The Oyster mushrooms in the hash this week have been “activated.” I sunned them gill side up, for a couple hours to facilitate vitamin D metabolism post-harvest. Mushrooms uniquely have ergosterol in their cell walls which operates similarly to cholesterol in animals, converting UV radiation from the sun into vitamin D2 (along with small amounts of D3 and D4). Oyster mushrooms have particular talent at sequestering this vitamin, synthesizing double the amount as shiitakes at the same exposure time, producing up to 140 μg/g. Mushrooms can be dried and stored post vitamin D activation for up to 8 months, retaining their nutrient power. You can also work this trick on any store bought shrooms, which generally receive very little sunshine in the climate controlled dark warehouses where they are grown. Take them home, flip them gill side up and sun them for at least 60 minutes during peak sun hours (11-2 PM), et voila, enhanced shroomies! Slicing to increase the surface area also amplifies the vitamin D generated.
Now is the time to pay attention to your vitamin D intakes! Widely studied and highly recommended, vitamin D plays an active role in immunity and has been strongly linked to COVID-19 protection. We’ve been blessed with the sun’s kiss all summer, and for many 20 minutes in the sun daily with 40% of your skin exposed, will take care of vitamin D needs. This fun fact comes with some caveats though. Sunscreen with a factor of 10 reduces vitamin D synthesis via the skin by 90%! Additionally, after fifty, our body’s ability to manufacture it from the sun decreases, and a shocking 61% of U.S. elders are deficient. Now as we enter the darker months, it’s critical to either get your vitamin D through diet or supplements, especially in the Northeast. Another sneaky source is pasture raised pork fat, a.k.a. lard., key words "pasture raised," since the pigs must be in the sunshine to synthesize their own vitamin D. If you’re not eating liver, oily fish, sunshine lard, activated mushrooms, or fortified foods on the regular I’d recommend a supplement. I take one as extra insurance and ever since I started several years ago, I get sick way less frequently in the fall and winter. Generally speaking, D3 (from animal sources) has been shown to be more potent than D2, though if you’re a staunch vegetarian, D2 may have to suffice.
Vitamin D is crucial for strong bones, long understood as protection from osteoporosis. An easy trick to tell if you’re low is to push on your shin with your thumb. If it’s tender, your bones may be on the softer side, indicating you need more of this nutrient. Bones aren’t it though---vitamin D receptors are also found in most cells throughout the body, affecting a wide range of endocrine, cardiovascular, and immune functions. Three quarters of the U.S. have suboptimal levels, not quite deficiency, but low enough to set the stage for possible long term health consequences. Low vitamin D levels are linked with diabetes, certain kinds of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, depression and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
As always, the scientific community is not a united front on all of the above. There's controversy about how we measure vitamin D status and the studies correlating low levels to all of the above health issues (except for bone health and immunity) have conflicting evidence. We're only beginning to understand with microscopes what we've known for a long time. The sun is healing; foods and people grown outside seem better off.
It’s obviously PSA season. Go vote, eat your sunned mushrooms, and maybe some fish liver too. Strong bones and strong immune systems will keep us in fighting shape for the election scaries. Boo!
Radiolab put out a neat story on vitamin D and COVID-19 this past summer, called "Invisible Allies," I thought was worth sharing. Also, for perspective from the podcast, All my Relations, on the conundrum of voting as a native person within a political system that continuously erases you, see "Vote (if you can and want to)."
Elephants smashing pumpkins! A little playful catharsis.
This is my latest experiment with Autumn olives. After softening the berries on the stove and squeezing out their juices and pulp for jam, there's still plenty of food available. Here are the seeds and stubborn bits of pulp smeared on a dehydrator screen in the early stages of flour making. I'll dry them, then give them a buzz in a high speed blender for eventual showcasing in cakes and muffins. I've made wild cherry flour this way before and it's miraculous! Fingers crossed...
About a month and a half ago, I was walking with my friend Corey. We came upon a Autumn olive shrub loaded with berries. I knew it was too early but I shoved some in my mouth anyway. My face puckered and I almost started choking from the wave of sudden astringency. We had a laugh about it, then I thought I should write a little story about this, about autumn olives and needing to have patience for them to sweeten with the frost.
Ugh, turns out I already wrote this story?! Some things never change. If you're unfamiliar with these magnificent shrubs, check out a this little piece I wrote about them back in 2015.
The parking lot where I visit Greg in Schenectady harbors a scurry of squirrels in a garbage-proximal brush pile. I greet them every time I park, attempting interspecies conversation, but their generalized anxiety seems to always prevail over my charming, singsong hellos. Most months, I catch them scavenging in the garbage bins, and Greg has them on camera fleeing with a squirrel-sized pizza slice in hand.
All October however, they’ve been singularly focused on the giant walnut tree shading the lot. Seeing a squirrel with a mouthful of black walnut reliably leaves me awash in a warm kindred feeling. I see them routinely risk their lives crossing the street to patronize trees. Once I found a squirrel slain, mid-street, fresh walnut forever by their side; a snapshot of their pantry stuffing tunnel vision. I can certainly relate, and though during collection time, squirrel raids on my stash can be a bother, the lengths they go to eat those nuts gives me a sense of solidarity with them.
Last year, a man named Joe reached out with the good news he had plentiful black walnuts to share. The walnuts I have cured and stashed from last year populating my baked goods are thanks to Joe and his towering backyard companion. I have always been delighted to make time and space for these quirky nuts, their flavor and nutritive value unparalleled. Yet, this year, the year we now know as the time of great fire, violence, division, quarantine, and uprising---do I still have time and space for the laborious, messy, vigilant task of black walnuts? This moment, when each day there’s pressure to stretch into something bigger than ourselves, to miracle-grow new limbs, hearts, brains, and tongues, just to keep up, I want to put my energy where it counts.
Since I was young I’ve been terrified of this moment, the revelatory, now or never, moment in our shared story, in America’s story but also humanity’s. It’s a high stakes, angsty, doom twilight of a time. Now that we’re here, I am proud to report my compulsions to hoard tools and glass jars while aggressively learning every self-sufficiency skill possible have significantly diminished since first fretting about peak oil and climate chaos back in 2008.
Twelve years later, I define “put my energy where it counts” more dynamically. Lately, it’s meant giving myself permission to be more than my productivity, to tend to my relationships with the same vigor and care as one of my beloved pet projects. I’m working to source my security more diffusely, in the people I know, from our shared history and mutual indebtedness, and a confidence in my abilities to adapt to meet the moment and stay present.
What I physically have seems less important. So this year, I almost said no to more black walnuts. This year, the same kind man, Joe, contacted me. I was struck with old feelings, I wanted the nuts despite having no room to dry or store them. There was also the hesitation of adding one more thing where I had just seemed to reach absolute capacity on my fridge and freezer. And I had to think about squirrel traffic in potential drying spots. Squirrels have an amazing sense of smell. This is how they find their own buried treasure but it’s likely how they’ll find mine too. I’ve longed fantasized about building drying screens, somewhat rodent-proof to accomplish this task anywhere but haven’t gotten around to it.
Despite these concerns, I decided to say yes to these nuts, to keep up my end of the covenant with Joe, who just wanted the nuts off his lawn, and figure it out. I showed up to Joe’s house Sunday, somewhat beleaguered, with many internal questions on what the next right step would be, once I loaded up my car with nuts. They are awfully messy, strong smelling, and flies love laying their eggs in the rotting husks (there were already signs of new life). I needed a plan I didn’t yet have.
After Joe directed me to his collection, he calmly presented breaking news---he had other possibly useful, related equipment to share. See, when Joe went about befriending the black walnut tree in his backyard, he went all in. He purchased a black walnut cracker and constructed drying screens and a contraption for dehulling the nuts. Since his brief escapade with nut harvests, he’s realized he doesn’t actually care for nuts all that much and wanted to pass these tools along. Last year, he gifted me the cracker, which has been quite an upgrade from the sledge hammer I was using before. Then this year, just as I was having my own equipment crisis, he offered up the rest of his.
Awestruck and affirmed for taking a chance on nuts, I accepted his gifts. Like that, my nut problem was solved, well sort of. The thing is, even with the screens Joe bequeathed to me, the volume of nuts will still be more than I can handle alone. Then I thought of the squirrel’s scatter hoarding ways. They don’t have one central cache, they make little piles everywhere. Some of these nut pantries they forget about, which seems a built in benefit for the trees supplying them, the next generation wagered on an over-prepper's forgetfulness or excess.
What if we were to mimic the squirrel way and decentralize our own nuclear stashes? Is this what community investment is? Relinquishing a tight grip over resources, distributing the extra in scattered pockets, we most definitely will lose sight of, hoping they may sprout new nut bearing generations? Between these Goliath trees and their rodent disciples, there’s an adaptive dance of survival, one with abundance at its core, I believe is worth emulating. Joe certainly appears to be under its spell.
So which of my fellow squirrels at heart wants some nuts to process for their pantry? Seriously, please be in touch.
And now, one last ode to summer.
Carly lives and eats from a hilltop in Cummington, Massachsuetts and part time in Schenectady, NY.