Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Cultured Fungus: Canned Mushrooms

I hadn't realized such a thing existed, canned puffball mushrooms in brine. Intrigued, I bought a can, brought it home and placed it in the cupboard with the dozen or so other cans of mushrooms from oriental food markets.
Eventually they were used in a soup I made one Saturday afternoon. I called the soup "Faux Pho", a whatever was in the refrigerator and garden version of the super yummy Vietnamese soup.
The ingredients looked good, but as soon as I opened the can of puffballs I was suspicious. Brownish-grey, glistening, oddly firm. I cut one open and my suspicions deepened; when cut a black goo exuded from the interior. But I was determined to try one, I'm generally a big fan of foods in brine and all things pickled.
But one bite proved that they were even worse than expected. The puffballs were way too similar to peas, my mortal food enemy. But I persevered, and tried a few in the soup. Still disgusting, just like peas; biting through the skin produced a queasy pop and then filled the mouth with not-quite-tasteless paste.
Otherwise the soup was great and a big hit with the rest of my family. I started to think about the puffballs in brine, and wondered if they were really edible; not everything in a grocery store is.
The rind and blackish interior suggest a mushroom in the genus Scleroderma, which are inedible to poisonous, at least in North American. Maybe not elsewhere in the world. I did a tiny bit of internet research into commercially canned puffballs. Some brands pictured their mushrooms with white interiors, which would point to a species of Lycoperdon. I found one brand that confirmed this. Lycoperdon puffballs are common in parts of North America, and are edible while white inside. But as they age and the spores mature they become dark brown and are considered inedible. I found one picture where the interiors of a large handful of canned puffballs showed a gradient from white to black. Maybe some brands aren't as picky about the age of the puffball they put in cans. Or maybe we're just pickier about our puffballs than most cultures.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Backyard Native Weeds: Spiderwort

A) Spiderwort, Tradescantia sp. The hairy sepals and large bracts indicate T. bracteata, but at least two other species are present in MN as well hybrids and garden varieties.
B) The bright, gaudy colors and feathery stamens give Spiderworts an almost tropical look. In fact, Tradescantia is the only native representative of the largely tropical Commelinaceae (Spiderwort family).
C)It does well in marginal growing situations, like the cracks between my garage and sidewalk.
D)One of my favorite alley "weeds". By July it has mostly faded into the background, but it flowers for most of June in Minneapolis. Each flower only lasts a morning, turning into a gooey mass in the afternoon.
E)My daughter Naomi showed me that stems of Spiderwort are very juicy and sticky. It is used medicinally by a number of Native American groups, and is reported to be a refreshing and rehydrating trail food.
While photographing the plant, I spent some time just watching to see what insects I might observe.
A) A Leaf Beetle, Oulema sp. There are a number of very similar looking species that all feed on Spiderworts. It also closely resembles the Cereal Leaf Beetle, O. melanopus, which feeds on various grasses and can be a serious pest.
B) Unidentified fly, doing its best to resemble a bee.
C) Unidentified bee.
D) Beetle larva, possibly of the beetle in picture A
Sources for this post included:
"Edible and Medicinal Wild Plants of the Midwest" by Matthew Alfs
I've had the theme song from the old Spider-Man cartoon the whole time I've been working on this post and it's sort of driving me crazy . . .
With "Spiderwort" substituting for "Spider-Man" in the song lyrics. But I can't get past the first line:
Spiderwort, Spiderwort
Does whatever a . . .