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What's in season now? MAY/JUNE

Mud season | Oyster Mushrooms | Leeks

Oyster mushroom stack


Northern Wisconsin is known for its springs in the sense that they are possibly, no, absolutely, by far the worst season of the year. It’s also not called Spring. It’s called Mud Season. And when Summer arrives in late June, we're reminded that Spring may or may not have happened but Summer is quickly approaching and nearly here. And this change in season marks the beginning of mushrooms season and peak foraging.

I grew up in Brule, Wisconsin; my father, a smart man, chose land that was above the red clay line- courtesy of mother, Lake Superior. Now, unlike my father, I chose to surround myself by the Lake on an island that is entirely sand and clay, which could quite possibly be the most annoying part of my spring. Everyone loves a sandy beach but no one would say the same about red clay. Come April and May, the island becomes a system of navigable waterways of flowing red clay rivers. As Lake Superior, this year, nears its all-time historic high, our road systems will become more and more limited as the water rises and our red clay river roads surface.

During this season the island comes to life, covered in clay and smiling in sunshine. Even in April there is approximately 2 feet of snow on the ground, with 2 months to melt. At that rate our lake will hit its highest point on record sometime in June. With all that said though- there will be a bounty of water on and around this island. What the desert lacks in rain we lack in high ground. Madeline Island is a giant swamp. What the water is good for is providing an ecologically rich environment for mushrooms and early spring edibles such as oyster mushrooms and leeks. That is what I will be searching for once the snow is gone and day temperatures reach 60 degrees and the June rains arrive.

Wild leeks growing on my parents property in Brule, Wi

For leeks, I make the annual trip to Brule, Wisconsin where my father, mother, maybe a sister or two, venture out into the backend of our property that borders a most beautiful wetland that is currently being destroyed by an out-out-town asshole. But I digress, I’ll get into that one at a later date. With buckets and shovels in hand we move straight through the woods on a path etched into my brain. And every spring, usually around Mother’s Day, my soul is re-filled as the first edible greens of the year show themselves. My mother reminds us the Crocus’ are blooming as well, it’s a reminder that Spring is nearly here and just as soon as it was here it's gone. Spring is quick in the Northwoods. It is beautiful and full of life. Everything is awakening and everyone moves from hibernation into full-blown work mode. It’s an amazing thing to see it as a collective. Just like the busy bees coming from their slumber so are we, moving about to make the most out of every day of sunshine gifted upon us.

How to Use Leeks:

Leeks have a sweet flavor, and can be eaten raw or cooked. A cup of leeks is low in sodium and has almost no saturated fat or cholesterol. Leeks are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, iron and magnesium, and a very good source of folate as well as vitamins A, C, and K.

Harvesting Tip: Bring a good pointed shovel, hand weeding tool. They're nearly impossible to pull out by hand and you'll just disappoint yourself by ripping the top of the plant off.

PRESERVE: Chop then freeze or dehydrate for later use in soups.

Following leeks, Oyster Mushrooms arrive later in May through June. The forest is the lushest shades of green and the ground is carpeted in forget-me-nots. The air and soil temperatures continue to rise, usually around 60 degrees, and with that lots of precipitation. It's not uncommon on Madeline Island and the Apostle Islands to have rain several times a week through June and if it's not raining it's foggy and overcast. By the Summer Solstice our summer weather starts to arrive and you can generally count on a rain event every 3-4 days with warm sunshiney days intermixed. This cyclical weather pattern creates the perfect environment for mushrooms to grow. So when the sun shines and the rains stop that's when you can find me in full rain gear searching the woods for Oysters. Oysters, near me, are found on dead popples, as we northern folk call them. Elsewhere, they're called Poplars or Aspen. Here, some consider them a garbage tree as they are the first tree to arrive after an area has been cleared and tend to blow over easily during a strong wing, as they are a very top heavy tree. With that said, their tendency to blow over generally means lots of dead trees in the woods, where oyster mushrooms claim their perfect habitat. Oysters are one of those mushrooms that if you get that timing right, foraging can be glorious and joyous day. Oysters tend to grow in clusters all the way up a dead tree*. The trick in the timing has a lot to do with the bugs. If you wait too long after the rain you'll likely find beautiful large, white fan shaped mushrooms, but the underside will be crawling with little black beetles, who have clearly claimed their territory.

*Harveting Tip: Oysters tend to grow well above your average reach so it's wise to bring a pocket knife, some duct tape, and a pole or stick of some kind to reach those way high up mushrooms. When cutting an Oyster mushroom from its tree, DO NOT pull the mushroom off. Always slice, leaving the base or stem of the mushroom intact with the tree. This helps in the regeneration of the mushroom for years to come.

Oyster mushrooms, although called Oyster, do no in fact taste fishy. They get their name from their similar appearance to oysters. I think they smell like anise, with a peppery taste. Some of you may be thinking... those flavors do not sound appealing together but don't be mislead. They are extremely delicious in cream and wine sauces, breaded and fried, and added in place of fish to chowders. I have a lot of venison and elk on hand and I find that a quick Vegetable Stir Fry with Soba noodles, rice noodles, or rice pair really well together. For the sauce I simply use lemon, ginger, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, and some sesame oil. Bake the vegetables (my favorites are broccoli, carrots, asparagus, celery, beans or whatever is growing the garden this time of year) in the oven for 30 minutes at 425 degrees and make the sauce to your liking while it cooks. At the end mix noodles, meat, and vegetables all together and voila! A quick stir fry meal. You can also grind them up into a powder and add them to soups as flavor in broths. I've also recently been experimenting with a jerky recipe that is turning out to be quite good. More on the jerky recipe later... but I will say, it would fool any meat eater and make vegetarians worry they just acted out a cardinal sin.

Recipes to try:

These recipes are easily adapted to include oyster mushrooms. They are also recipes that have lots of wiggle room if you have or don't have certain ingredients. These mushrooms are versatile and can be used in place of any recipe that calls for mushrooms.

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