Category Archives: Hypomyces lactifluorum (Lobster)

The Intervention

Ann . . .

I prefer to be called Mushroom Annie.

Alright, then—Mushroom Annie, we’re here today to discuss a matter of serious concern that has come to our attention.

Go ahead. But please make it quick. A cold front is coming in next week, signalling the approaching end of mushroom season.

Uh, yes . . . I see that you understand already.

Understand what?

Your family and friends are worried about you. Your studio floor is covered with drying fungi, your dehydrator is churning out dried fungi, your front steps are littered with all manner of disgusting fungi, yet you persist in going out every day for more mushrooms. Does this not seem a touch worrisome?

Not at all. Why should it?

Well, for one thing, what about your friends? Are you not concerned that you might be neglecting them?

I have friends in my mushroom club, the Sunshine Coast Society for the Hunting, Recognition and Observation of Mushrooms (that’s SHROOM for short). Silas, my dog who accompanies me on all my forays, is my good friend. Even the forest fungi are my friends.

Listen, Ann . . . I mean Mushroom . . . oh, dammit, you know who I mean! You’re obsessed! You’re living a one-track life! You’ve allowed mushrooms to assume an importance beyond their worth! I’ve learned that you’re not even spinning in the evenings anymore! That time in front of your spinning wheel used to be sacrosanct—can’t you see what’s happening to you?

I miss spinning, I really do. But I keep finding Lobster mushrooms, and people keep giving me more, and they have to be pared before they go rotten. And speaking of Lobsters, I’ve already made concessions. My husband banned me from cooking the parings inside, because it made the house smell like, well, rotten lobsters. That was a major factor in my decision to turn our guest cottage into a mushroom studio.

You gave up B&B-ing in favour of mushrooms? This is more dire than I thought. How have you let it come to this?

All I can say is . . . well, consider my latest foray into what I call my backyard: acres and acres of forest where Silas and I can hike for hours without any human contact.

Do tell.

At the start of the trail was this intriguing photo op—how could I pass it up? And it’s a dyer—a bonus!

Sulfur tuft flowers
Sulfur tuft flowers

Once we reached the day’s foraging spot, as I clambered over logs and squeezed under deadfall in search of Dermocybes, I saw this Lobster peeking through the duff, tantalizing me to inspect a bit closer. I picked it, of course, and looked around carefully, only to find five more of these beauties, all ready to offer up their pigment. Do you know how hard it is to obtain red from natural dye sources?

Hint of lobster
Hint of lobster

And all this before I reached my goal: Dermocybes! The satiny finish! The scarlet gills! The siren song! Irresistible.

Red-gilled Dermocybe
Red-gilled Dermocybe

I’ll admit to a surfeit of Dyer’s Polypore, but this little one was exhibiting such generosity! I’d already cut it back to the ground a couple of weeks earlier, and here it was, creating yet more opportunity, just asking for another chance to give of itself. I couldn’t bear to disappoint it now, could I?

Phaeolus schweinitzii, second growth
Phaeolus schweinitzii, second growth

That’s all very well, but if you must look for mushrooms, have you never thought about turning your attention to something useful? I’m talking about the ones chefs covet, the ones foodies rhapsodize about.

I have nothing further to say.

Matsutake
Matsutake

A bun dance of lobsters!

lobster-parings

At last, a grand year for Hypomyces lactifluorum! We’re finding them in all the old locations (some of which had been bereft of lobsters since 2009) and in some new spots as well. And members of the Sunshine Coast SHROOM have been more than generous in sharing some of their finds, so we’re assured of having some brilliant dyepots at our forthcoming Mushroom Festival and show on October 19

It’s taken me several evenings to pare off the orange “skins” from several bags’ worth of these wonderful fungi, and here they are, spread out to dry in my studio, youngest to oldest, left to right. As they dry, the ones that were wet and soggy at picking have developed an even richer colour, promising some exciting results. I do notice a peculiar aroma on entering the space, but I consider that just one of the hazards of the job.

And the season has only just begun!

Yet another Aaaargh! moment

Lobster samples
Lobster samples

This has been a week of surprises from the dyepots, and surprises are good, right? They keep us on our toes, right? It’s just that, well, why did the surprise have to occur with my lobster mushrooms?

The last two years were not conducive to lobsters (Hypomyces lactifluorum), with prolonged dry spells and later than usual autumn rains. Added to that, three of my prime lobster patches—three!—were smack in the middle of the logging road when part of our backyard forest was clearcut three years ago.

I use just the outer orange parings of these mushrooms for dyeing, as the inner flesh is white and will simply absorb the pigment (plus, it’s good to eat if you know which mushroom has played host to the parasitical Hypomyces). So I saved up the parings from the three or four stunted specimens I found in the fall, then was overjoyed to find a paper bag of more parings that I’d evidently tucked away a few years ago. This was going to be one very special dyepot!

Indeed, the dyebath turned a beautiful orange-red within minutes of starting to simmer, and my sample yarns turned just the colour I wanted. I planned to dye a silk scarf that had taken me hours to stitch a complicated shibori design into, but I hadn’t yet mordanted many of my silks . . . never mind, thought I, I’ll just add some alum to the dyepot.

Note to self: take the time to pre-mordant, even if you don’t think you have the time for it.

I measured out a couple of spoonsful of alum, dissolved it in boiling water, then added it to the dyebath. And then . . . another moment of helpless, hyperventilating horror as I watched the red disappear before my very eyes! Thankfully I’d already removed the first sample strands (so at least I know what I missed out on) and hadn’t added the shibori scarf; a second set of samples turned out to be a lovely peach, with little distinguishable difference from one mordant to the next. (My samples are: no mordant, alum, iron, and copper.)

So now I have two silk scrunchies in a lovely peach (after which the dyepot was exhausted) and a hard-earned lesson to apply to this year’s certain (I remain optimistic) bumper harvest of lobsters.

In the meantime, I’m still looking for any chemists out there who can tell me what happened!