Saturday, October 29, 2011

Seeing Blue Again

If you've been following my blog, you will already know my passion for wild mushrooms and to be even more specific, my affinity for blue mushrooms.  I posted a while back about my quest for the blue Entoloma of New Zealand but there was still one blue mushroom I still had not yet found.  I'd only seen it in photos and having lived for so many years west of the Mississippi, I had no chance to ever find it unless I spent some time mushrooming in the east.  Now that I am living in the east once again, I have opportunities to learn a whole new host of mushrooms I know little about and have never seen before.

Here in SW Florida, on the Gulf Coast, the Lactarius indigo mushroom is known to grow fairly regularly, but I am still learning habitat here and having a difficult time finding much of a mix in trees other than oak, oak, oak.  Yes, there are some pines here and there, but they never seem to be together around where I am.

I have a favorite spot that seems to produce the most mushrooms after good soaking rains, but the one spot I'd been told does produce this blue mushroom has never produced much of anything and I'm getting tired of driving all the way there just to find nothing!  So, I'd been walking around my usual haunt and finding some new and unusual species of mushrooms which I was having difficulty identifying.

Florida fungi is quite unusual for the most part because the genus and species of many of the mushrooms here are that of tropical mushrooms seen in places like Mexico and South America etc.  I'd been there on a Friday photographing and hiking but decided to go back the following Tuesday to get more info on a few specimens I had seen but didn't collect.  I was quite surprised to see that some of the mushrooms I'd found only a few days earlier had completely dried up and others that I wanted to collect, were just gone!  I walked around in the exact same spots I'd been before and found nothing, until all of a sudden I walked into an area where I thought I had seen some baby reishi mushooms and low and behold, what did I see, but three of the most gorgeous blue mushrooms.  There they were, just as plain as day, Lactarius indigo!  Finally, I found them.  They are just the most beautiful color although I have seen specimens in books that are very vivid colors, these were a bit more subdued.  I am hoping with the good soaking rains we have had the last few days, that more will emerge and perhaps the damper, fresher specimens will be a bit darker and more vivid in color.

Lactarius is a genus of mushrooms commonly knows as milk caps (lactose = milk) and when the gills of these mushrooms are cut, they exude a milky substance or latex hence the name.  This particular one exudes an indigo blue latex so that is how it got its name.  These specimens were a little on the dry side so not so much latex.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Making Ricotta Cheese at Home

There is really no big secret to making home made ricotta cheese.  It is just milk, cream, vinegar or even buttermilk and that's it.  I have made this several times using different recipes and they are all equally as simple to make and just as good.  This latest batch was David Lebovitz' recipe which calls for milk, cream, yogurt, vinegar and salt.

First combine two quarts of whole milk (I used fresh raw whole milk from a local dairy), one cup of whole-milk plain yogurt, 1/2 cup of heavy cream (optional), 2 teaspoons of white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of salt in a heavy pot and bring to a boil.  Gently boil for 1-2 minutes until a "raft" forms on the surface and the milk starts to curdle.

After the two minutes are up, I turn the burner off and let the pot sit for 15 minutes or so to cool and then spoon the curds into a cheesecloth lined sieve to drain.

Pour off the rest of the liquid through the cheese cloth, squeeze out any excess liquid and refridgerate.  I leave the cheese in the cheesecloth in the fridge until firm and then either use it right away or tranfer to a sealed tub.  This should keep up to 3-4 days but it never lasts that long around here!