A Rotten Puffball

Mushroom For Dinner

Originally I’m from the Chicagoland area, where the woods, rain, and snow are more than plentiful.  The conditions in Illinois were perfect for puffballs.  I know some of you are thinking it sounds like something that comes out of a fairy’s butt, but puffballs are actually an edible giant mushroom, often growing the size of a soccer ball.  I’m sure you can imagine: Puffball hunting is like easter egg hunting for adults, only healthier.

Needless to say, I was missing my puffballs when I moved to the southwest.  Imagine how excited I was to come across one of these beauties during a walk in the woods with a friend last weekend.  I suspected I might get lucky when we came across a huge population of ferns (also edible), and sure enough, there I found a puffball.

Puffballs are usually smooth around the outside, however this one had lots of lumps and bumps, which is normal after there’s been a lot of rain.  (Flagstaff had a heavy monsoon season this year.)  I suspected this puffball was past its prime when I pulled it from the earth.  The smell wasn’t quite right… but it had been so long I decided to take this little lover home anyway.

Once home, the moment of truth arrived.  I anxiously took out my biggest knife and pierced the skin, only to find disappointment.  When you cut open a puffball, it needs to be completely white throughout.  ENTIRELY throughout – otherwise it is NOT safe to eat.  Sadly, this puffball was far past the point of being good to eat.  You win some and you lose some.  Such is the life of a forager.

I bid you adeu fair puffball.  Until we meet again.

Icky Mushroom

WARNING:  It’s easy to get confused between edible and poisonous mushrooms, so if you decide to forage for any wild mushroom, be sure to go with someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.


First On The Scene: Milkvetch

Milkvetch is one of the first wildflowers on the spring scene, and has earned my respect as the hardiest of the hardiest.  There are many different types, but what amazes me is its ability to grow in the driest conditions.  Imagine looking out upon a barren, dry, desert landscape.  You crave some excitement, some boldness, some life, but everything is quiet and reserved.  Not a soul in sight.   You allow your eyes to slowly come into focus.  Suddenly something purple catches your eye.  (Purple, out here?!)  Looking closer, you begin to notice many milkvetch all around, sometimes creating carpets of magenta.  And it makes you feel something of excitement, all from this sweet little plant.

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Champ With Wild Mustard & Spring Onions

This recipe is a fun foragers treat for St. Patty’s Day or Easter, and is very budget friendly.  If you can harvest wild onions and wild mustard you can reduce the cost of the dish by at least a few dollars.  Those of you who are super savvy may even have homemade garlic powder, home-grown potatoes, and farm-fresh milk and butter.

My mother is American, but in her roots lay a “wee bit of Irish”, as she likes to say.  She is the only person I know who loves to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  The how of our of celebration usually consists of a feast and a collection of shamrock like plants.  And really, it seems the only connection I have to our lost cultural ties exists in cuisine, which is made conveniently available through the world wide web.  I would tell you how much I love google, but I digress…

So in the spirit of my mother and St. Patrick’s Day, my man and I celebrated with a feast of Corned Beef, Irish Soda Bread, Sauerkraut (more German, but it’s still cabbage), and Champ.  Of course our centerpiece was a beautiful pot of oxalis tuberosa, given to me by who other than my mom for this very day.

Often solid in stores for St. Patrick's Day

Often solid in stores for St. Patrick’s Day

Being the creature that I am, I couldn’t resist tossing in some wild mustard greens into the champ and it worked beautifully.  I only used a handful for just a touch of heat, but you can add more or less depending on your preference.

How To Harvest Wild Mustard Greens

Harvesting and cleaning the greens is a careful process.  As the season wears on, the greens become more appealing to bugs and the taste becomes hotter and more bitter.  I choose the youngest, smallest leaves.  When young plants aren’t available, I chop off the tops of older plants and give them a good shake.

I found a tiny tiny cabbage butterfly caterpillar on my greens.  It was only a few centimeters long.  They basically look like little green worms.  I set him free and he lived to see another day.

Had I not been so careful, he would have been toast.  Remember that when you forage… unless you like eating little worms and things.

Next, I peel the smaller leaves away from the central stalk, cutting away any remaining thick stalks.  The stalk is especially tough and bitter, and could easily ruin an otherwise tasty dish.  Time to clean up and shorten a few sprigs of the wild mustard flowers, which are still in bloom but beginning to form seeds here in Tuba.

Harvest Of Wild Mustard Flowers And Leaves

Into the bath the mustard goes… hoping I didn’t miss any of the bugs.  Squeeze out the excess water and chop roughly into bite sized pieces.  Allow to dry and you’re ready to cook.  Mustard greens will keep for a few days in the fridge so you can harvest well before you need it.

Wild Mustard Greens And Spring Onions

Now for the recipe!

Champ With Wild Mustard & Spring Onions

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Champ With Wild Mustard Greens

2.25 pounds of potatoes
1 1/4 cup whole milk or whipping cream
1 bunch wild onions (you may substitute spring onions)
30 grams wild mustard greens (you may substitute kale)
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp garlic powder
sea salt to taste
few sprigs of mustard flowers, for garnish
few teaspoons of reserved minced onion, for garnish

  1. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring about 4 quarts of salted water to a boil.  Enough water to cover the potatoes even after the water evaporates a bit.
  2. While the water heats, scrub the potatoes clean and cut into chunks 1 -2 inches by 1 – 2 inches.  Chop the onions and set aside.  If you haven’t already, chop the mustard greens into bite size pieces.
  3. Add the potatoes to the boiling water.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 – 25 minutes, or until you can pierce the potatoes easily with a knife.
  4. Pour the potatoes into a colander, draining the water, and then return to the pot over low heat.  Using a fork or potato masher, break up the potatoes until nearly smooth.
  5. In a small saucepan over low heat, add the milk, 3/4 of the chopped onions, and 1/4 cup of butter.  Bring to a simmer for 2 – 3 minutes, or until the butter is melted and the onions are softened.  Pour the milk mixture into the potatoes and mix thoroughly.  Toss in the mustard greens, garlic powder, and sea salt to taste.  Stir to combine.
  6. Spoon the potatoes into a serving bowl and make a well in the center.  Add the remaining butter to the center well just before serving, while still hot.  (The butter will melt and look pretty.)  Top the potatoes with the reserved spring onions and a sprig or two of mustard flowers.  Serve immediately, or at least before all the butter melts!

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Heron’s Bill Wildflower

Redstem filaree, edible and medicinal wildflower


As the name implies, this tiny pink wildflower’s seeds look just like a heron’s bill.  Heron’s Bill is an extremely common wildflower that is weedy in nature.  Introduced from the Mediterranean, it has taken extremely well to North America’s dry, sandy, grasslands and canyonlands.  Because this wildflower has a preference for disturbed soil, it is commonly found growing in yards, gardens, and abandoned lots. Read More

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