Thursday, April 23, 2009


(This was published in the "Piedmont Virginian, Wednesday, April 21, 1971)

When can you find morels, the "sponge" mushrooms which are much loved by connoisseurs of good foods? Around here, the fruiting season (when the edible part appears) begins about the third week of April (depending upon how late the spring is.). The redbuds will have just begun to open, and the towhees will be singing loudly.
Bird Cherry

Bird cherries will also be in flower, as will the common meadow violet. Where can you find morels? In mixed hardwood forests, with a generally thick cover of dead leaves, and a lot of humus on top of the soil. The earliest morels will be in the more open sites, where the sun's rays have been striking with more force. The most common morels in the forest where I've hunted mushrooms are the narrow-headed morels (Morchella angusticeps). It is sometimes called the black morel. These may vary greatly in size, from as small as your little finger, to two inches in diameter, and up to four inches tall.

Yellow Morel

The size depends upon weather and soil conditions. If the minimum temperature the night before was 45 degrees F or more, and there has been a soaking rain one or two days ago, and if the relative humidity is quite high, there may be bushels of morels, large and tender.

Of course, the soil temperature in the upper inch should be 40 or 45 degrees F. If the minimum temperature dropped close to freezing, with perhaps a light frost, the morels will be small and distorted, and some may have the tops blackened by frost.

You may have decided, from this information, that morels are very sensitive to their environment, and this is true. The fruiting season will be very short if there is a late spring.

In 1970, by May 5, even though conditions were apparently perfect, there were no Morchella angusticeps to be found, and only one of the larger morels, the yellow one. This one generally fruits a week or so later than the black morel.

Black Morel

All the "spawn" in a certain site produces mushrooms within a two-week period or so. However, as you move to the north slopes, or go to higher elevations, the morels in those sites may still be fruiting. At 5,500 feet elevation in the Montana Rockies I've found good crops of the same species on July 4. And in the Crazy Mountains at 9,500 feet, I've picked them on September 15.

The black morel is a tan color when it first fruits, but soon turns black, especially if a warm sun strikes it during the day.

Look carefully at pictures of morels, so you will be absolutely sure that you have a morel, before you eat any. The surface is covered with pits, also, and not folds as in the Helvellas, which have some poisonous members in the family, and are not recommend for amateur mushroom hunters.

You may have walked past thousands of morels in the woods and never have noticed them. It's easy to do; they don't show up like wildflowers. Training in observation pays off here. Have someone point one out to you in its natural habitat, and study it carefully; as you find one and then another, you'll be surprised how easy they are to spot.

If you like mushrooms, you'd better out there while they're fresh, because insects and slugs love them, also. If they are several days old, they'll be loaded with fungus flies, maybe ants or slugs. Although a soaking in cold water will bring the pests to the top, so you can skim them off, I prefer to just admire these older ones, and then go looking for an area where young ones have just emerged that morning.

Mushrooms grow little or not at all, after the first night, so there's no point in leaving the little ones to grow.

The tastiness depends a great deal upon the preparation. As soon as possible after they're picked, put them in cold water, and leave overnight (This fills the cells with moisture, so the heat of cooking will "explode" the cell walls and make them tender.).

Next morning, drain the water thoroughly, slice lengthwise, dip in egg batter and fry.

The tastiness can best be judged by how my daughter, a mannerly little lady, reacted to it. A friend brought out a dish for us to snack on. After she tasted one, she began grabbing frenziedly with both hands and cramming them in her mouth, evidently not wanting to share them.

The larger yellow morel is better eating, in my opinion, but the black one is good enough to keep. By the way, there is a great market potential for morels. Mushroom eaters and dealers in the know agrer that the man who first learns how to raise them commercially will be able to make several million dollars, just selling the information.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Even One Moose is One Too Many

(This was written in the early 1960s for a newspaper in Montana. Dad and Mom lived in a cabin in Bear Canyon, outside of Bozeman.)
By Lou Jonas
A "mad" moose can create a lasting impression-an impression of distaste which can make a man feel like shooting every one he sees.

A bull once kept me in the house for half a day in the Jackson Hole country. Each time I opened the door, he would lunge at me. When he wasn't lunging, he was running his tongue out a foot or so (it seemed) like a disturbed snake, or grinding his teeth. His eyes showed more bloodshot white than any mean bronc I've encountered.

I had been told that any moose in the world can be driven away by a man with a club, and I wanted the man who told me that to come over and prove it, but he was too busy that day.

I had a very good alibi for not trying that stunt myself. I had 54 head of horses to feed, and there was no one else to take over the job in case I became disabled. My wife suspected cowardice, and maybe she was right. It's a very thin line between caution and coward, I've found.

I was reluctant to shoot the moose, even though he was thin and old and was almost certain to die before spring, anyway. The main reason I was reluctant to shoot him was that the only trail I had on which I could drive the sled through the deep snow, was the trail the moose was claiming as his own. I had work enough to satisfy me without chopping a bull moose up in quarters, so I could drag him off the road.

The herd wasn't suffering from lack of hay, so I waited. Finally, about noon, the potential troublemaker wandered off the trailer to feed on some spruce branches. I decided that the most humane thing for all concerned was to end its misery, and this I did with a .30-.60 rifle bullet.

Once more that winter I had trouble with moose. This one, too, figured the road belonged to him alone, and it refused to let the team pass. Worse yet, it began dashing up to the horses and rearing, trying to bluff them into turning around. I consider turning a team and sled on a narrow track, through deep snow, next to impossible, so I looked for another solution.

I wasn't sure just when the bluffing would cease and the damage to the horses would begin. I warned him in every language I could think of, that I was a dangerous opponent, but he didn't seem to understand. I carefully ricocheted a .45 slug off the top of his head, and he finally understood the message I was trying to convey. He went hastily and willingly off through the deep snow, which it had been so eager to avoid just a little while before. It stopped in an aspen grove and stood there for some time, like a man scratching his head and trying to figure out what had happened.

I've heard of people having trouble with mother moose, but so far every one I've seen has dashed off in greast haste, with her little brown baby making every effort to keep up with her. However, if a calf had been too young and wobbly to run, the cow's reaction might have been different. Maybe I'll still have a chance some day to see if the "club-wielding" approach really works.

Moose have no upper incisors, but they still do an expert job of de-barking willows, aspens, maple, serviceberries and alder with their lower plate and an efficient and firm maxillary pad on top. Chokecherries, serviceberries and bed-barked dogwood appear to be much preferred, and a few moose can raise hob with a serviceberry patch, if they stay around long.

Olaus Murie, pretty much of an authority on large deer, state the willows were the "staff ofl ife" for moose. They also browse the twigs and needles off fir as high as they can reach, which is a considerable height, since they may run from six to seven feet high at the shoulders.

This winter just ended has seen a very deep accumulation of snow, and the moose are especially companionable with humans, often feeding by the house here of a night and early morning, and bedding down within one or two hundred yards. Evidently traveling is difficult in their more normal range. However, moose can winter in much deeper snow than elk.

In summer, moose feed on the lush, succulent vegetation which grows in and near marshes and ponds. They graze some, but usually have to drop to their knees to do so, because of their relatively short necks.

A moose is a find swimmer and a fair runner. He gallops only in an emergency but prefers to trot. He covers miles swiftly and for a great distance, if he realizes a hunter is on his trail.

Moose are great tourist attractions, and the meat is as good or better than elk, although there are hunters who will disagree is this. It depends partly upon the age and condition of the animal and how long it is before the moose is dressed after being killed.

Also, the moose meat I've eaten tasted much better if it was fried, then allowed to cool before eating.

Moose are interesting to watch and to hunt, and there is plenty of terrain and food well-suited for them in the northern Rockies, but they need to be carefully managed.

Overpopulaton is a relative matter, but, as you might have gathered, there have been times when I figured that even one moose constituted an overpopulation.

Monday, April 6, 2009

MotherWort , Herb of life

Motherwort, Herb of Life

by Lou Jonas

Motherwort (Leonurus Cardiaca) was a favored herb among the pioneers in the Piedmont, and its hardiness is indicated by the fact that it is still found growing wild around many old houses, where the soil stays somewhat moist all the growing season, and especially where it is fertile. It is also found along gthe road which parallels the C & O Canal, but the best, most luxurious example of the plant I have seen is growing under Mr. C. A. Ellwanger's plum tree, near New Baltimore ( the same organic gardener featured in an article in the Aug. 18 issue of the Piedmont Virginian.) I gave him the start a year or more ago, and it has really appreciated that good organic soil.

The " cardiaca" part of its scientific name refers to its use by herbalists to strengthen the heart. It has long been called the "herb of life", and Richard Lucas qoutes an old proverb, " Drink motherwort and live to be a source of continual astonishment and grief to waiting heirs!" Lucas says the Japanese dedicate one of their four great festivals to this herb, probably in memory of an emperor who wasn't expected to be 15 years old, but after drinking a daily cup of motherwort flower tea, lived to be 70.

Scientists have been reported to have found much calcium chloride in this plant, and that amy account for its effectiveness, since that compound is necessary for muscle strength, and the heart is, after all, mostly muscle.

The taste of the raw leaf is so strong and so bitter that I can well believe it will kill worms in the digestive system, as it is credited with doing. A tea made from the leaves or flowers can be diluted, of course, to a strength more to one's liking.

I have been troubled occasionally during the last 25 years, with a low backache. I discovered long ago that, if I drank a cup of tea made from dandelion roots or leves, plus motherwort leaves or flowers, the backache stops within a few hours. These backaches may be caused by infected kidneys or prostate gland, and both these herbs are considered good for these ailments. Whenever I have been using the tea as a usual morning drink, I have never been bothered with the ache.

Motherwort is just one of the many interesting plants now considered "weeds" by most people. things have changed greatly since country folks had to rely upon themselves or a wise neighbor to stay healthy. Interest has been increasing tremendously in the last ten years, as anyone can see if he stops in a large book store, and looks at the stock. In fact, I have seen many books related to ecology and natural health, in the drug stores of the Piedmont.

(This was presumably written for the Piedmont Virginian newspaper, although the date is unclear. We have been drinking motherwort tea mixed with peppermint and stevia, which help to cut the extreme bitterness. We don't know how effective it will be in the long run, but it does seem to impart an overall feeling of well-being.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

"Daddy, Are All Those Men Cowboys?"

Well, honey, m-m-m, there's lots of different kinds of cowboys. There are tv and movie cowboys, rodeo cowboys, cowboys who WORK and drugstore cowboys who say, "Aw, y'all kin jist call me 'Tex'."

The ordinary tv cowboy is sort of a ringtailed curly wolf who uses his sixshooter to unlock doors, turn out lights, tenderize the skulls of badmen, and even though he misses lots of shots at close range (So the show won't end too soon), when the bad buy is about to go over the last ridge and escape jusice, he can shoot him out of the saddle.

Many movie and radio cowboys can play the guitar and some can sing; others sing whether they can or not. One was called the "King of the Cowboys", but most cowboys refused to kneel and bow to him, so they probably had no hand in crowning him.

Rodeo cowboys are ringtailed curly wolves who can prove it, and do, every time they make a good ride, or throw a fast and powerful steer. They might be veterinarians or ranch kids who go to college, but their reputation and status don't do much to impress the bulls, broncs, and calves-something more is required.

Sometimes the rodeo cowboy is actually a working cowboy in his spare time. Of course, some of them get fired for making the whiteface calves manshy, or for teaching the boss' hot-blooded parade horse to buck. but others can toss a bale of hay higher than anyone else on the ranch, and rodeo just because they are young, tough, and fun-loving (They need fun, too, if they get up before daylight every day of the year to irrigate, or start a tractor, or get out to feed stock in a blizzard.) And it could be, like your uncle Rube Moss used to do, that the winnings will go to pay the hospital bill when the next son or daughter is born. When a man has lots of kids, he has to figure out all the possible ways to make extra money.

Beginning rodeo hands, or young cowboys of most types, for that matter, look down upon dudes, and these city slickers retaliate by calling cowboys "hicks" and "farmers", but it seldom comes to more than that, except perhaps in the vicinity of some bar on a Saturday night.

Some working cowboys don't care for bronc-busting- they avoid it if possible, like your daddy used to do. It might be that the only time they do a first-class job of bronc-twisting is when there are so many yucca plants, or boulers, that it's just not smart to get thrown. when they become good ropers or wild cow milkers, it's because it was in the line of duty. Sometimes a man has to learn to rope, if he isn't fast enough to outrun a horse or calf, and get a halter on it.

The drugstore cowboys knows big hats and high-heeled boots carry a certain romance with them, so he buys the best he can afford, and hangs around western bars and rodeos and sales barns and livery stables until he learns the ling-occasionally, one of these learns to ride and rope amazingly well, and perhaps even play the guitar.

Many cowboys wear big, heavy, hot hats, along with pointed-toed, high-heeled boots. Of course, these hats are darned practical in a rainstorm, and do furnish protection against the hot sun, too. And the high heels keep a man's foot from getting caught in the stirrup, on a bucking horse (Some ranchers do blame their baldness and stacked-up "hammer toes" on this gear.). Actually, on a working ranch, you might find the men wearing work shoes and baseball-style caps more often the the traditional dress, and they wait till their day off to dress up.

So, honey, if you want to tell what kind of a cowboy a man is, you'll have to watch him working. Another fair way, and pretty accurate, is to remember that if a man is really a cowboy, he doesn't spend much time bragging about it.

(I imagine that this imaginary conversation was thought up in response to my cowboy-loving brothers Jamie and Kirby, both of whom have grown up learning everything "cowboy", and have published western novels together.)