We live in a fast food world, where we expect a meal in 5 minutes, and can take an item from the freezer to the table, within a few minutes, and serve up a hot meal with very little effort. The quality is, of course, questionable, and we forget that homemade food has the potential to taste so much better, and that it is so much better for our bodies.
The primary reason for learning to prepare foods from scratch, is quality and health. Foods without preservatives, foods that taste rich and are full of genuine flavors (not counterfeit flavors created in a lab), and which contain real ingredients which shine through. I’m not here to persuade you of the benefits. I’m only here to suggest some of the skills that make it manageable.
I have experienced the process of learning to do things more and more by hand. I’ve watched other people go through this process also – first making bread, then making whole wheat bread, then milling flour to make the bread, then making the yeast to make the bread with the home-milled flour, and eventually contemplating growing wheat (most individuals really can’t do this practically). The progress from buying the loaf, to making more and more of it yourself.
Most people will reach a point where they cannot go any further with it, and where they are comfortable with the compromise. This is pretty important, because otherwise you can really overwhelm yourself with tasks that just are not practical in our world, or in your particular corner of the world.
Slow food has benefits though, that are worth exploring. Most people are frustrated with the time it takes to begin with, until they learn skills for being able to do so within the time constraints that living, working a job, or raising children places upon them.
- Prioritizing – You can’t do everything. You have to choose what is most important, and get it done. That often means making sure a task that needs to be done today to be ready for tomorrow, is done on time.
- Letting unnecessary things go – You can’t do slow food when your life is filled with time-wasters. You have to let some idle passtimes go. If you already maximize your time, then you have to determine what you can let go that is less important than preparing healthy food. The wonderful thing about slow food is that there are many tasks which are relaxing when you learn how to do them in a convenient way, and which help form family bonds when you involve the children in the work.
- Working slow tasks in around fast ones – Much of the “work” involved with slow food is waiting. Chop the ingredients, let something marinate and wait. Put the chopped items in a pot and let it slowly simmer for hours – stir it every half hour to hour, while you do other things. Use the waiting time to do other things, and organize your day so that you can maintain the slow food in a convenient way.
- Planning ahead – You have to thaw the meat, mill the flour, render the lard, ferment the vegetables, start the stew, make the sourdough starter, or whatever else, ahead of time. You have to make it before you need it. You have to prepare ahead for many things. You have to stock in ingredients you might not otherwise use, and keep a wider selection of ingredients on hand. You have to start meals an hour or so ahead of time, sometimes more, depending on the food you are preparing. You have to think ahead. There are tricks to get by on those days when you just can’t plan ahead, but for the most part, you need to be thinking a day ahead, or at least thinking about what is for lunch and dinner while you are preparing breakfast.
- Patience – A necessary skill – and patience is a skill, not just something some people have and others do not. The more you do it, the more patient you become, so if you feel you are too impatient, don’t worry! Just expand your skills a little at a time, and your patience will grow with it!
- Learning skills to make slow things faster – Many “slow” tasks are slow because we don’t know how to do them well, and because our kitchens are not organized to make them fast. We have the flour stuck behind the Mac&Cheese, and getting at the ingredients to make our own noodles or biscuits is inconvenient. A little reorganization, and some practice, and you can make gravy in less than 5 minutes, biscuits whip up in 3-4 minutes, and you can even get bread ready to raise in 5 minutes, and that INCLUDES putting everything back into the cupboard! 90% is practice. The other 10% is observing, researching, and listening, to learn ways to do complex tasks more quickly – for example, when making your own tortillas, getting the texture right (fairly soft) makes the job MUCH faster and easier. Tips like that, which you learn over time or which you pick up from others, can make a WORLD of difference in how much you can accomplish in a day!
- Selecting the right equipment to speed things up – A crock pot, a rice cooker, a bread maker, a tortilla press, a good wheat mill, a good orbital mixer, a sturdy shredder, a fermentation airlock, the right potato masher, a ceramic non-stick skillet, thick bottomed pots that reduce burning, a flat ended wooden spoon to stir the bottom of hot pots more quickly, a pressure cooker, a deep fryer, a food dehydrator, a good meat grinder, a french fry cutter, etc. Good equipment saves time. Lots of time, and makes some tasks more fun, and safer for kids to participate. Equipment is like everything else with slow food, you don’t do it all at once – you accumulate it one item at a time, according to the things you do most.
- Learning skills layer by layer – Start by following recipes for dinner, instead of using boxes. Then advance to making or growing ingredients, one layer at a time. Taking on the whole picture (however you see the whole picture) all at once is overwhelming and certain disaster. Learn it bit by bit, and as your skills expand, you’ll naturally progress to the next phase for as long as you feel the desire TO progress to the next phase. Any degree of more real food is good!
Producing your own food from seed, bulb, chick, calf, or wild animals is the natural conclusion of slow food – Growing food is the natural extension of preparation. It allows you to know completely what is in your food, and it is the ONLY way to know for sure that your food meets your standards, because NOBODY cares more about what is in your food than you do! Gardening, raising livestock, and hunting are vital parts to producing food from scratch.
Slow food offers the opportunity to create from start to finish, and to see the process and experience all the creative effort that goes into placing food on the table.
There are rewards to slower processes, delayed gratification, and learning to wait for what is best. Those rewards are beneficial for anyone, but most important for children, who have so few instances of slow rewards in the world we live in. Planting a seed, nurturing it, seeing some live, some die, harvesting, preserving, cooking, and enjoying the food they grew with their own hands, or tended for hours or days from idea to consumption is an invaluable experience for children. When they experience this over and over in their youth, they become more patient and more productive adults, because they know that the BEST things in life take time, and investment long before the payoff.
Slow food as a way of life requires changes in the home, and in our thought processes, and in the way we move through the day. But it brings so much to us in health, satisfaction, and experience, that it is well worth the effort to adopt another layer of it into our lives.
Because it is only when you have practiced it for a few years, that you realize that what seemed like complexity, was really simplicity.
A customer swapped me some fresh ramps for some of our product, so another adventure with wild food has begun. He shipped them to me damp and dirty – perfect to keep them fresh and perky during the trip from his door to mine. They were in prime condition when I received them.
One of the reasons I was curious to try them is because they seem to have a “love ‘em or hate ‘em” reputation. Having really enjoyed our wild garlic and wild onions previously, I wanted to know which camp they fell into, and whether there was anything special about them.
I planted about a third of them in two pots, since our garden this year is again a container garden. I cut up a third of them to put into a potato soup for dinner. Then I cut up the other third and laid them on my drying racks.
My hands do not smell much of the ramps – they actually smell more of the potatoes that I peeled. My eyes did not water when prepping them either, which I find a welcome difference from most onions. The room in which they are drying, however, is strongly pungent. As in, you open the door and the smell comes out to slap you upside the nostrils.
The Ramps smell like a cross between an onion and Elephant Garlic. You know, that sort of garlicky smell that Elephant Garlic has that is not QUITE garlic, and has an underlying nauseating note to it? I do not like Elephant Garlic because it lacks the savory flavor I love about real Garlic (and no, Elephant Garlic is not a true garlic). But that element in the ramps is not strong enough to put me off the way it does with the EG.
If you Google “cooking with Ramps” you find all sorts of recipes using ingredients that I do not keep in my kitchen. You actually have to dig a bit to find traditional uses of ramps, which is pretty much like onions or leeks.
Eggs, potatoes, biscuits, quiche, and grilled with mushrooms to pile on top of a steak are some of the traditional ways of using ramps. You can substitute scallions or shallots for ramps in any recipe, and vice-versa.
Ramps can be used fresh, or cooked. They also dehydrate well. A cousin of mine says that raw ramps can cause the same digestive affects as beans, so if you choose to slap some ramp leaves onto your sandwich while you are in the woods (or at the table), you may need to warn your family to run for cover in a few hours. I have not tested this out, it is purely hearsay from him, and from the uncle that showed him the patch of ramps where he discovered that for him, our uncle knew what he was talking about!
Our potato soup has some ground beef in it, and some Real Salt Seasoning Salt, some Meadow Mushrooms, and the potatoes and ramps. And butter. You cannot leave out the butter in potato soup. When was almost done, I added some heavy cream and flour mixture to thicken it a bit.
The finished soup tasted as though it had both garlic and onions in it. This leads me to suggest that you use Ramps in recipes that tend more toward garlic than toward onion, since they do not have much of the sweet taste of cooked onions, but more of the pungent flavor of garlic. We only used a relatively small amount in the soup also (it was a big pot of soup), and it flavored it strongly enough to really taste the flavor, but not enough to overpower. It seemed to go well with the Meadow Mushrooms, at least, if you like mushrooms!
We not only planted some of the full ramps, we also planted the root ends after I finished chopping up the ramps for the soup. Onion roots re-grow, so we will find out if ramps do also.
Ramps are a multiplier type bulb, so they will split when they reach a certain point in development, and multiply. They also set seed that drops and creates new bulbs. More like the mini-bulblets that wild garlic sets, and not like the skinny seeds that regular onions drop. They also tend to grow their bulbs downward into the ground, also like wild garlic, so the bulbs will be fairly deep in the ground. You have to dig ramps, you cannot pull them or you will just rip off the tops.
As one of the first green things to come up in certain areas in the spring, ramps have traditional importance in some regional cultures. For me, the interest is mainly that they are a wild thing that I can learn to use and cultivate, so that the culture is not lost. Since they are a popular item for upscale gourmet cooking among a certain segment of society, there may be a potential income opportunity in the future, if I should wish to produce seed or bulbs. Growing them will provide an advantage for our gardens also, because they produce so early in the gardening season, that they’ll be producing while the traditional garlic and onions are thinking about sprouting.
Most sources state that ramps only grow in the eastern states, and north into Canada, but the cousin who warns about the flatulent affects of fresh ramps found them in the Pacific Northwest, so they are likely far more prevalent than commonly known. But then, in the PNW, there are some other spring plants that look very similar, so it may be that people there are just more cautious about harvesting them, even though the smell of the roots will tell you for certain what you have! Or, upon further contemplation, perhaps the Pacific Northwest just has more green stuff in the spring, so ramps are largely unappreciated there.
Having tried them, I’d use them again, probably in chicken, sauteed in butter, or over pasta. I think they go best with light dishes where the flavor of them is featured rather than lost, and in simple things where the flavors don’t get so complicated that the pungency of the ramps conflicts with the other ingredients. I don’t think I’d enjoy them whole as a dish themselves, since the flavor is pretty strong, but lean toward using them more as a seasoning.
I’ll have dried ramps to use as seasoning through the summer, and next year, if my pots of ramps do well, I’ll have a little more to cook with, dry, and to expand my containers of them.
I don’t think I’ll ever be an outright afficianado, but I’m pleased to have tried them, and pleased to be one of those people who does not hate them! And I am very happy to be able to grow them.
I could not find it in the wild – spring has eluded me where I was familiar with the wild areas. I’ve had my eye open for it for several years and still no luck. So when I spied it on the website of one of my suppliers, I snatched up a bunch of it along with the other supplies I was ordering.
Wild Onions. There is confusion over wild onions and wild garlic. More over wild onions than wild garlic, because wild garlic is pretty easy to identify – looks like tall straight chives, with round stems, smells and tastes like garlic (deep tiny bulbs, so you have to dig it, cannot pull it).
That is one of the key identifiers with both wild onion and wild garlic – their leaves are the opposite of the domestic versions. Garlic is round, onions are flat.
Wild onion also forms deep bulbs, and should be dug, not pulled, if you find it and positively identify it. Make sure you ID it using several descriptions with images from different sources before you consume it though, because while there are more than a dozen different kinds of edible wild onions, there are also one or two look-alikes that are harmful if you mistake the identity – be aware that there are signs to look for, and once you KNOW what to look for the ID can be made for certain, but make sure you KNOW.
Having ordered it, I had no idea what I’d be getting. I received a bunch of oniony looking things, with flat V’d leaves (not tubular like domesticated onions), and with lovely white bell flowers drooping from the tops. Seven of them had good root systems still on them, so I planted them in a container.
The eighth had no roots. I chopped it up and fried it in butter with some Hedgehog mushrooms. Chopping it up did not make my eyes water. I think that is worth noting!
It had a mild onion flavor, which was very good with the mushrooms.
After dinner, I did a net search to ID the specific type. It appears to be Allium Triquetrum, which is a non-native plant in the US. Grows in the south and along the coast, quite far north. It is considered to be an invasive species in California – so if you live there, you might especially wish to learn to identify this weed, and make a habit of digging it up and bringing it home for dinner.
If you live elsewhere, various types of wild onion grow almost everywhere, and wild garlic is also widespread. Both are worth looking for – not just because they are wild food, but because they offer slightly different flavors when prepared.
Wild onions usually pop up with the early bulbs, right as the ground thaws, and they set flowers 6-8 weeks later. If you see something that looks like it might be wild onion or garlic, pinch a leaf and see if it has that distinctive smell. You’ll know! If it doesn’t say “ONION!” or “GARLIC!” immediately to the smell centers of your brain, then it isn’t onion or garlic! If it does, then get a sample to take home to ID. It is best if you have the bulb, leaves, and flowers if possible (in fact you will have a difficult time IDing wild onion without a sample of the flowers).
If you forage wild onions, make sure you watch out for pesticides and herbicides. If they look skinny and wimbly, then they may not be good for you unless you flush them out by soaking the roots in water for several days. They typically are somewhat droopy in the leaves, but very lush and clustered together, much like Daylilies, but a slightly smaller leaf.
I’ll be encouraging my little pot of wild onions to reproduce, and I’ll be on the lookout for other varieties and more wild garlic.
I wonder who it was that decided that people could make soil better than Mother Nature, who has been at it for thousands of years by Creationist reckoning, and millions of years by Evolutionist reckoning.
It is sort of like processed foods. All the good stuff is stripped out, and a few essential (though undigestible) nutrients are added back in, and a nice looking but nutritionally deficient and often outright harmful product is released to the public in the name of “good food”, and the manufacturer persuades millions that it is better than what they could cook themselves, mostly because it is convenient.
With potting mix though, it isn’t necessarily any more convenient than the alternative! And it is several times the cost! It is made from various forms of industrial waste, and a few synthetic manufactured items (made in China, principally from petroleum). Oh, and some of the “better” stuff has chemical fertilizers thrown in. A few “organic” types have a wee bit of sterilized manure or fish emulsion (ground up fish guts) thrown in. No wonder it is so difficult to get things to grow in it, and no wonder it is impossible to re-wet if it ever dries out completely!
No more convenient, WORSE performance, and MORE expensive. MORE harmful to the environment, and a pain in the neck to work with under less than ideal conditions. Wow… they’ve really managed to snooker the buying public!
The best thing to grow plants in is…
Drumroll, please, this is a major revelation…
Rich, nutrient filled, bacteria and fungus laden, water holding, DIRT!
Topsoil, to be exact.
With some compost on top.
Even in pots indoors, DIRT is the best thing to grow plants in. Seriously, folks, how hard a concept is this? The substance that plants EVOLVED to grow in (if you subscribe to that theory), or the substance that GOD PROVIDED for plants to grow in (if this is your belief) is the BEST thing for plants to grow in! (I am still astonished that I have to actually EXPLAIN this to people, and even more shocked that most will hear my instructions and promptly go out and buy another bag of potting mix because someone else told them to or because the picture on the bag was prettier, or worse, because the sales person told them it was better.)
You either have dirt where you want to grow things or you don’t.
If you don’t have dirt, why buy a mixture of industrial waste and manufactured synthetics to plant your plants in?
What you SHOULD buy, if you HAVE to buy some kind of potting medium or soil for your garden, is….
Topsoil to be exact.
Just buy a bag of topsoil instead. It is less than $2 for a bag of topsoil. Compare that to $5 for a comparable size bag of potting mix. You just made out like a bandit! Less than half the price and BETTER!
Buy a bag of compost also. That will cost you another $2 if you live in an area where things cost a lot.
Fill your pots with topsoil, or spread the topsoil over your garden. Then top it with about a 3″ layer of compost.
If you need it to hold water really well, DON’T get anything with those nasty silica beads in it! Avoid those! They cause the soil to LOSE water (they absorb the water, and then the water evaporates directly from them, the plants never get it from the silica, it will cause your soil to dry out FASTER – we’ve done side by side tests with this, it FAILS every time).
The key to getting your soil to hold water is MULCH. Try one of the following:
- Grass Clippings
- Leaf Litter
- Wood Shavings
- Straw (you will get some wheat grass sprouts)
You can purchase Aspen shavings, or even use Pine Bedding or Cypress Mulch from the pet section of your local store. Just don’t use Cedar.
A good layer of mulch on top will reduce the amount of water you need by 70%.
And it is EXACTLY how nature does it in the wild. She leaves the last year’s plant debris on the top of the soil to compost down and give you a layer of compost on top of your soil, and then a layer of coarse debris on top of that to protect the compost from washing off, and to keep the moisture in the soil.
You can do this in a container garden, with houseplants, and in the garden, in your landscaping, etc. Wherever you GROW things, you can create this three layer miracle of growth and productivity.
It is that simple.
Potting mix does not come into it ANYWHERE. Mother Nature didn’t invent potting mix. She doesn’t like it! Plants don’t like it!
Get the good stuff. The REAL stuff.
It will save you money, and your plants will grow better.
I do not know how many years our family participated in the annual Scouting for Food activity in our town, gathering food door to door, taking it to a central location, sorting it, then taking it out to people in need in our town that same day. The last two years we participated in Scouting for Food, we saw the intake decline dramatically.
Our seven living children are adults now, and they were raised in circumstances that were extremely modest. We fed any child that walked through the door of our double-wide, who happened to still be there at mealtime, and there were many through the years. We were not the only family in the small town we lived in who would do this. We were just the largest. We took loaves of fresh bread to the neighbors, delivered cinnamon rolls to people around town after baking, and brought cookies to people we knew. Our children raked leaves and shoveled walks for many of the elderly without pay, carried in groceries for them, and helped them with lifting and cleanup. If a neighbor moved in, they ran out to help tote boxes from the truck to the house. It was a way of life, and one I never really considered to be unique, or fading.
I can feel the change sweeping over our nation. Especially in the last 10-15 years. Our nation is no longer a nation of givers. It is a nation of takers.
Lest anyone be offended, I realize there are people who still give, and generously. I have personally received much from such people. But I also see, as I never have before, that the native generosity of Americans has changed dramatically in the last decade, or little more. Even those who WANT to give, now find it harder and harder to do so.
Recently on Facebook, an article circled regarding statements made by foreigners about what surprised them most in America. One of the comments was expressing surprise that so many Americans gave to charities. That stunned them. Most nations are far more socialistic than the US, and the more socialistic a nation becomes, the less the citizens give to charities, or personally to their neighbors.
The first thing to go, is personal concern for their neighbors. Then they stop giving to charities. Charitable contributions in the US are now on the decline.
For many people, the lack of connection and concern for their neighbors is an outright abdication of responsibility, but for many it isn’t that at all – many of us still WANT to give.
Part of it is simply an inability to SEE need anymore.
The transients that ask for help in the Wal-Mart driveway are obvious. The homeless people under the bridges and pushing shopping carts are also obvious. But to much of America, those things are NOT visible. The majority of America is made up of smaller towns and rural stretches. And you just do not see those things in rural America, or even in small towns or suburbs.
Need is more often private than public. It hides behind the closed doors of homes where only friends and family see. Many people in need now have NO friends or family who ever enter their homes – their friends are all in remote locations. The needs behind those doors are sometimes every bit as dire as the desperate people we pass in the car, whom we feel are NOT our next door neighbors. Our neighbors do not hang their needs in the street or wear them out of doors.
The internet has replaced personal contact. The face we show the world online is not the face we look at in the mirror each evening. The lines of care and worry, framed by bottles of prescriptions from serious illness, the clothing that is worn, the background of a home sparsely furnished or too few blankets on the bed, the absence of a coat, or an empty fridge, the heaps of despairing unpaid bills. These things simply are not visible online.
To see need, you have to BE there. You have to see what is NOT spoken, and what cannot be broadcast to the world at large. Even caring Christians are simply not THERE where need IS much of the time. We WANT to be involved, to give, to help, to lift up and strengthen. But we are simply not THERE enough to SEE.
Life is so busy sometimes, we get stuck in our routine – those routines all vary from person to person, but they contain a common element of focusing on where we are and where we need to be next, and often not seeing beyond that. Sometimes I feel like I am drowning, coming up for air to gasp on Sunday, when I associate with people in my own area, then plunging back under for a week of slog through business and online interaction (necessary for my business). I am as guilty as anyone else of not being THERE during the week, and have had to make a strong effort to just stop and visit one person on the way home each week. I struggle to connect the people in my community with the daily routine apart from Sundays. It makes it difficult for me to see needs – and though my routine is unique, I do not feel that the difficulty in seeing needs IS unique, nor the reasons why it is so hard.
For the last three years, we have lived in need. Great need, due to things we did not cause, and which we could not stop, and which by their very nature have been very difficult to overcome. Many hands reached out to help. But many did not. Kind people, who simply never came close enough to us to even SEE that the clothing they were taking to the Salvation Army was needed by someone they knew, or the working toaster they were trying to find a home for would have been welcome in ours.
Early in our marriage when we had nothing, and at other times of hardship, we have been on the receiving end of great kindness, of all kinds. Much of it unasked – when you have seven kids in the home, people just assume you always need SOMETHING. A lot of it was mentioned by us, because we knew it was SAFE to mention it. Needs were met time and again, by people who knew us and saw our needs. We likewise filled boxes of groceries to deliver to people out of work, bought gift cards to give anonymously to people in need, and handed bags of food to hungry people passing through. But it really HAS changed recently. On both the giving and receiving end. The receiving end is a topic for another day…
America is more “programs” oriented now than even 10 years ago. When needs present, most people do not open their pockets to help, they refer the people to a program. But programs do not meet the majority of needs. They do not see inside the home, inside the heart, and inside the life of a person in need. They are incapable of perceiving the genuine needs, which are sometimes NOT what a program is designed to meet.
Programs, through the government, or charities, are limited, necessarily, by arbitrary rules. They are not designed to see exceptional circumstances, and a massive percentage of people in need ARE exceptions. We were exceptions – deeply in need, no income, no belongings at all, no transportation, no financial reserves. Our need was very real – yet we did not qualify for assistance through the state, through reasons beyond our control. Fortunately, we belong to a church which has a very successful welfare program, and we were able to receive assistance as we worked to get back on our feet. It was only able to meet some of our needs though – important ones, but leaving many things wanting.
I am NOT complaining about having needs unmet – we SURVIVED only because we had help. I am merely illustrating how my eyes were opened to the complexity of meeting the needs of disadvantaged people. No program in the world can do it. Because it has to be PERSONAL, and only individuals can be personal. Programs cannot be personal.
As I have considered the issue, I have come to the conclusion that there is only one real solution. Those who wish to serve the Lord and be the hands that relieve suffering, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, lift up the infirm and comfort the lonely and grieving, must VISIT people, IN THEIR HOMES – the internet is not enough! They must form bonds of genuine friendship and caring. They must learn to see through the eyes of charity – seeing the limitations in the person, seeing the good in them, and wisely aiding them in ways that help them to be uplifted and made better by the help, not just relieved of a burden temporarily. Help that makes someone better in the long term, and which helps them become less dependent on that assistance, is wrought in the workshop of deeply personal relationships.
For us, the needs that were met, were not met by a single person. They were met by many people – a skirt here, shoes there, a computer from someone else. A friend linked our new business website to her websites, and promoted me through her social media network. Two great ladies suggested a place to look for a house when we needed to move. Another friend sold us a used car, for far less than they could have got elsewhere. Two others helped patch a business back together so we again had the ability to build an income. Someone else invited us to work for three days at a flower shop, giving us some income to tide us over a rough spot, and introduced us to another individual who helped my husband apply for a VA grant for job retraining – the only program we qualified for! Several close friends and family members listened to me cry, and encouraged me when things were at their worst. Each person gave a little thing, and the total added up to survival. It had to be personal, in order to even see those things that we needed, and to understand the extent of our needs, and our limitations.
I have looked at the world through the eyes of need, more than once. This time has been by far the hardest. At the same time, it has truly deepened my appreciation for those who HAVE sincerely befriended us. Many could offer nothing to help us but prayer, because that is all they had to share. But they did that.
I do not know if the tide that seems to be turning America inward can be turned, so that we learn to see outside ourselves again, and to see behind the superficial masks that people wear in casual virtual interactions. I don’t know if that is even the goal. Perhaps the only goal is turning it in OURSELVES.
Ok, so a few Americans do. Maybe a third. If you push it.
The rest of America doesn’t even know there is more than one type of mushroom! To them, a mushroom is either a dry tastelessy fungusy bit of foam rubber, or a slimy gray fungusy flavored bit of rubbery silicone. If they are particularly adventurous, they may know that Portobellos and Crimini mushrooms exist. A few very exotic individuals also know there is something called a Shiitake out there that people are reputed to actually eat.
That is most of America! I used to be one of them! It is no wonder I HATED mushrooms. Nasty things, only barely edible if you could chop them small and hide them where you did not have to actually TASTE them, or feel the slippery gooshy feel on your tongue or teeth.
The world outside of America understands that a mushroom is not just a mushroom. That the white button mushroom is the WORST of the mushroom clan, and that there exists an entire WORLD of mushrooms that are actually worth putting on the plate.
Portobello and Crimini mushrooms taste pretty much like a white button – unless they are grown without chlorine, in which the flavor is fuller, and more complex (a little fruitier and more savory). But to me, pretty much just another “hide them wherever you can” mushroom.
Of course, as a child, and as an adult, I’d tried Meadow Mushrooms, and they fall into the same camp as the nasty White Buttons. They are prettier though, with lovely pink gills, and I chop them up and put them into meat gravy and pretend they are not there!
Shiitakes are reputed to have a “smoky flavor”. I can’t taste it. They are just a mushroom. Fresh ones disappear into mixed dishes and you can’t taste them. Canned ones are just nasty slimy things that look like canned leaches. Dried ones are easy to snip up with a pair of scissors into any dish that has a water or broth base, and they’ll reconstitute as the rest of the meal cooks. But I can’t really identify anything spectacular about the flavor, they just taste like a mushroom to me, and I do not particularly like them.
The first mushroom I tasted that I did not hate was a King Trumpet Oyster Mushroom. A fat stemmed oyster mushroom with a little brown cap on top, and tiny gills running barely down the stem. It has a slightly sweet flavor. I didn’t hate it because the mildness of the flavor makes it easy to toss it into pretty much ANYTHING and not have to dwell on the fact that it is still, when all is said and done, a mushroom.
Then I tried Chanterelles. Ok, so I am still not sure what all the fuss is about where Chanterelles are concerned. While I do not hate them, and I find that they have a slippery texture but not the gooshy sliminess of the white button (a more firm bite), they still taste like a mushroom – sort of fruity, but fungusy. It is the fungusy part I have never appreciated in mushrooms, so I failed to become a fan of the Chanterelle – but I do not actively dislike them either.
White Garden Elm Oyster mushrooms do not seem to have any flavor at all to me once they are cooked and added to a dish. If I chop them finely, I do not even know they are there. Another mushroom I do not hate. But I cannot say I like it either. Later, when I tried Angel Wing Oysters, they seemed pretty much the same – I simply cannot taste them in a finished dish.
Then I tried Paddy Straw mushrooms. Oh, not the slimy flavorless canned ones. Dried Straw Mushrooms. I made a simple gravy with them. They knocked it out of the park! A full, dark, almost meaty flavor. WOW. A mushroom I actually LIKED. I don’t love them. But I actually like them!
Russulas fell into the “I can’t taste them” camp. Of course, you must understand I NEVER feature mushrooms in a dish that is just mushrooms. Just can’t make myself go there! Cut them up, cook them in butter, toss them into something that I hope will complement them. Or at least which won’t end up with a clash of flavors that ruins dinner entirely – and the Russulas that taste sweet raw have such a mild flavor that they disappear completely when mixed with other ingredients. Russulas do not offend me!
Various Agaricus species were not any different than Portobellos, when prepared fresh. When dried though, they developed a more savory flavor. Almost like the Paddy Straw. Except the Almond scented ones. Some of them retained some of the almond flavor and let it into the dish. Flavor good. Texture unappealing to me – too mushroomy. But OH, they smell just heavenly!
Slippery Jacks are also fairly tasteless to me. I cannot tell if they are a good mushroom or not, because I honestly cannot taste the flavor. They sort of lose themselves in whatever we put them into.
Maitake has a sort of spicy apple smell and flavor. Like a fungusy spiced apple with a faintly nauseating undertone. Very odd. We put it into a meatloaf which was baked in a pumpkin. It was good. But I am still uncertain whether I liked the Maitake or not!
Gold Cap Stropharia (Stropharia Ambigua) smells just like the bottom of a forest floor. That deep rich moldy dirt smell that rises up right after a rain. They taste about the same, but with a sharp strong flavor. I cannot say this is a mushroom that I like, but I did not hate it either, as long as I do not use too much in a dish – they seem to work best when combined with other mushrooms. I am still working on flavor combinations to see if there is a dish that I’d actually love to use it in. It is such an earthy flavor that it can easily overpower whatever you add them to.
And Blewits – they just taste like a mushroom to me! Maybe a stronger more robust flavor than white buttons, but just a mushroom. I manage to eat them without hating them. I’ve used them fresh and dried, and they are a usable food either way.
I think I might eventually learn to like Porcini. I cannot describe the flavor, because there is nothing to compare it with. Hints of savory, with the classic mushroom flavor, but an edge of something else too – almost but not quite buttery. It seemed to taste better in a chicken and rice dish than it did in a dish with red sauce and beef. The texture is also more palatable than other mushrooms, when cooked it has a firm texture that is less slippery and gooshy than the detested mushrooms. (UPDATE: I like Porcini fresh, sauteed in butter and served with something cream and chicken – like Chicken Porcini Alfredo. In beef or pork dishes it is ok, but not quite as good. Dried Porcini is better in beef than fresh but still has a distinctive buttery edge to it that other mushrooms do not. Porcini is better without onions.)
Gray Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus Ostreatus), and Phoenix Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus Pulmonarius) both taste about the same to me when cooked, though they SMELL differently from each other. Grays seem to have kind of a sweet ball point ink smell that many mushrooms have, and no other distinctive smell. I have two different strains of Phoenix Oyster, and one smells sweetly spicy (kind of anisy), and the other actually smells fishy. Not sure if it is the way they are raised yet or not. But none of them taste fishy. Their flavor is so mild it seems to take on whatever you prepare with them. They have a firm texture, very chewy when fried in butter or cooked in soup, either one. Sort of like clams, or maybe calamari. They do fry nicely in butter, they absorb less of the butter than many other mushrooms, and end up firm, with a golden color.
Freckled Dapperlings (Lepiota Aspera) have sort of a sweet candle smell when cooked, and a mild flavor. They were a pleasant surprise when we found them, and discovered that for us, they were actually edible (they should never be consumed with alcohol, they will cause illness that way).
I don’t understand the hype about Matsutake. It has a piney smell, but the odor seems to fade fairly rapidly after gathering (this is true of many mushrooms, including the Almond scented Agaricus species). It is a firm mushroom – not quite as tough as Oyster, but firmer than Chanterelles. They don’t have a stand out flavor, you have to use them either in larger pieces, or you have to prepare them with ingredients that do not cover them up.
I’ve also had various types of Puffballs, gathered in the wild. They taste just a little less fungusy than a white button, and are prepared about the same way. The texture is a bit softer, and they can really absorb the butter!
Black Trumpets just taste like mushrooms to me. They are raved over, but maybe I missed the point.
Yellowfoot Chanterelles also just taste like Mushrooms. Again, I can put them into anything and hide them pretty well, so I’m ok with them.
Hedgehog Mushrooms are pretty good. I really said that, didn’t I? They smell sort of caramelly when cooking, and have a vaguely sweet flavor. If they are dried, they end up having a meaty texture when cooked that is not slippery at all.
Brown Beech Mushrooms just taste like mushrooms. You have to cook them, so they end up like little slimy rubbery things, but I can disguise them in almost anything so we get along.
And MORELS. Ok, so I really LIKE Morels. They do not taste like mushrooms! Fried in butter until they are browned, they have a sort of meaty texture, and they taste savory and not mushroomy at all. I hate to get on a hype bandwagon with everyone else, but these are truly unique in the mushroom world. At least, to me, so far. I’ll make sure and note it though if I find others that have a similar flavor and texture because it is worth knowing.
Part of the problem with mushrooms for me is that the essential thing about mushrooms that every mushroom lover raves over, is the very thing that repels me. The fungusy element. The thing that reaches into your nose and tickles your brain saying, “I am MUSHROOM!”. That thing. That is the part I do not like! So the less pronounced that is, the more I like a mushroom.
It has been disappointing – being mycologically challenged like this. Because I read descriptions of mushrooms all the time. They describe the appearance, the odor, and the flavor. I get all excited when I read the descriptions, because they make them sound SOOO INCREDIBLY YUMMY!
I’ve always had somewhat of an encyclopedic mind, so much so that I can recognize many mushrooms and identify them accurately the first time I see them. So those descriptions stick in my head. And they’ve been responsible for some amazing disappointments!
“Fragrant”, “Pleasant”, “Fruity”, and other words are used to describe an odor which, when held to my nose, simply says, “FUNGUS!”. I really wanted it to smell like the description, and it doesn’t. It just smells like laundry left in the washer one too many days during the winter in a damp climate.
Same with the flavor. I really WANT to taste a mushroom that really does taste amazingly delicious. But in the end, (with the exception so far of Morels) they always end up tasting like mushrooms – some have an edge of savory or wonderful flavor, but the mushroom still lurks and takes away the peak of enthusiasm.
The one odor that did not disappoint, is “Almond”. I’ve smelled about three or four different kinds of Agaricus mushrooms which smelled of almond, and let me tell you they smell LIKE ALMOND! Sweetly nutty and fruity, they smell absolutely wonderful. The flavor is less enticing, being only lightly almondy, and still possessing the rubbery fungus texture and flavor of other Agaricus mushrooms. But the gorgeous smell makes up for it to me!
One day, perhaps I’ll meet the perfect mushroom. One that actually tastes as delicious as the description. But until then, I’ll keep eating them – because they make a huge difference to my health – and I’ll keep growing them and hunting them and learning about them, because the effort to do so has been utterly fascinating, and may eventually prove lucrative.
Remember, if you have sensitivities to mushrooms, not all mushrooms cause the same sensitivities. Many mushrooms also cause sensitivities only if undercooked, or if consumed with alcohol, and mushrooms grown under conifirs are more likely to cause sensitivities than those grown in compost or under hardwoods.
So if you are a mycophile (mushroom lover), go try some new mushrooms and find some new flavor sensations. If you are a mushroom hater, then go try some new ones anyway! You may just find that you don’t hate all mushrooms. And one or two might just surprise you.
To purchase spawn or learn about cultivating mushrooms, visit our mushroom store at: Mushrooms.FirelightHeritageFarm.com
Burning trash was legal, and there was a burn pit in the yard, beside the house. So I carted the burnables out, and lit a fire. It burned for about an hour, while I watched it, going back and forth to the house to make sure nothing got out of the rock enclosure. I had been taught as a child to not leave a fire unattended unless I was sure of the safety of the enclosure.
A month later, I headed out to use the burn pit again. The ground was drier and it was a warmer day. I had a bit more trash this time, but not that much more. I tossed it in, and lit it. The performance seemed to be repeating itself, so I ran inside to do something quick indoors.
When I came back out, not more than a moment or two later, a small patch of grass was burning outside the pit. I ran over and started stomping, just in time to see another patch light up beside it. The slightly drier ground and the slightly hotter fire had heated the rocks, and the grass that was in the nooks and crannies around the rocks caught fire. I stomped out the first and ran frantically to the second one just as the first popped to life again, and a third began on the opposite side of the pit.
I still thought I could stop it myself, and ran for the kitchen to fill a bucket. When I came back, the fire was twice the size in each patch, and another little patch was sparking to life. The bucket of water squashed two patches! I was going to get this under control, and no one would know, and I’d be able to just go on and never have to confess my embarrassment.
I ran for another bucket. When I got back, the two bits I had squashed were burning merrily again, and the other two sections had grown again, and were spreading toward the houses – mine, and a neighbor. I realized at that point that it was not going to concede to my wishes of not involving anyone else.
I ran for the neighbors, who stuck their heads out and said, “Well, what do you want US to do?”. I ran for the bucket again, hollering, “Call the fire department! And grab a bucket!”. They grumbled, and wandered around outside, mumbling something about where to find a bucket. I tossed one at them and ran back inside. Two more neighbors came to help, while I called the fire department myself. We got a hose going, and managed to keep the fire away from the houses, but by the time the fire department arrived, it had consumed most of the yard, and was about 5 feet from our house on one side, had reached the road on another side, and was a few feet from the property line on the other. The firemen pulled out a hose, sprayed fire retardant on the flames, and they died a sizzling death as though on command.
They did in 5 minutes what I had been gasping with for far longer, and which I could not vanquish even with the help of several neighbors – of course, they had good protective gear, and the right equipment to fight it. The firemen stayed for a while to watch the ground to ensure that no sparks relit in areas that may not have been sufficiently quenched. I heard sizzling sounds in the lawn for many hours afterward, and kept looking out to see whisps of smoke trailing up from under this or that charred bush.
It occurs to me that Pornography is much like that fire. Only bigger. One little bit, nothing serious. But it spreads. And it pops up where you do not expect it to. The addiction can consume a home before someone is aware that it is the culprit, it may spread from one home to another. And neighbors may just be content to let your home burn – even the help of well-meaning friends may not be enough. Neighbors may even be content to let the fire go until it consumes their own home, oblivious to the danger even as it engulfs them! Once the right actions are taken, you need to be watchful to make sure it does not spark to life again.
This was a small yard fire. The flames of Pornography are more like a wildfire, out of control, creating a wind and a roar, and sweeping everything in its path. Inviting it into your home is the equivalent of building a bonfire in your livingroom just because you got bored, and hoping that the fire you started with not do more than warm your toes or let you roast some marshmallows.
Pornography, like the fire in my yard, or like a forest fire, will grow if left unchecked, until it has consumed every life in its path. It will not get tired and just wear itself out in an individual. It will grow and grow until all the good in a person is destroyed. This is what it does. There are no exceptions. It always gets worse if it is not first stopped, and then held at bay.
The progression is inevitable – it is important that this is understood. It may progress slowly, or quickly, but it WILL progress, and it always ends with the same horrors. In earlier eras when it was harder to access and there was less social acceptance of it, the progression took far longer, but in this day when it is on every street corner, accessible in every private cubby, and considered by so many to be nothing shameful, it gallops through a person’s life at an astonishing speed. Generally the further the progression, the less likely a person is to recover, and the more damage they will do to other people around them. Pornography never stays confined to a single person, it spills over and pulls in young people who see the example of the addict, and poisons marriages, families, and friendships as the addict gives to the addiction what they should be giving to real people.
Porn may be assessed on a scale of 1-5 for severity. A person may progress from one phase to another in as little as six months (far less in certain environments), or they may take years – but in our day, it is uncommon for it to take more than two years to progress from one stage to the next.
Stage 1 – Bikini/Underwear shots progressing to nudity. At this stage, confession (to spouse, parents, and anyone harmed by the addict), and help from family (and clergy where available) may be sufficient to help an individual gain control, and revise the standards and behaviors in their life. The individual viewing porn will begin to detach from close relationships, and will generally become more irritable and prone to fault-finding, or temper tantrums.
Stage 2 – Porn involving Straight and Gay Sex (with or without a progression from one to the other), with progression from couples to groups. This stage may begin with straight sex only, but always ends with both categories, and the progression may follow one of several patterns. This stage may include either visual or auditory media, and text only books. Drug abuse generally begins well into this stage also (the link between drug addictions and pornography addictions is inseparable – generally the drug abuse does not actually involve the porn, rather it is used as a coping mechanism for a life that is going up in flames). At this stage outside help is more likely to be needed, and confession to someone outside the home is essential (clergy or a counselor who is supportive of recovery are most appropriate). A 12 Step Addiction Recovery Program is recommended for recovery for this stage and all subsequent stages.
Recovery is dependent upon the support and aid of those close to them, especially the spouse [or parents for youth], AND upon the efforts of the addict [until they start to try, nothing is effective]. If the spouse is NOT supportive, recovery likelihood is LESS than 20% by the middle of Stage 2.
If the spouse (or parents) IS supportive and helpful, with a commitment and expression of love toward the addict, AND the addict makes a sincere effort, the likelihood of recovery is approximately 85% through the middle of stage 2.
Stage 3 - Sex combined with Violence. This is one of the critical barriers – when a person crosses it, things begin to pick up speed. When sex alone ceases to provide a thrill, this is the next step. Porn encourages an individual to view sex as a purely selfish thing, and when that tendency is magnified, it grows into the intentional desire to harm, and not just the desire to selfishly exploit. The fire is OUT OF CONTROL – it CANNOT be handled quietly inside the privacy of a marriage, or by parents alone attempting to help a child. There may be legal concerns developing through this stage.
Somewhere in this stage, the chance that a person will ever rehabilitate drops to less than 1%, regardless of spousal support of the effort, abuse toward the spouse escalates dramatically, and physical abuse of children may begin if it was not previously present (sexual abuse of the children by the addict is still out of bounds for them – that barrier has not yet been eroded sufficiently).
Stage 4 – Sexual aberrations (Bestiality, Pedophilia, Extreme Drug Enhancement of sexual experience, extreme violence, torture, and other indescribable horrors). The addict has sated themselves, and is now desperate for any variation that will provide the fix.
At this point, a family is NOT safe with the person in the house – abuse further escalates, and typically children in the home WILL become sexual abuse victims.
Stage 5 – Sex combined with Murder (First they view, then they do.) This stage begins with Snuff films, and ends with acting them out. When asked how he came to be a mass murderer, Ted Bundy is reported to have said that he found a porn magazine in his stepfather’s closet as a child. Left unchecked, porn leads to murder, in a trail of progression that is known to every prison psychiatrist.
This is not an exaggeration, nor an attempt to scare people away from porn. It is just exactly this dangerous. I am calm, confident, and absolutely dead serious as I list these phases and the progression of porn. The harm simply cannot be overstated.
So now we know… DON’T IGNORE IT THINKING IT WILL JUST GO AWAY!
To survive in this modern environment where it Porn is EVERYWHERE, one must wear good protective gear, and build good firebreaks, just as one would in fighting a wildfire.
Protective gear for Pornography is one way to keep it from consuming an individual. Eye protection is especially important, but ear protection can also really help!
So what kinds of protective gear can you don that will help you to keep the harm of Pornography out of yourself, as an individual?
- The company of like-minded people. Hang out with people who have the same goal of avoiding it. Befriend those with good ideals, who understand WHY you want to avoid it. Choose dates who get it, and respect the goals. Life sometimes requires you to be around people who will bring this into your world. You may not be able to escape them – but if you choose good companions when you DO have the choice, it is easier to be strong when you DON’T have the choice. Online, associate with good people, block those who would introduce this harm into your life.
- Create a set of personal standards, and stick to it. This would include things like avoiding entertainment with nudity and sexual content, avoiding music and audio tracks that refer to the same, making sure you maintain good moral standards for yourself, being at home by a reasonable hour in the evening, and avoiding situations where you might be overly tempted to lower your standards. It also includes ACTING on intentions to make a hasty retreat, when things are occurring which are not in line with your standards. It is easy to say you will leave if the movie gets raunchy, but much harder to stand up in the middle of a group of people, and draw attention to yourself as you walk out. But every time you do it, it gets easier.
- Engage in wholesome and uplifting activities. Every GOOD thing you do, from helping a neighbor to attending a clean alcohol-free party, increases your personal strength and helps you build good patterns for living. Every time you laugh at a clean joke, get chills from an absolutely amazing song, or view entertainment that leaves you feeling lifted up and wanting to be better, you build strength. Every time you do something unselfish, choose to do what is right even when it is hard, or bite your tongue and refrain from being cruel, you strengthen that part of yourself that has the power to resist Pornography – because porn is all about selfishness.
- Increase the spiritual activities in your life. These are things that affect you positively, both by helping you WANT to be better, and by exposing you to the influence of Good, and it has far more power than the average person realizes. This is especially helpful for teens – it is perhaps the EASIEST way to become a kinder and morally stronger person. Just be there – where things are all about good, and let it work its magic on you.
- Keep an emergency song on hand. Good and evil cannot exist in the same space at the same time. A song with good lyrics will drive bad thoughts or images out of your head. This strategy can be used to avoid temptation, to get disturbing images out of your head (after accidental exposure), and to keep your thoughts from drifting into areas where they would better not go.
- Don’t go there. Not even once. Never let curiosity overcome your better judgment in this regard. Just once DOES HURT. Every addict started with “Just Once”.
One of the time honored methods for stopping a wildfire is to create a firebreak. It is a barrier, such as a path of bare earth where there is no fuel for the fire, or a moat filled with water, or some other surface that the fire cannot cross. A firebreak must be sufficiently wide to stop the fire under the current circumstances – this means that when there is no wind, with a small fire, a small firebreak will do. When the fire is large and raging, and driven by a wind, the firebreak must be far wider.
In our day, the fire is monstrous, and raging with immense intensity. It is driven by hard winds and whipped up by ignorant people who stand on the sidelines encouraging you to feel the heat and look at the pretty flames.
To survive this, we must create firebreaks in our lives. They may need to be constructed at home, and at work or at school. They are one of the ways in which parents can help children avoid Pornography and teach them skills to choose to avoid it for themselves.
These firebreaks may involve changing our environment, or they may involve rules or standards for safety. Typically they involve groups of people or environments, and extend outside of the individual. They can include strategies such as:
- A home where computers are only used in public rooms in the home, when other people are home.
- Requiring children and teens to “check out” a computer or cell phone when needed, and check it back in either at night, or when the need has passed. For example, a phone might be checked out for an outing, and checked back in afterward. In either case, keeping computers and cell phones checked in at night helps ensure that kids are not online or texting inappropriately after parents are in bed (this is the number one time at home, when kids will access porn in a home where it is forbidden).
- Eating dinner with the family each night, at the table. This is an immense tool for strengthening a family, and helps develop stronger parent-child relationships.
- Engage in religious observances together with others in your home (family or otherwise). This helps all work together to create a harmonious environment. People who worship together are more likely to support one another in choosing good.
- Strengthen your family in any way you can. This article on the LDS.org site, called The Family: A Proclamation to the World, gives great descriptions to help a family become stronger. It sets a VERY high standard. Don’t worry if you don’t meet the standard. Just pick a thing to work on and build strength in your family. And don’t worry if you are (for example) a single parent, or if other circumstances do not meet the ideal. Just work on what YOU can control. These are also the things a parent can do to help teens have the desire to make good choices – because teens with a strong family support network make better choices.
You may feel safe and think that this all has nothing to do with you. I promise you, you are wrong. It has everything to do with you, and it will sneak in and work its devastation upon some facet of your life at least once – whether it be the divorce of someone close to you, the abuse of someone you love, or the anger and storms of your own teenager, or within your own marriage.
No one is immune. The only ones who are to any degree safe from it are those who make it a thoughtful daily practice to be safe, and to stay safe.
For more resources for combatting pornography, you may visit overcomingpornography.org, or the PornographyHarms Group on FaceBook.
When you head out for Chanterelles and find only Blewits, many mushroom hunters are disappointed. When you go out hoping to find anything edible at all, and there are only broad patches of Sropharia Ambigua, other mushroom hunters are disgusted (even though they have never actually tried them). And of course, when you go out and find nothing, that is the biggest disappointment of all.
Around the common disappointing finds though, there are a host of proliferating species which no one ever actually names. They are frequently encountered by mushroom hunters, as well as hikers and campers, and may even be seen in suburbia, or in downtown urban areas.
So I am taking the time to create this easy reference for many of those finds which deceive the eye until you are right on top of them. It is my hope that this reference will allow you to accurately identify these common, but lesser known species.
- Aquafinis plasticus. A broad transparent stipe, topped with a very small blue cap (or sometimes white cap). This species has only become noticed in the last two decades, and is now considered an invasive species in many areas. It is a very loosely rooted species unless it is well aged, in which case it may be several inches deep in soil, and may have toppled to one side. We recommend removal of the fruiting bodies, which may be discarded in the nearest trash can. It will not stop the random proliferation of the species, but it does help keep other hunters from experiencing the same misdirection.
- Aluminatus canicus. Found less often that it was before the proliferation of Aquafinis plasticus, this species thrives and springs up around warm campfires and is often found along trails in the woods. It is a cylindrical form, which generally has touches of metallic silver. It makes a robust crunching sound when you step on it, which helps you clinch the ID. Removal and disposal is also recommended for this species, for the same reasons as for Aquafinis plasticus.
- Avianacea Fecealus. This species is usually found on other items – often on leaves, fence posts, tree branches, and downed limbs, but may also be found on the ground, and occasionally appears suddenly without notice upon the clothing of unsuspecting mushroom hunters and hikers. It is predominantly white, with touches of gray or gray-brown, and may be either flat and elongated, or it may appear in raised lumps. We do not recommend removal, unless this species has fruited on your personal belongings.
- Arboreatus Autumnal Dropiloides. Known as “The Great Deceiver”. Probably the most prevalent of all disappointing finds, AAD is a species that is extremely rare in the spring, but begins to show toward the end of summer, and increases in frequency through the beginning of winter. Occurring in various shades of orange, yellow, pale green, brown, or gray brown, or even a blackish brown, and having a wide variety of sizes and shapes (most of them flat and ovoid), some possessing neatly organized patterns of ribbing, this species is probably responsible for more false raised hopes than any other disappointing species. It may mimic virtually ANY mushroom species. This species is too numerous to control, and with practice, one learns to better distinguish it from legitimate finds, though some fruiting bodies of this species will always look deceptively like Blewits, Chanterelles, Porcini, and even Horse Mushrooms from a distance, and there is just no way to avoid that step closer before you realize you’ve been deceived.
- Golferina Ballinus. First discovered in Scotland, this small white puffball-like species has a consistent size of about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, is evenly spherical, and has evenly spaced depressions covering the surface. It is a very loosely rooted species, and will roll easily if kicked, or hit with a stick. More solid than the average fungus, they can travel long distances when firmly whacked with a solid object. They appear more frequently on lawns, and rarely in the woods, and cluster at the bottom of ponds in some areas. Hitting this species and attempting to knock it into a hole in the ground is apparently such fun that many sporting goods stores sell a specially made long handled mallet just for this purpose.
These species account for untold dashed hopes, and no doubt for a fair amount of cursing from dedicated or even casual mushroom hunters. They may also be disappointing for other wildcrafters and harvesters.
So I challenge you to identify these species the next time you are on the trail, or off the trail, or even randomly in surburbia or downtown urban areas.
A truffle crossed my path yesterday. A ripe White Oregon Truffle. Perhaps an overripe one… Maybe an underripe one (though the color was developed as it is supposed to be). I do not know at this point. I am not a lover of fungus and had never seen, much less smelled a truffle, before yesterday. But as the question of describing the smell of truffles is one that is asked over and over, I thought I’d have a go at describing the odor, for anyone who wonders what a truffle smells like.
I cannot speak for ALL truffles, of course. But this is an approximation of the smell of this one.
Take 1 pair of old gym socks which have been worn by a teenager who has been wearing his shoes without socks for at least three weeks and then decided to put on a pair of socks and sweat in them for four days.
Dip the toe in vodka.
Wrap it around a piece of meat that has been left out to age until it is overripe and then halfway roasted.
Put it in your fridge and close the door.
Open the fridge door again, and breathe deeply.
This is what truffles smell like.
I do not know what they taste like. But the smell of them does enlighten me as to why truffles are used sparingly. Smelly gym socks dashed with vodka with side notes of gamey beef is a scent combination that is likely to translate into flavors that SHOULD be used sparingly!
Of course, I am NOT a lover of mushrooms. So my opinion on the matter may be completely irrelevant. I have discovered a few mushrooms that I can tolerate, and one or two that I actually LIKE as far as flavor is concerned. The texture still grosses me out. But the smell of a truffle is not in any way appetizing to me. Underneath all those nasty smells, lurks an odor that holds the promise of having associated with something NOT revolting, at least briefly. But I am not sure if that is what might rise as the memorable flavor or not.
Historically, female pigs were used to find truffles. The truffle, it is said, has an odor that is reminiscent of male pig pheromones, which makes the female pig hone in on it, dig it up, and consume it with delight. Not so sure what that says about how a sow treats a boar… But anyway, I think it says a lot about the odor of a truffle. A boar in rut is probably not the most pleasant smelling thing in the world. After smelling a truffle, I am thinking it is something akin to the smell of that coyote that rolled under the car after I hit it on Highway 30 in Wyoming… RANKLY OFFENSIVE. If you stuff one up inside the venting of someone’s car, that would prove a good practical joke – they’d be at the mechanic demanding that he find whatever died in there!
It does make one wonder why they are so valuable and so sought after. Even if the truffle I smelled was one side or other of ripeness, I am not enamored of the idea of smelling it when the scent is “fully developed”. Nevertheless, I’ll be watching for the opportunity to see whether there is a point where a truffle does NOT smell quite that bad. I’ll update if I find it.
In the mean time I AM enjoying the savory anise scent of an unidentified brown Agaricus Mushroom, that I found to be a much more pleasant aroma to contemplate building a meal around.
“Heat an entire room for 8 pence a day!” says the title of a video making the rounds on social media. After watching the video, I could already see some problems with this claim. But the heater looked useful, so I decided to try it out, and see what it COULD do.
A link to the original blog post with the video that I watched is at the end of this article.
The setup consists of a bread pan, two clay pots (one large, one small), and four tealights. The tealights are placed in the bread pan, and lit. The small clay pot is placed upsidedown over the tea lights, balanced on the edges of the bread pan. The larger pot is balanced in the same manner over the top of the first one.
The first problem I had, was with the design of the setup. It looked like a fire waiting to happen. Tea lights, in a bread pan, sitting on a magazine. Tea lights get hot when they burn down. Probably not hot enough to light a magazine on fire, but to me, a child raised in a home with wood heat and taught by her father to respect fire, too much of a risk.
So I purchased a clay pot tray, and turned it upsidedown for a fire-proof base. I had to improvise some of the other elements a little also, but the end result was equally efficient, with one major difference:
My setup held only three tealights, not four. It does not significantly change any of the aspects which I am reporting on – I did not try to heat a large space, and the number of candles does not affect any of the other numbers, since I used his original numbers as a baseline.
These are the problems I found with the system:
1. The room the Brit heats in the video is a VERY small room. It is also generally a fairly WARM room. So the amount of heat he required was fairly minor. A toaster oven used to heat his noon meal would have produced sufficient heat for an hour or two in a room that size. Just pointing that out, because “an entire room” in this case, wasn’t much at all. By comparison, we are talking about a bathroom, or a bedroom in a 1970s singlewide trailer (you know, those little bitty bedrooms).
2. He lists the price of tea lights at about 1 pence each. This converts to anywhere between 1 and 2 pennies USD, depending on the exchange rate. This price is found NOWHERE for tea lights. At least, nowhere I can access that actually ends up BEING that low a price by the time the costs are tallied. The lowest I found was 4 cents each. I paid 6 cents each for mine. While this is only pennies we are talking about, the cost doubles, or triples when the actual cost is calculated. That is very significant. His 8 pence a day now becomes 16 or 24 pence – or 32 to 48 cents.
3. He claims that the tealights burn for “about 4 hours”. This, again, is rather an exaggeration. Mine burned for 2 and a half hours. Perhaps tealights are larger in Britain, but I doubt it. Perhaps they are made of a different type of wax – but if it burns longer, it also burns cooler, so there is a trade-off. Since mine burned for just 2 1/2 hours, I have to base my calculations on that. Our costs just increased by 50% again, if we have to do three burns instead of two for the same heat. We are now up to 48 to 72 cents per day.
4. Some people with whom I discussed this suggested that “residual heat” in the clay pots would compensate some for the shorter burn times. The pots cooled fairly quickly, retaining radiant heat for only a short time, and being completely cooled within half an hour. This means that they’d only have useful residual heat for about 20 minutes. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call the burn and heat time, combined, about 3 hours. We still have to do three burns for anywhere close to 8 hours of heat (based on his original concept of 8 hours equaling a day).
5. Because he only counts a day as 8 hours of heat, you still have 16 hours unaccounted for. To truly heat for a day, you’d have to again triple your cost. This brings the cost of heating a tiny room up to somewhere between $1.44, and $2.16 for an actual full day. Now, I realize people are NOT going to try to use this to heat a home, but we have to calculate it in that manner in order to see how it compares with other heat forms. If you can heat an entire 3 bedroom house for about $200 a month, in SEVERE cold (yes, we did so in Wyoming – an 1800 sq foot home), then it works out to about $6.66 per day to heat the whole house. The room in the video was about 8X12 ft, so that works out to about $.36 per day to heat that space using gas or electric, for a full 24 hour time period. Here, in the south where we live now, it is half that amount. For any amount of real heating, the tealight heater is simply NOT economical. I point that out, because his main claim is that it is cheap heat. It is not. It is actually very expensive heat.
So is this little thing good for anything? Turns out, that when you take it for what it IS, and not for what it is NOT, it is actually good for something!
1. Spot heating. When you need a little extra heat in a single area, for a short period of time – this kind of heating is ALWAYS more costly than whole house heat, on a square foot basis. What makes it economical is being able to heat just a single small area rather than having to increase the heat throughout the house. I am using mine to rapid-cure silicone. In the summer, our silicone for our Fermenta Cap products cures in about 4-5 hours. In the winter, even with the heat on in the house, it can take 24 hours, sometimes more, to cure. This slows our production to the point of getting us seriously behind in order fulfillment. I can pour my silicone, light three tealights in the burner, and walk away – the heater is safe to leave unattended as long as there are no pets or children in the room (my heater is also safe ONLY because I have tested it and know it to be safe). The burner puts out just enough extra heat in that one small area, to cure my silicone within 4-6 hours. MUCH faster. That is worth 18 cents per day to me! If I need to leave the house, and the burner has only been lit a while, I can blow it out, and place the clay pots over the tops of the silicone molds, where the residual heat works on them, safely, while I’m gone. This has been a benefit to us, and a good method of heating this tiny area.
2. A cozy alternative to a fireplace. The warmth of an open flame just has more romantic appeal on a cold winter evening. A candle powered heater, and a warm mug of hot chocolate, and a good story to read with the family could make any evening special.
3. Emergency heat. It is likely that the heater would get hot enough on top to at least heat water, and in an emergency, a little heat is better than none. Because it is off-grid heat, all you need is to be sure you have SOME ventilation if you light more than one, and be sure you have matches on hand.
There are some safety issues if you decide to experiment with this type of heater. The issue with heat from the bottom is only one potential issue. Since this is an open flame, standard cautions regarding candles and fires apply.
1. When you have tealights concentrated together, they create more heat than a single candle. The wax in each tin will quickly reach the melting point all the way through, since you have a covering over the lights that make the candles heat up more. Liquid wax tends to wick out over the edges of the tin, so that whatever surface you have them on can become covered in a thin film of melted wax. Under the right (or wrong) conditions, this can be a fire hazard. Make sure that you have them in a fire proof dish or container, and that the bottom is insulated from heat build-up so it does not overheat the surface the assembly is sitting on.
2. The clay pots need to be placed over the candles, at a great enough height to avoid a flash fire on the surface of the candles. Since the wax becomes liquid fairly rapidly, a build-up of heat on the surface of the tealights can cause the entire surface to ignite – this only happens when there is sufficient heat to maintain the fire without needing a wick. If this happens, you’ll hear the sound of the flames (a quiet roaring), and black smoke will billow out of the hole in the pots, and around the edges. This may not exactly be a fire hazard, but it produces so much smoke that the smoke alone could be deadly. The fire is also very difficult to put out – you’ll need to find a way to smother all of the candles at once or they’ll re-ignite. To avoid a surface flash fire, make sure the inner pot is at least 2″ above the surface of the candles. Depending on how you have your larger pot set up, it may need to be more. Also make sure that you have not closed off the sides around the candles in a way that concentrates heat back into the center of the candle group – give it a place to radiate OUT, as well as UP. Test the setup thoroughly before leaving it unattended, and test it again if you make any modifications, no matter how small. It is probable that the original setup with the tealights in a bread pan is also at risk for flash fires, and that what looks like a simple setup may not be so simple. Variations in the size or shape of the pan can make what is safe for one person, very unsafe for another. Test carefully, and be prepared to put out a surface fire if needed – a second bread pan to turn upside-down over the top of the first one would work well to put out the candles, or you could use a cooking pot, by using the flat bottom to smother the candles if they are in a different arrangement.
3. To generate additional heat, some people close the hole in the smaller pot. If you do so, make sure that whatever you use to close or block the hole can withstand very high heat. The greatest heat build-up is right at the top of that smallest pot, and it can be far hotter than you think.
4. Make sure you have hot mitts close by, in case you need to blow out the heater. You have to remove the pots – you’ll need a safe place to set them also. Think about this BEFORE you have to do it, and things go more smoothly.
5. Keep it away from kids and pets. This thing gets HOT on the surface. It is designed to trap and radiate heat, and it does just that. It will get blisteringly hot on the surface of those pots. If you don’t like such risks in your home, don’t use this kind of heater.
My conclusion is that the video circulating is inaccurate, and even somewhat careless in how it presents the options for this type of heater. But I also feel that it CAN be useful, if you understand what you are dealing with, and the actual potentials for use.
I will be assembling some of these, and testing various setups, so I can include a few in my emergency supplies. I think they CAN be a help in a power outage, and in some other unique situations.
We are conditioned to think that sour milk is a harmful thing. If you are talking about pasteurized milk, it can be. Sour pasteurized milk can have some really nasty opportunistic pathogens in it.
Raw milk, on the other hand, is a different thing entirely. When it sours, it develops a wide range of microbial growth, including many helpful probiotics. It DOES contain some bacteria and fungi that would be considered to be harmful pathogens when in higher concentrations, but they are balanced and neutralized by the much more plentiful helpful microbes.
So why is pasteurized milk so risky when it is soured?
If you kill all the good bacteria and yeasts, then the milk is completely lifeless – for all of about half a millisecond, until it comes in contact with air again (or the inside of a milk jug, sterilized or not, or equipment, etc). It becomes a fertile environment that happily cultures any opportunistic bacteria or fungi that come along – the fast growing nasties are able to thrive, breed, and multiply without restraint. There are no natural inhibiting “enemy” or “competitor” strains to slow it down or to mitigate the effect. The ones that grow fast are likely to be fairly harmful, and they are likely to grow in very high concentrations. The fact that commercial pasteurized dairy products are stored for long periods of time in production, transit, and then on the grocery store shelves means that there is ample time for them to grow to very high levels. Levels NOT seen in fresh raw milk.
Raw milk, on the other hand, is chock full of a full complement of bacteria and fungi. If you leave it out at room temperature without ever putting it in the fridge, it will develop into buttermilk. Buttermilk is just old fashioned “sour milk” which old recipes call for (they are not asking for that nasty stuff that pasteurized milk turns into when it gets too old).
Note: Buttermilk is just raw milk left out to sour. The cream rises and firms up, which makes it easier to skim. The milk left behind was “buttermilk”. The cream was then churned into cultured butter, and the milk from around the butter was poured off and added back into the buttermilk. Just so we understand why sour milk was called Buttermilk.
Refrigeration does affect it some. It will develop a different complement of microbes at higher temperatures than it does at low temperatures, but they are generally equally healthy.
So, when your raw milk turns a little off, what can you do with it? Turns out you have a lot of options!
NOTE: It is still healthy enough to drink. You can drink it as long as you do not mind the flavor. There is no need to worry that you have to “catch” it before it goes the least bit off to save your kids from being harmed, or to avoid ingesting something dangerous. It is just milk, with a little more probiotic benefit.
- Make Biscuits. Southern buttermilk biscuits are a natural for sour raw milk, and so are buttermilk pancakes. You can omit the Baking Powder and use 1/3 that amount of baking soda which will react with the sour milk. You can also use it in any other recipe calling for milk, depending on how far off the flavor is, including things such as custards, milk gravies, and even home made macaroni and cheese or alfredo sauce. All of these cooked options will kill both the beneficial and harmful bacteria and fungi.
- Make Smoothies. If you usually use yogurt or kefir in smoothies, sour raw milk is a good substitute. Bet nobody even notices! Microbes are kept intact.
- Make Cheese. Let it sour a bit more, out at room temp for a day or so. Dump it in a pot, and heat until curds form and separate – to the point where you cannot touch the side of the pot at the level of the milk without it stinging. Strain, and either use as fresh cheese or press to make a hard cheese. You can also substitute it in any cheese recipe for buttermilk. Cooked cheeses result in a pasteurized product. You can also simply strain it without cooking if it has curdled, and use it as a soft cheese. It will be VERY full of microbes.
- Pasteurize it and make yogurt or kefir from it. You CAN do either one without doing so – they are, after all, just variations on sour milk! This process kills anything that might be lurking in your milk, and replaces the microbial assortment with a cultured assortment (which isn’t that different in kefir than it is in ordinary sour raw milk, by the way!).
There does come a point where it is too far gone – but that is quite a bit further along than most people think! Milk that should NOT be used will be discolored (more than just a little yellowing), it will have mold on it, or a very unpleasant smell. You won’t generally mistake if it is too far gone.
Sour milk is actually one of the benefits of using raw milk. Our ancestors knew this, and had uses for fresh sweet milk, and uses for aged sour milk.
The more I use it, the braver I get. I started with just using it in baked goods and cheeses, but we now use it in many other ways. My favorite is probably smoothies – my probiotic smoothies have single-handedly healed a number of annoying health issues for me.
NOTE: Because of the rabid “sterilize everything” Nazis, and various government entities which subscribe to the theory that killing everything must be better than retaining any kind of natural balance, I am compelled to leave a disclaimer. This is my opinion. It is based on broad research and experience, but it is still my personal view, provided for informational or entertainment purposes (making buttermilk biscuits is great fun). Use it as you see fit AT YOUR OWN RISK. I am not recommending this to heal or treat any disease, and am not a medical professional, nor a health or nutritional professional.
Mormons don’t drink alcohol. At least, they all know they aren’t SUPPOSED to (doing so is considered to be fairly serious). The word “ferment” for a Mormon typically has only ONE meaning – that of making alcoholic drinks (intentionally, or unintentionally). And yet, I sell fermenting products, and fully believe that the products we sell were inspired of the Lord.
In the trendy world of the foodies, the word “ferment” is often preceded by the prefix “lacto-”. But when foodies get lazy, they drop the prefix and go with “fermenting”, and assume that everyone they are talking to knows what they are discussing. “Lacto-fermenting” refers to any process of fermentation which produces lactobacillus – a healthy form of bacteria. And there are several forms of fermenting which produce this kind of bacteria – alcoholic beverage production is only one form.
Most avid lacto-fermenters are not terribly concerned about the alcohol content. Oh, every once in a while someone will question it, with specific fermented items, but everyone else is quick to shut them up with reassurances that while no one has actually MEASURED it accurately, they are all CERTAIN that it is safe, and to go ahead and consume it as a health drink, give it to your kids, etc. This is in spite of a vast body of anecdotal evidence that clearly shows that SOME lacto-fermented foods ARE in fact alcoholic – with enough alcohol content to intoxicate (as in, raise the blood alcohol level as measured by blood tests). As a rule, pretty much ANY food with sugar (including tomatoes) will go ALCOHOLIC when fermented. This includes water kefir, soda pops, sweet teas, and many others. If it has sugar, has been fermented, and tastes bubbly, the alcohol content is questionable at best.
I don’t make those foods. Ok, so I once made a batch of salsa, which after fermentation was so boozy I had to heat it in the skillet to evaporate the alcohol before using it! We gave up on water kefir, because it smelled boozy.
I refuse to take chances. I KNOW what alcohol smells like, and if that smell is there, it is not something I am willing to take a chance with, for myself or my family. I just won’t go there. Because I am a Mormon… and I not only LIVE it, I BELIEVE it. I have seen enough evidence in my personal life for the efficacy and wisdom of the Word Of Wisdom (the guideline for what we eat and drink that forbids “strong drink”, meaning alcoholic beverages), that I do not need to be further persuaded. I simply will not argue the guideline into a lesser observance. I know too much to even try. I will walk on the safe side. I have no desire to do otherwise.
So why do I sell products for “fermenting”? Because of all the OTHER stuff that you can do with them!
They are good for pickles, salsa without tomatoes, condiments, sourdough, kraut, and other good wholesome foods. These foods do not have significant sugar, and do not develop the alcohol that sugary foods develop. They do develop a lot of tasty probiotic microbes though. Good living food that helps the body compensate for the chemical exposure of modern life. And these products are created through a process of fermentation, without the resulting alcohol that many people associate with the word.
Do some people use my products to make things that I would disapprove of? Undoubtedly! But my God is a God of Agency – granting the choice for good or evil to each person. I sell products and provide information for making healthy foods. If people use my products for unhealthy things, that is their choice, and I am not responsible for that. No more than if I sold televisions or computers and they chose to use them to view harmful media.
The process of developing this business persuades me that it was indeed inspired. I am not creative enough on my own to have conceived of our airlock jar caps, nor the even more complex process of creating the prototype, developing a mold for it, and then a process for making more molds. I haven’t that kind of brilliance in me, and some of the aspects to it all are truly brilliant.
But it does put me in an awkward position sometimes… I no longer introduce my business by the name (FermentaCap) to other Mormons. Instead, I just say that I make a lid for making Old Fashioned Brined Pickles. Most nod, with that look on their face which clearly says, “I have NO idea what you are talking about!”. A few hear “pickles” and wonder what in the world would make you need a special lid for THAT. Still fewer nod enthusiastically and ask for my website URL – but they are the ones who understand that “fermenting” does not just mean alcohol.
Nothing tastes as fresh and flavorful as old fashioned brined foods. Kraut that has not been canned has a complex flavor and crunchy texture – it is not limp and sulfurous (my husband, a confirmed kraut hater, will even eat it mixed in tuna salad). Dill pickles are firm, dilly, and garlicky, with a pleasant bite of vinegary flavor (even though they have no vinegar in them). Salsa is pickly and spicy. Good food, that is still alive and bursting with nutrition.
And THAT is why I, a diehard Mormon, manufacture and sell fermenting products.