Archive for September, 2008

The Mushrooms of Autumn (Porcini)

I take it back. Can’t talk too much about mushrooms when there are so many delicious all-stars popping up all over, so here’s our resident wild mushroom guru, Bill Bakaitis, on what may be the holy grail. I used the haul from Lois’ lawn to make a wild mushrom and caramelized onion focaccia, and the recipe for that will be coming soon. But first you’ve got to catch your porcini!


by Bill Bakaitis

Boletus edulis, the Porcino, cèpe de Bordeaux or Steinpilz

Boletus edulis, the Porcino, cèpe de Bordeaux or Steinpilz

PORCINI, THE WHAT: These mushrooms are best thought of as a “species complex”, a group of rather similar Boletes that have a bun-shaped cap, a stem which tends to be stout and swollen in shape and which bears a white chicken wire like reticulation at its apex. The colors of the cap run from off white through the tans and browns to reddish. The taste is usually described as ‘nutty”. Read More…

Free Dahlias! (if you move in the right circles)

Catalogs and garden centers sell you dahlias in the spring, at planting time. Friends and neighbors give you dahlias in the fall, at dig-up-the-tubers time.

Could the red and white one be dahlia 'Mary Eveline?

Could the red and white one be dahlia 'Mary Eveline'?

This dahlia surely has an official name (might be ‘Mary Eveline’), but as far as I’m concerned it’s ‘Carol’s Wine,’ because my dear friend Carol gave me the start tubers now many years ago.

Like potatoes, dahlias multiply. First one tuber becomes two or three, which is nice. Next spring you can plant them all together and get a big fat bush. By fall the bush has made seven or eight. Not so convenient but still ok; dahlias are easy to divide and there’s usually room for another plant. Read More…

For Giant Red Amaranth, Take the Direct Route

In Part 1 of the fall planting series, I seem to have neglected to mention that many of the herbs and flowers that can be left to plant their own seeds should be grown directly from seed no matter who does the planting, so letting them do the job themselves is not only easy but wise.

Giant red amaranth, for instance, is very easy to transplant. It has such a great will to live that unwanted seedlings ripped out and thrown aside will pick up their heads and forge onward with no help at all. But transplants never achieve the great heights that make this thing such a head-turner. Even when coddled they seldom get more than about 4  feet tall, whereas plants that have never been disturbed…

Giant Red Amaranth, about 9 feet tall in September

Bill showing you that the Giant Red Amaranth is about 9 feet tall right now. I can't show you the hedge of it in the other garden because he cut it down so it wouldn't shade the chrysanthemums and broccoli raab.

Edulis Alert! It's Porcini Time

I know, I know. Enough already with the mushrooms. And just as Bill is confident I’ll want to weigh in with recipes for hen of the woods (see below), I’m reasonably sure he’ll have guidance on finding porcini.

This is just a reminder that if you already know a good place, now would be a good time to check. We found a bunch the other day in a favorite Hudson Valley spot and this morning, my first back in Maine in a week, look what was growing in Lois’ lawn! I’d normally pick everything, to forestall insect infestation. But even the big ones were – amazingly – almost bug free, so I’m leaving the little guy to get bigger.

Boletus edulis, from porcino grosso to porcinetini

Boletus edulis, from porcino grosso to porcinettino. Button in the middle is dime sized, honker on the lower left weighed 3/4 pound, after I cut off the base.

The Mushrooms of Autumn (hen of the woods)

OK, mushroom fans, another guest post from Bill Bakaitis, on another of the all time great delicious wild mushrooms, the hen of the woods ( Grifola frondosus), now appearing on an oak tree – or on a shelf at a high end market- somewhere near you.

time to look for hen of the woods

time to look for hen of the woods

by Bill Bakaitis

September. The days grow shorter. For mycologists, gone are the languid days of summer when we would slowly, patiently, and gently try to identify those interesting mushrooms that grow singly here and there. The photographs, spore prints, the keys, the chemical and microscopic analysis, the process that might take hours or days for us to determine even the genus are luxuries we can no longer afford. The sap that now flows through our veins and that of the world around us cries out for haste.  There is so much to do in so little time: the garden, the house and yard, the movement of game in the forests, fall migrations of fishes in the ocean. Each claims its hegemony over our lives and the dwindling hours available.  As for mushrooms, we have not time for the tiny, the new, the tantalizing odd; we long instead for the truly substantial.  Enter frondosus!

Polyporus (Grifola) frondosus

Polyporus (Grifola) frondosus

Frondosus – call it Polyporus frondosus, or Grifola frondosus, Maitake, Sheep’s Head, or Hen of the Woods. Here is the mushroom that answers the question, “Where’s the meat?” It is large in size and fruits reliably in the same locations year after year, allowing us to take a twenty minute detour from our hectic lives to collect a year’s supply. And it is one of the best tasting of all wild mushrooms, appearing on every mycologist’s top ten list.   Read More…

Choosing Good Eggplants (and making them into Caponata, the ultimate vegetable preserve).

Many people grow eggplants, but after long years of struggle I am no longer one of them. Two reasons:

1). Eggplants need warm nights as well as warm days. This means our garden on the Maine coast is not a hospitable environment, eggplant-wise.

2). Eggplants have a short window of peak splendor on the plant. Pick them too soon; they’re undersized and bland. Pick them too late; they’re seedy and bitter. So although the plants do pretty well down at the place in the Hudson Valley, I can never count on being there at the optimum time.

freshly harvested eggplants

freshly harvested eggplants

But in order to make caponata, the delicious Sicilian conserve of eggplant, capers and olives in thick sweet and sour tomato sauce, it is necessary to have eggplants. Off to Beth’s Farm Market “All Produce Sold Here is Grown Here,” right down the road in Warren, Maine (I’ve never asked, but as you drive up you see many huge greenhouses which may well be relevant).

Read More…

Fall Planting, Part 2: Spring Bulbs

Tulip or not tulip? That is the question. Happens every year, as dazzlers never seen at the florist beckon from the glossy catalogs,  page after page after page.

In addition to being beautiful (and frequently fragrant), tulips are inexpensive; the more you buy the cheaper they are. They’re easy to grow – in fact almost impossible to screw up – and in spite of the general wisdom, they often come back.

These Giant Darwin hybrids have been around for so many years I no longer remember what they are. Probably ‘Parade,’ famous for returning almost as dependably as daffodils.

On the other hand Read More…

Hanna barely brushed us – what about you?

Actually pretty gray right now, so that title may be premature, but assuming no more major rains fall (and that you don’t count the new leak in the roof), we got off lightly.

We had buckets out, not rain gauges, so the closest I can put rainfall is 6 to 8 inches; and although the winds were theatrical at 5AM, I doubt they were much over 30mph.

The good part is that it puts the top beans within reach. I'll pull 'em up a little bit but not all the way to vertical. Moral: be sure the path beside the beans is good and wide ( or learn to use shorter poles, but somehow I never do).

The good part is that it puts the top beans within reach.

You may be looking at this and thinking “What’s the big deal? jar o’ water under a tree.” The big deal is that there’s a huge hole near the bottom of the jar, on the side that’s jammed up against the trunk.

You may be looking at this and thinking “What’s the big deal? jar o’ water under a tree.” The big deal is that there’s a huge hole near the bottom of the jar, on the side that’s jammed up against the trunk.

My punishment for not staking up the big begonia. ( The small flowered one hangs anyway)

My punishment for not staking up the big begonia. ( The small flowered one hangs anyway)

Mushroom Class Coming Up


Boletus edulis, the prized porcino

Boletus edulis, the prized porcino

On 9/17 and 9/20, Bill Bakaitis will be giving a two part class on Mushroom Identification at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York.

The program is for students and members of the campus community, but there is usually room for a few visitors as well. If you would like to be one of them, contact Jay Stein (845) 451-1793 or

Fall Planting, Part 1: Free and Easy

The impending sweep of storms is likely to fix it, but for right now the Maine garden is still way too dry to start moving shrubbery around. And let us not speak of the bulb order, which as usual (sigh) isn’t done yet. But none of this means next year is being neglected; the easiest fall planting of all is happening right now, all over the garden.

Flowering plants make seeds; it’s more or less their mission in life, so this is the season when negligence rules. No more deadheading! The birds are grateful right away, as anyone knows who’s watched their cosmos bending under the weight of goldfinches. And I’m (almost) always grateful in spring, when there’s a nursery’s worth of volunteers to play with

Lychnis coronaria 'Alba', the white form of rose campion

This border of Lychnis coronaria 'Alba' comes back every year, but it was unusually lush this summer because of the drought (hates wet feet).

'Florence Nichols' peony in the lychnis

The peony is Florence Nichols, the background of lychnis buds is the kind of  happy accident you get when you let loose the self-sowers.

Read More…