Sasfriz Ticket – In a Colorado Mushroom Patch
A couple days ago we saw a flyer stapled to a board at the local grocery about the annual Mushroom Foray. Did someone say wild Mushroom? To those that know us, you already know that this is right up my alley. Ya see we’ve been foragers and connoisseurs of things wild, edible and free for almost 25 years. Our group of twenty or so gather at the visitors center and meet the ‘shroom expert who will be taking us into the national forest. He talks about what we’ll hopefully find, gives the necessary disclaimers about mushrooms and I’m feeling like the dog that is focused on the stick that is about to be thrown. I can’t hear a thing, just bouncing in my chair, waggin’ my tail, waiting for “go get it boy”. An hour or so later we are up above 10,000 ft, deep in the woods and everyone is scattered searching for treasure. We have thirty minutes and then we’ll meet back at the cars to compare, discuss and investigate our findings. As I’m harvesting my first Colorado mushroom, I find myself traveling back to my first classroom and remembering my favorite teacher.
I think the year was 1996 when we sold our lovely little home in a subdivision, the boat, the toys and all the extras we had in life and traded it all for 85 acres and an old 1899 farmhouse . The day we closed on the property we started down the one lane gravel country drive towards our property nestled at the end of the gravel lane and after crossing over the first cattle gap in the road we met my soon to be best friend, mentor and neighbor, Mr. Larry.
I rolled down the window and exhaled warm introductions but somehow lost track of where I was going after getting mesmerized by his Cheshire cat eating grin. Without any hesitation, he started yapping in a rich, warm southern language that I had never heard before. It sounded something like…. “Grit to met yuns. Wurz ya frum? M wif s Fay….3 yungins… ” Crank that up about three times faster than you can read it and it kept going. My roller coaster left the track somewhere after “yungins” but kept smiling and shaking my head until there was a slight pause and I waved politely and inched forward towards our new adventure.
We stretched out a hammock in the trees and had a little picnic that afternoon and kept looking around at the splendor of the property. (We also had a few visitors that day that helped us come up with the name for our new home.) On our way back down the drive that evening, we passed Larry again but this time there was no smile and he seemed to be in a bit of a panic as he ran around the backside of his horse trailer. I stopped and jumped out and without any words we somehow began communicating to each other. His prized stallion was in the trailer and had gotten one of his hooves caught between a medal gate and was going crazy and on the edge of making things much worse and perhaps life threatening. With eyes, facial expressions and hand gestures alone we worked him loose and off the trailer and from that day forward my friendship and partnership with Mr. Larry never looked back.
A year or so earlier while we were living in our subdivision, Sharon had attended a weekend workshop put on by the TWRA called
Becoming an Outdoors Woman. She came home filled with all sorts of new knowledge that began feeding our desire for a life change. She took me for a walk in the woods and was so proud to point out a few wild edibles that she had learned about, especially the Sassafras tree, of which we had tiny saplings growing everywhere in our yard. One early spring day Larry and I were riding horses across our new property and he was teaching me how to identify trees. We were a few months in now so I was starting to be able to translate “Larryisms” a bit. He pointed to a dark tall hardwood and said “Yunder is wulnit.” He explained the color and texture of the bark and had me look through the forest to see if I could find another. I look around and off in the distance see the same shade and hesitantly said, “Is that Walnut over there?” He slapped his saddle and pulled up that Cheshire grin and said “Yer lernin”. We trot on and he points out a few more and I translate, taking mental snap shots of my classroom and then he stops his horse. “Ths hera isa sasfriz ticket.” I had him slow it down a notch. “Sasa Friz tick cut? Are you saying Sassafras thicket Mr. Larry?” He hits his saddle horn and nods. He had no clue that Sharon was an Outdoors Woman and that I was fast becoming the next Euell Gibbons. We had been harvesting and making Sassafras tea for months. We used the tender leaves in salads and dried and ground up the large ones to make file’ gumbo powder. “Um…. Larry that’s not Sassafras. I know that tree. They are much smaller than this and have leaves that look like……” Without a facial expression he slips off his horse, throws me the reins, pulls out his pocket knife and starts digging next to the trunk of one of the towering trees. I continue on telling him about all the ways we love it and how the root tastes like root beer. He slices a junk of something under the earth, stands up and hands a piece of root to me. “tak asnif” (Take a sniff)
From that day forward I learned that Sassafras was the tiny little shrub like tree that we had growing around our little subdivision and that Sasfriz was also the large magnificent tree that was used to build all of Mr. Larry’s barns and of course … tasted like root beer.
Our love for discovering wild edibles and foraging for delicious plants, nuts and herbs has never stopped growing. Some of my fondest memories are of our final years in Butterfly Hollow when we taught classes and held wild lunches, where we took folks into the woods and would teach them about the wild, free food growing around them and then treat everyone to a gourmet lunch featuring our wild harvest.
Ok, so we’re back looking for mushrooms in Colorado and time drifts by and I realize that thirty minutes has slipped around me. I grab my bag of potential dinner and head back to meet up with the rest of the group. Sharon was already being declared the winner of the first round with the harvest of a prized Giant Puff Mushroom. Nothing in my bag was edible. Tail still wagging, tongue out, body shivering just a little. “Throw it, throw it. Let me go back into the woods….. splashing across the creek, up by the boulder field, over to where the tall giants grow, take me to the quiet classroom. ….. back into the sasfriz ticket.”
Interested in Wild Food Foraging?