Forage for mushrooms and other natural bounties with a basket and a bike
|The bounties of the forests and mountains reveal themselves to those who slow down and have trained their eyes to find the delicacies growing there. It may surprise people, then, that the mountain bike can be an ideal mode of transportation for those foraging in Southcentral. After all, people who read articles in the local paper may think mountain bikers are only looking for speedy thrills as they careen down narrow trails. I, of course, enjoy the relative speed of singletrack trails, but I also appreciate a slow meander, especially when foraging for mushrooms or berries. I’m even recently become enamored with the spruce tips I sampled trailside while biking this past spring.|
Unlike spruce tips, mushrooms and berries require more acute observation skills and knowledge about which varieties are edible and which will make you sick.
My husband, Jon, and I had picked blueberries for several years, but we had never foraged for mushrooms until the summer we worked with and provided housing for a bicycle mechanic who was from Latvia. Janis (pronounced Yanis), Jon and I were biking home from work one evening when Janis began pointing out the edible mushrooms growing along the trails in the Campbell Tract. He picked some and brought them home. Skeptical, Jon cooked the mushrooms but neither he nor I ate them.
“We’ll see if you wake up in the morning,” we joked. But the young man who grew up in a forest in Eastern Europe knew his mushrooms and soon Jon was hooked on hunting the fungi by bicycle.
That fall, he sliced and dried the mushrooms to store them for winter. We ate sauces, soups, and casseroles, all made from food that was free for the taking by those who knew what to look for and were willing to slow down to find them.
In the ensuing years, Jon and I became more knowledgeable of mushroom varieties. He attended a mushroom hike and I found a guidebook to learn subtle differences in varieties. He took friends on foraging hikes, showing them where and how to search for mushrooms, helping them develop what foragers call mushroom eyes.
Jon prefers focusing on boletus varieties, such as the king bolete (boletus edulis, aka, porcini). I pick the boletes, but also enjoy finding puffballs (often bovista plumbea) and shaggy manes (coprinus comatus). Each variety has different flavors and some store better than others. For example, shaggy manes must be cooked as quickly as possible after picking, so I only pick them if I have a flat-bottomed basket and can bring them home without damaging them. Boletes, by contrast, are much sturdier and Jon will fill his backpack while on his cycling foraging adventures.
Each year, as the late summer turns to fall, we ride our bikes through the parks, stop to snack on berries, and lean our bikes against trees while we stalk mushrooms that have pushed up through leaf piles and tall grass. And in the winter, we’ll be glad to have these stores adding flavor to our meals, much of it collected during bike rides through the parks.
Searching for sustenance
To identify mushrooms, find a reliable guidebook and watch for mushroom hikes. Check with the Alaska Botanical Garden, which has held such hikes in the past. There are numerous websites and blogs that discuss foraging, but here are two guidebooks that I’ve used for identifying edibles in Alaska:
Alaska’s Mushrooms: A Practical Guide, by Harriette Parker is a helpful guide for the novice mushroom hunter.
Alaska Wild Berry Guide & Cookbook from Alaska Geographic is a good identification guide for berry pickers who want recipes for their berries. It is a little bulky, but a good choice for getting started with berries.
— Rosemary Austin