Shelf Mushrooms: Identifying and Using Pheasant’s Back or Dryad’s Saddle

Posted on by .

Pheasant's Back Polyporus Squamosus

I found some shelf mushrooms on a huge, dead stump on the city lot next to my property so I harvested one and brought it to the house, determined to make a positive identification. It turns out that the mushrooms are Pheasant’s Back. They get their name from the scaly pattern on the top surface. They are also called Dryad’s Saddle, and the scientific name is Polyporus Squamosus. Polyporus means “many pores,” referring to the porous underside of the mushroom, and “squamosus” means “scaly,” which describes the scaly top.

Identifying the Pheasant’s Back Mushroom

Pheasant’s Back is a shelf mushroom with white to cream-colored flesh. The top is covered with brown scales and resembles the feathers of a hen pheasant.

Pheasant's Back or Dryad's Saddle

Hen Pheasant

The bottom of the mushroom contains hundreds of tubes or pores. The tubes are not perfectly round or oval; they are irregular in shape. They are angled downward toward the ground. The stem that attaches the fungus to the tree is darker than the flesh. The entire mushroom gets darker in color as it ages, with the stem and the area near the stem on the top of the mushroom being the darkest.

Underside of Pheasant's Back Mushroom

Underside of Dryad's Saddle Mushroom

Edibility of Dryad’s Saddle

Polyporus squamosus mushroom

The general consensus seems to be that Polyporus squamosus is edible but not very tasty. One article I read begged to differ, however, and gave tips on how to determine whether the mushroom was too old to be eaten. Since the specimens I found seem to be on the older side, I’ve decided to wait for now and watch the stump for new growth. If I can catch some when they’re young and tender, we’ll try them and I’ll let you know what I think.

Other Uses for Polyporus Squamosus

I found out during my research that mushrooms can be made into paper. I plan to try it if I can come up with enough extra money for a deckle and mold. They aren’t that expensive, but I’m broke right now, so we’ll see. If I do make them into paper, I’ll post a tutorial on my CraftsCrazy blog.

Pheasant's Back or Dryad's Saddle

Pheasant's Back Shelf Mushroom

Dryad's Saddle Shelf Mushroom

Polysporus Squamosus Shelf MushroomsPolysporus Squamosus Shelf Mushrooms

Pheasant's Back, Dryad's Saddle, Polyporus Squamosus

For more information, see:

Tom Volk’s Fungus of the Month for May 2001: Polyporus squamosus
Polyporous squamosus on MycoMagnet
Polyporus squamosus—Dyrad’s saddle or saddle back fungus

Pheasant Image Courtesy of Andy Vernon, used under Creative Commons license.

I Made My Own Maple Syrup!

Posted on by .

I have been wanting to tap our sugar maple trees since we moved here, but somehow we could never come up with the money to buy the buckets, tubing, and spiles—until this year! This is our third spring here and my first year for making my own maple syrup.

My Sap Collection System

Tapped Maple Trees

I searched online and couldn’t find maple syrup tapping supplies locally, so I decided to buy some plumbing fittings that looked like they would work from Menards and Lowe’s instead. After I got the trees tapped, my hubby told me there was a sign in one of the hardware stores in town that said “Maple Syrup Supplies.” I guess Google doesn’t know everything.

Anyhow, I ended up with some brass couplers, 5/16″ tubing, and 5-gallon food-safe buckets with lids. I also got a few plastic couplers because, even between the two stores, there weren’t enough of the brass ones. I don’t recommend doing this with plumbing fixtures. They worked, but they were hard to remove and I probably broke about half of them off in the trees. Get some actual maple syrup spiles.

I had to buy a drill bit, too, because I didn’t have one long enough. You need to drill 3 1/2″ to 4″ into the tree. After drilling the hole, you just tap the spile into the tree with a mallet and attach the tubing.

I drilled 5/16″ holes in the lids of the pails to accommodate the tubing. I did this ahead of time before I went out to tap the trees, and I labeled each lid from A to I (leaving out B because I didn’t tap that tree) so I could see at a glance how many holes to drill in each tree.

The first hole I drilled in a tree started dripping right away. That was really exciting, and it was nice to see that it was actually going to work! I was a little worried that the sap wouldn’t run when I saw air bubbles appear in the lines, but it still ran fine.

Boiling the Sap, Take 1: The Rocket Stove

Rocket Stove

I started out boiling the sap outdoors. They say you can’t do it in your kitchen because the steam will make your walls and ceiling sticky. I wasn’t too worried about my walls and ceiling since they’re still unpainted drywall (we ran out of money to fix things), but I thought I should try to do it the “right” way.

I built this two-burner rocket stove from the instructions in this YouTube video. I’m telling you this because I believe in giving credit where credit is due—not because I think you should run out and buy six cinder blocks to make your own rocket stove.

I’m not impressed with this rocket stove design. Granted, it may be that I just did it wrong. However, even though the sticks were burning and I had plenty of hot coals, it didn’t get hot enough under the pans where I needed the heat. I also had problems with burning sticks falling out of the stove onto the dry leaves on the ground (yikes!), and I had ash flying into my pans, which gave my first batch of syrup a little extra smoky flavor. Fortunately, that first batch was only about a pint anyhow.

Boiling the Sap, Take 2: The Kitchen

Maple Sap Boiling

It turns out that “they” were wrong about the walls and ceiling getting sticky. I made eight quarts of maple syrup in the house and had no problem with sticky walls. The house did get hot, though. We had to open some windows to keep it comfortable. Maybe that’s why the walls didn’t get sticky—it all went out the windows! I suspect it’s something else, though. It should be just water evaporating, after all, not sugar, and water isn’t sticky.

Filtering the Sap

At some point, you need to filter either the sap, the syrup, or both. Commercial producers usually filter both, but having tried to filter finished syrup, I can tell you that it is slow going and you will probably lose quite a bit of syrup in the filter.

I also found that filtering the sap too early in the process doesn’t keep gunk from accumulating as the sap boils down. It is best to wait until the sap is getting darker and is getting close to being done. Then you can filter it and put it back on to boil again.

There are special filters sold for both sap and syrup. However, I was out of money, so I used paper towels in a sieve and put the sieve over a big stock pot.

How to Tell When the Maple Syrup is Done

There are a few ways to tell when the maple syrup is done, but we’re going to talk about just two of them: temperature and the apron test.

Temperature

When the sap reaches 7.1 degrees above the boiling point of water, it is no longer sap; it is syrup. Since the boiling point of water can vary slightly due to atmospheric conditions, it’s best to test with water on the same day that you finish off your syrup. You should also use the same thermometer for both. A candy thermometer is recommended, but I don’t have one so I used a meat thermometer.

Apron Test

Apron Test_Not Done

To do an apron test, you stick a metal object such as a knife into the boiling sap and watch to see if it streaks off or if it forms a line and sort of clings to the knife. In the photo above, the sap has not yet turned into syrup. Apparently, I forgot to take an “after” photo. Maybe next year.

I did take a video of the apron test, though. Please forgive the “ums.” This is my first YouTube video:

Canning the Finished Maple Syrup

Finished Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is probably the easiest thing in the world to can. First, wash your jars and lids and let them dry. Once the syrup is ready, pour it into the jars, put the lids on top, and screw the rings on. Wait for them to cool and check to see if they sealed.

If you’re using regular canning jars and lids, you can tell whether a jar sealed by pressing down in the center of the lid with your finger. If it doesn’t move, it’s sealed. Unsealed lids will go down when you press on them and then pop back up. If any of the jars don’t seal, put them in the fridge and use them first.

Maple syrup has a high enough sugar content that it should keep pretty much indefinitely. However, mold can form if you don’t boil it long enough. If you boil it too long, crystals could form in the jar. You can eat the crystals; they won’t hurt you. Don’t eat the mold, though! It’s possible to salvage the syrup by straining the mold off and re-boiling the syrup to the proper temperature, if you’re brave enough to try it.

The finished maple syrup should be stored in a cool, dark place.

2014 Maple Syrup Stats

Number of trees tapped: 8
Number of taps: 18
Gallons of sap: 79.75
Quarts of syrup: 8 (plus a little)
Estimated time involved: 32.5 hours

Should We Homeschool?

Posted on by .

Kids Playing in Snow

To homeschool or not homeschool? It’s such a tough question. There are pros and cons on both sides. If I homeschool, I know what my kids are being taught. But we have a pretty great high school here in Grant, MI. It’s ranked at the 90th percentile in the state. The elementary and middle schools don’t fare as well.

Right now, Julia is enrolled in preschool. This is her second year. She goes because she needs help with speech. She is making progress, but slowly. I’m not sure if the speech is really helping or if she would be making the same amount of progress at home. She turns five tomorrow, and her 3-year-old brother is easier to understand.

Reilly turned three in January. He could go to preschool next year, but it would probably just be two half-days per week. That’s what Julie did last year.

Here are a few of the reasons we’re considering homeschooling:

1. Curriculum: I want my kids taught to read with phonics. I want them to learn math the way I learned it—not the new method that’s floating around Facebook. Yes, I “get” the way that works. No, I don’t think it’s easier or better. I’d like to teach my kids all kinds of alternate ways to do things—even math—but not until they’ve got the basics down the old-fashioned way.

2. Religion: My husband and I are Christians and there are religious considerations involved in our decision. Do we want to shelter our kids from the evils of the world until they are older? If we do send them to public school, will we be able to adequately prepare them to resist peer pressure and do what’s right regardless of what their friends do?

3. Social issues: Julie loves school. She loves to play with the other kids. Many days, the first thing she says when she wakes up is, “School?” She practically lives for it. This is actually the biggest reason I’m thinking about keeping her in the public school after preschool. She just loves it.

On the other hand, I see potential problems for her in the social arena if she goes to school. I was one of those kids who was teased and tormented almost all the way through school. I was shy, awkward, and poor. Until at least junior high, most of my clothes were hand-me-downs. I also had a really bad overbite, once my four front teeth finally grew back in. So I know what it’s like to be picked on. It’s awful.

And Julie is really, really hard to understand. I am fearful that she will be teased by her classmates because of her speech problems. It’s great for kids to have friends (and Julie will either way—the little girl next door is close to her age), but the wrong kind of socialization can destroy a child’s self-esteem.

4. Critical Thinking: I want my kids to learn to question things, not just memorize facts for a test. I want them to learn to think about whether the books, articles, and even the history books they are reading might be biased. Who wrote it, what are that person’s beliefs, and might those beliefs have affected the way things were recorded, even unintentionally?

5. More Science: I am a writer, so it might not be obvious, but my favorite subject is science. Oh, how I love science! Biology, geology, astronomy, physics, chemistry—I love it all. If I do homeschool, my kids will be building windmills and solar panels by the time they finish the elementary grades.

If you’re homeschooling, what were some of the reasons you decided to teach your kids? What else should I consider before deciding?

Our 1-Day Homeschooling Trial Run

Posted on by .

The other day, when I was sick, I slept through the alarm and woke up about 15 minutes before the bus arrived. I didn’t have time to get Julie ready and didn’t feel well enough to drag her to school in the wagon, so I decided to do a 1-day trial of homeschooling.

Of course, with no supplies or curriculum, I had to improvise a bit. Here is what we did:

Tapping Maple Trees: I showed the kids how I drill a hole in the tree and the sap starts dripping out. They watched me put in the tap and attach a piece of tubing, then run that into a bucket with a pre-drilled lid. I showed them the sap that was starting to collect in the bucket and told them that we would use it to make maple syrup for our pancakes. The only thing I’m sure they picked up on is that we are going to have pancakes.

I realized later that it would have been a perfect opportunity to talk about how trees go dormant in the winter, what the trees use the sap for, etc. I’m not sure they would have understood it at this age anyhow, though.

Mapping the Property: I need to make a map of the property in order to come up with a proper permaculture design. I drew an outline of the outside of the house and had the kids take turns holding the end of the tape while I took the measurements. At first, they were excited about helping, but they got bored after a while. We’ll have to finish the map later because we got cold and had to go inside.

Sign Language: We had previously taught Julie and Reilly a few signs since Julie has so much trouble with speech. We noticed that she seemed to start talking more after we taught her the signs. Today, I taught her two new signs: “J” (for Julie) and “juice.” The sign for juice is the letter J signed near the mouth.

Puzzles: Reilly and I took turns putting pieces in jigsaw puzzles on his Dad’s tablet computer. He did most of the side and corner pieces, and I helped him with some of the inside pieces.

By the way, I do realize that if I was too sick to take Julie to school, I shouldn’t have spent so much time outdoors tapping trees and measuring things. Believe me, I paid for it later!

What do you think of our homeschooling trial run? Did we do OK?

Elm Oyster Mushrooms (Hypsizygus ulmarius)

Posted on by .

These elm oyster mushrooms are growing on two of my box elder trees. I didn’t take a picture of the other one because it is older and getting pretty nasty looking.

These are supposed to be edible, but we haven’t tried them yet. I’m a little nervous about trying to identify mushrooms from pictures on the Internet. I’ll do a little more research first to make sure there aren’t any poisonous look-alikes.

Mushrooms on Box Elder

Mushrooms on Box Elder from Below