As I read The Alaskan Laundry by Brendan Jones, I came to a wonderful passage about a meal that Tara and the old Tlingit man, Betteryear, make from the wild mushrooms they have gathered. I realized that this was an example of the kind of detail that makes the setting of a book real–much as the birds do in To the Bright Edge of the World.
In The Alaskan Laundry, there aren’t many birds. But there are some great details when it comes to the fish (of course), a few other animals, and, surprisingly enough, the food.
This kind of information was mostly missing from To the Bright Edge of the World, perhaps because the expedition was starving so much of the time, or perhaps because it wasn’t the kind of detail Colonel Forrester devoted much of his journal to. It would have been useful for him to make note of how the native people kept from developing the scurvy that Pruitt suffers from.
And She Was by Cindy Dyson also had a few interesting tidbits, and I may have to revisit the sections on the fermented seal flipper and the Russian fry bread in a future post!
But back to The Alaskan Laundry. It’s not clear to me (yet) if there is a reason that Betteryear has taken such an interest in Tara, although there have been a couple of things that might turn out to have been hints (hints of hints to come, if you know what I mean…), but for whatever reason, he decides to teach her to hunt and gather.
They start with wild mushrooms.
Galerina marginata – “He took a couple steps off the trail, then lifted a dome-shaped mushroom from the moss. Its cap looked like a burnt loaf of bread. ‘It’s not only bears that can kill you in these woods. … Poisonous.'” The cap has gills rather than ridges.
Craterellus tubaeformis – yellowfoot or winter chanterelle. Underside of cap has ridges, not gills. “The winter chanterelle is your best friend.”
Sweet tooth, also called hedgehog. “He picked a creamy white mushroom from the base of a tree, flipped it, and ran a finger over points along the underside.”
Then Betteryear has Tara reach into the root cave at the base of the hemlock tree where he picked the first hedgehog mushroom. She has to reach her arm all the way in to the shoulder, but comes back with another mushroom.
Hedgehog – “She brought the mushroom into the light, brushed dirt from the thick stem, and ran her fingers over the spikes along the bottom.” Jo Wendel’s photo from her blog Alaska Floats My Boat really looks to me like what’s described in the book!
Shaggy mane, or lawyer’s wig.
As a reminder – use common sense about gathering wild food items, particularly mushrooms and berries. If you are not 110 percent sure you have identified it correctly, don’t eat it. And if you are just starting out, don’t rely on information from the internet–find a real person who is experienced in identification who can help you get started. This site has info about meet-up groups specifically for edible mushrooms, and if there isn’t one listed in your area, they may be able to put you in contact with someone who is in your area.
In the meantime, I’ll be putting together another post soon on the other items Betteryear instructs Tara on gathering, and the meal they make. Stay tuned…