I’ve been stuck indoors for a week, so today, when I got outside, not even the gray skies could dampen my mood. The air was soft, and though not exactly what I would call warm, it seemed to caress, not chafe. Everywhere I looked, some new evidence of spring was in view. A rhododendron had burst into bloom; the tender buds on the weeping willow were creating a pale green haze around the tree; and all those winter-flowering shrubs and trees-like camellias, tulip magnolias, plums, and peaches-were clothed in delicate shades.
My favorite moment came, though, when I found a scattering of blewits (Lepista nuda). These tasty mushrooms are so distinctive that once you’ve seen them, you will feel confident in harvesting them whenever they appear. Their caps may be pale lavender or a slightly deeper hue, but when you cut the stems, they are definitely purple, just a shade lighter than that vivid crayon. This unique characteristic is fool-proof.
Blewits grow in many habitats wherever there is abundant organic matter in and on the surface of the soil. They can be found side-by-side with chanterelles (now coming across some of those would have really made my day!) under oaks and brambles, as often as in pine forests or under cypress. Today’s harvest was from under palm trees, of all things, but growing in a very spongy layer of mulch. I have even found them growing out of the cracks between bricks on a dry-laid path.
Not only are blewits lovely to look at, they have a deep, earthy fragrance. If harvested before the gills (the very thin blades of flesh that form the underside of the caps) dry, they are moist and meaty. Use them as you would any mushroom; sauteed in butter and garlic, sliced on your pizza, or added to sauce for pasta.
Once you have identified a source, check back frequently. Harvesting seems only to encourage more mushrooms to sprout from the underground fungus. If you are at all unsure if your mushrooms are blewits, please find a seasoned ‘shroom hunter to confirm your find before eating them.
- Prune fuchsias, leaving only two or three nodes to grow into next season’s blooming branches.
- If you don’t want to rely on the limited varieties of plants available from nurseries, start your select tomato, pepper, and eggplant seeds indoors for planting next month.
- Watch for aphids and snails, the first really bad pests to find tender new spring growth.
- Check mulch levels; a lot of decomposition happened even during the cool winter months.