Morel Mushrooms: Full of Umami

May 22, 2009

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I finished planting corn Monday.  I celebrated by going Morel mushroom hunting with my Dad.  We found some beauties. 

We searched around dead or dying Elm trees.  Our forest has been ravaged by Dutch Elm disease.

Some Morels were boldly out in the open, like the one pictured above.  Most were hidden like the ones pictured below, and would be invisible to an untrained eye.  All were a pleasure to find and eat. 

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Why are Morels so delicious?  Mushrooms, and other protein-rich foods, are full of the fifth taste, Umami.  Umami is a Japanese word meaning, tasty.  Savory, brothy, meaty, are other ways to describe Umami.  Basically, it’s the taste of protein; or the taste as amino acids are broken down.  We all crave Umami and I enjoyed it in spades on the meat diet.

The four other main tastes are:  sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.  I was thinking metaphorically about the five tastes.  If I was to be described by one of the tastes, I would want to be Umami.  Tasty, hearty, interesting, challenging.   And I like to surround myself with Umami people.

Sweet is nice, but kind of uncomfortable for me.  Salty is the way I think of my Grandpa; cussing, telling stories about the old days.  Great quality for a grandpa.  Sour and bitter can describe many people.  I’m sure you will agree these people are simply endured and difficult to enjoy.

I’ll never be sweet or salty.  I could become sour and/or bitter.  I’m striving  to be Umami.  Which taste are you?


Wild Food Foraging Fun

February 26, 2009

What is going on in the header photo?  Someone asked if I was in a cult?  Does a cult get muddy in the Mississippi river?

We were foraging for Wapato or Arrowhead.  Tremendous amount of stomping in the mud to break loose golf-ball sized tubers that were a staple in the diet of some Native American tribes.

It was a class taught by Sam Thayer.  Forager’s Harvest is his company, which seeks to bring responsible wild food foraging, his passion, to a wider audience. 

Sam is a genius.  When he walks through the woods, he not only knows every plant; he also knows the scientific name, life cycle, habitat, which part is edible, and how to prepare it.  He presents all this information in a fun way.  I couldn’t help but catch his excitement.

The classes are an interesting mix of people of varying ages and skill levels.  This photo was taken by Rose Casey, a middle-aged gardener from Madison.  Thanks Rose.

If this interests you, don’t be shy, jump right in.  It’s the best way to learn.  Sam’s book is the best; but there are other books available as well. 

Don’t eat anything you don’t know.  And don’t worry; you will be able to accurately identify plants.  It is what we are meant to do.  Do you have trouble identifying a dandelion? 

I was foraging long before I knew Sam.  I just didn’t think of it as foraging.  When the wild raspberries are ripe, I eat my fill in raspberries every day for about two weeks.

As a farmer, we are always battling weeds. To eat my enemy gives me great satisfaction. 

Stinging Nettle is a plant that has tormented me since childhood and is one of the first to appear in the spring.  Cooking renders the plant unable to harm.  Sam says Nettle is higher in vitamins and minerals than spinach.  I’m looking forward to spring.  Happy Foraging!