The Dangers of False Morels

You can take a sample to an expert for identification but be careful to wash your hands after handling poisonous or unknown mushrooms. It really is best to be safe than sorry.





Today I decided to go for a walk on my property a little ways north of the house and have a look for black morels in my favorite spot. This time last year we found many pounds of the famous land fish on our land and I am hoping to harvest a bounty again this year. Being that a friend wants the heads up this time to guide an elderly couple in their late 80’s into a nice easy pick I am being a little more vigilant in finding them as they first emerge. So far no luck. This year is a lot later spring than last, being more like the common years. Perhaps wetter too and the morels have yet to pop.

What I did find is a bit concerning though, right in my favorite morel spot was a nice fresh batch of false morels. Now the variety I found looks to be snowbank false morels and can be considered choice as well but it has very close relatives that are deadly poison. They are so close in appearance that I cannot tell them apart and most pickers will tell you it is not worth the risk.

False morels are a type of helvella, they are chambered internally rather than being just a hollow cap and stalk like a true morel. There are five false morels in North America that are similar to true morels; the poisonous conifer false morel, the choice snowbank false morel, the poisonous gabled false morel and the thick-stocked false morel. The fact that these are all so similar makes it not worth seeking the snowbank false morel but if you are familiar with what true morels look like there will be little doubt when you are in the field picking.

Both the true and false morels have a brainy look but you will find that the true morels grow taller in a cone-like shape, have a large hollow void in the cap as well as a hollow stem instead of the smaller, randomly chambered caps of the false morel. The false ones also tend to have a squatter, flatter shape than the true morels. Another difference I see where I am is that the true morels will be a blackish dark or yellow/tan colour while the false morels I see are a reddish brown or almost orange colour. To me there is no mistaking the one for the other, the true black morel is pictured here below.

A most important note that should be heard by all whom wish to hunt those wonderfully allusive morels is if you are not sure about what you are doing or looking at don’t eat them. You can take a sample to an expert for identification or to look through your own field guides but be careful to wash your hands after handling poisonous or unknown mushrooms in case you have a reaction or touch your mouth and food. It really is best to be safe than sorry. ~Scott




A Berry Good Bear Hunt

I go back to my half warm victory beer and wait for my heart rate to slow down again.




This ol’ chap decided to join me while I was filling my cap with wild raspberries one fine spring day in June. I follow him and another male, a brown, for a couple hours till they are uphill from where I know my truck is parked.. Since I have my 30-06 with me and a bear tag for the season I decide to flank them for a clear downhill shot.

Never before had I seen two males travel together. They are talking to each other from time to time as it began to drizzle rain. Neat noises, like moaning grunts. I always wonder what animals are saying to each other. Are these two boars chatting about the weather? Or maybe regaling stories of all the juicy apples they had eaten the fall before in the orchards just down the hill.

Noticing their steady direction of travel I move a long ways ahead of them, finding a comfortable spot to calm down after my hike. A ten minute or so breather they walk into view… 240 yards down hill and about 10% grade, not a bad spot. I take the black since the brown was skinny and a little rough looking, I want nice healthy meat. He goes down clean, with a grunt, taking a single 180 grain soft point to the heart.

It is raining hard now. I used every rope and chain I have to hook him up after dragging his mass the 200 yards or so downhill by myself to the trail leading to my parking spot. Over logs and around rocks I stumble as I continue to yard and shift his weight. I sure hope he doesn’t wake up! Using a heavy ratchet strap for a winch, it arrives at my truck. It’s all I can do to tug it aboard using my tail gate as a ramp!

Meanwhile the other male has been shadowing at 40 yards and I feel the need to keep my rifle loaded and ready every inch of my journey. He doesn’t sound happy. I yell and toss small stones nearby as I cannot keep an eye on him while I’m dressing the beast out. He finally leaves and I can finish loading my harvest without threat of retaliation from his buddy. It is sad to see their attachment broken but I need meat for the Summer and these guys had been tearing up the local orchards steady for a couple years.

 

I’m totally soaked now from sweat and rain. Stripping to only a t-shirt, I try to cool off in the June 15th shower. After a good cleaning and rest I leave the entrails for the scavengers. Nothing gets wasted in the bush! And wouldn’t you know?.. As I start into my packed lunch I hear a noise and look over my right shoulder, startling a female coyote coming over to claim her prize. Incredible how quickly they can move in on a fresh kill. Being the third day hunting alone in a row I’m too tired to make much noise. I go back to my half warm victory beer and wait for my heart rate to slow down again. ~Scott





Smoke Em if You Got Em.

Nothing will beat a clean sockeye or coho salmon fillet fresh from a river. Now with all this salmon we needed a smoker so we could have our own Indian candy. And from there my adventures in smoked meat began.





A very handy project to tackle on the homestead is building your own meat smoker. Over the last decade and a half I have built many smokers. I lived on the B.C. coast for a few years and nearly lived on salmon.

My first three smokers were built out of old refrigerators gutted and turned upside down. I liked using the small freezer compartment door at the bottom for adding chips to the fire, it’s great because you don’t lose your smoke while adding chips! Another innovation was to cut in a sloped roof. I would use a piece of plywood angled so that any condensation will run down it to the back wall rather than dripping on to your meat. Shingle it and add a vent for the steamy air to escape and your have a perfect shell.

To hang your meat or racks to lay it on I drilled holes in the sides every few inches and added ready rod. You could use dowels or square strips of wood. Cedar would do well. On my original three smokers I laid used oven racks up cycled from the local landfill on the rods I ran through the sides. I even used nuts and washers to secure the rods and added a meat thermometer through an extra hole to gauge internal temps somewhat. These turn into fantastic smokers and I intend to make another soon, I have given all my old ones away to a local friend each time I move.

To get heat and smoke going in the smoker I have used electric elements up to 1500W. I am not a fan of them though as they just don’t pump out the heat enough for the good hot smoked, chewy jerky that I like. I’m not a fan of cold smoked mushy fish either. So to improve on that I now use the side burners of old used bbq’s destined for the scrap yard. Much cheaper and easier to acquire than a hot plate anyhow. If you do like the cold smoked meats it is easy to add an external firebox and pipe it into a hole cut in the rear bottom of your smoker and smoke your lox up too.

My current smoker is a Cadillac. I was given an old pizza warming oven when a restaurant closed down and I immediately saw gold haha. I had to do very little to it and use it exclusively for red meat and pork. I want zero fish flavour in my chops and sausages, who’d want fishy deer jerky? Not me!

I added a whole bunch of oven racks from the scrap yard again, added the old meat thermometer from our kitchen and cut some wood strips to hang sausage from. Another bbq side burner fitted into the bottom, my cast iron skillet salvaged from a flea market and voila, smoker #4. It came with ledges for shelves built in and some awesome adjustable vents on each side of the top. I swear this thing is meant to be a smoker, quickest and cheapest build yet.

I will build my new fish smoker yet but in all honesty I doubt I can make it for the $4 price tag (meat thermometer) of my jerky smoker. You can bet I surely will try. For a better look at my jerky smoker featured in this post please check out my new YouTube video about it at NorthernWilds Lifestyle. Remember to hit like and subscribe if you enjoyed it and leave any feed back you come up with. Enjoy! ~ Scott




They’re Berry, Berry Good!

When it comes to a delightful trail side morsel of flavour you can’t beat a handful of wild strawberries in my neck of the woods. My favourites anyways, I wouldn’t change them if I could!





Today I’d like to write about one of my favorite wild edibles that grows in my area. Wild strawberries! These tiny bundles of flavour have been a target of mine since I was a small child. It is incredible to me how much sweetness can be packed into a single little berry.

In my yard we have an area devoted to Saskatoon berries and in amongst the grasses around these are thousands of wild strawberry plants. They can form as wee little round berries or as long thimble sized and any size in between. This one patch that I keep my eye on in front of a big spruce tree has an incredible flavour. Sweeter and stronger than the rest, they taste like lipton raspberry juice crystals. I swear!

I find that the Saskatoons and the strawberries are ripening at nearly the same time so as we go to check how far along our Saskatoons are we get to nibble on fresh wild strawberries too. And I’m not kidding when I say nibble. They are small, so small I have yet to try wild strawberry jam since it takes so many to fill a cup. Another issue is they don’t keep well to be able to stock up on a whole lot and they squish so terribly easily. I’m not sure if I will ever get enough past my children and in to the house to have them end up in jars. Our Jake is a berry fiend! Not the fellow to have come on a berry gathering trip… Unless you are fine with them being gathered in his belly of course. And of course I am thrilled he likes them too.

The two plants featured in my photos here were actually taken about 10 km south of my place at around a 1000 meters elevation. A bit higher than here at the homestead. They produce so heavily and have such sweet fruit I dug up a bunch to add to our special spot. Hopefully they will add to the genetics of our strawberries and improve yields. I only take a few when transplanting and since they grow everywhere in this valley I am not ruining the wild bounty for my neighbours at all.

They happily grow in the local minerals and I tend to find them in well drained soil. My area has a large amount of glacial till and often little topsoil. Regardless the wild strawberries still cover many areas and I would say they don’t need much to grow in way of organics, most of ours are only watered by natural rain fall growing in normally dry areas. Preferring to mix in with grassy patches and roadside ditches they make a perfect trail side snack for a burst of sugars, I am constantly picking/eating fruit as I go.

These little treasures will never take the place of our domestic strawberries in their garden. They unfortunately won’t be found in my freezer ever either to fill my steady need of frozen berries for our smoothie addictions. But when it comes to a delightful trail side morsel of flavour you can’t beat a handful of wild strawberries in my neck of the woods. My favourites anyways, I wouldn’t change them if I could!