anything great!

On a technical note, my pictures are looking too dark when I preview the posts, but look perfect in Picasa.  How are they looking on your monitor?