My Love Affair With The Fungal World
Mushroom foraging is one of my favorite activities. It encourages me to wander through different forests in 3 out of the 4 seasons. (During the snowy seasons I’m out on my cross country skis in the forests dreaming about next year’s mushroom harvests.) I receive many benefits from this one activity: I’m alone in the woods, I’m exploring new places, I’m truly delighted & surprised every time I find edible mushrooms AND I get to share delicious food with my friends.
My foray into the edible mushroom world began when our intern, Micah, came back from a wander in our woods with a basket full of edible mushrooms over 10 years ago. He was already a long time lover of the fungi kingdom and introduced me to my still favorite, mushroom, the black trumpet. He showed me what to look for and where to look and I headed out to go and see if I could fill my own basket. It was a stellar year for black trumpets (yet to be repeated) and we ended up with over 8 pounds of these lovelies that we ate on everything, including nachos, and eventually dried for winter deliciousness.
Since then, with the help of a few really good reference books, I’ve slowly learned a handful of edible mushrooms. Three of my favorite references for identifying are listed at the end of this article.
To help you get inspired to get out there foraging, I’d like to share with you some of the fun I had last weekend after a week of good rain. The ghost pipe started popping up in our woods so I hoped the chanterelles and black trumpets might be up (This is usually my indication that conditions are right for the mushrooms). I drove to one of the many trailheads I frequent with my small backpack that has a basket in it, my “lucky canvas bag”, and my knife. Three hours later both my basket and bag were full. I hopped back into my car and headed home. As I was driving up one of the backroads I remembered there were chanterelles up the hill from the road, so I slowed down, and sure enough, three more pounds of chanterelles for my lucky bag spotted from the car!
Upon returning home Kris took the required picture of me with the treasures and I started cleaning the chanterelles for soup and present bags for friends. Lots of chopping and cooking ensued and three hours later, we were eating the AMAZING chanterelle & bacon corn chowder. This recipe calls for a homemade mushroom stock and since I didn’t have it already made, the whole process took a bit longer.
The recipe for this soup and many more foraged foods can be found in the book, The Wild Table by Connie Green and Sarah Scott, an amazing score I found many years ago at our local used bookstore.
Perhaps you’re saying, “I don’t have three hours to cook soup.” No problem. You can’t ever go wrong just slicing the mushrooms up and sautéing them in butter and garlic.
Maybe you’re worried about all the horror stories you hear about whole families dying from eating poison mushrooms? Yes, it happens. Yes, it’s avoidable. I remember Paul Stamens saying that the best insurance for avoiding mushroom poisoning is to join a local mushroom club.
Yes, you can safely learn mushrooms and yes, every year people die from eating the wrong mushrooms. The best rule of thumb for wild harvesting is learn the poisonous lookalikes. The second rule is to check with at least three references to positively identify the mushroom (and I mean BOOKS). If you are interested in learning mushrooms there are many classes, even conferences, and there are mycelial networks of people (mushroom clubs) in most areas. Join a club, join a facecrack group. Go out foraging with people who know the mushrooms.
Finally, even with all the studying, there’s a certain magic about foraging for wild mushrooms. I like to call it “being let into the club.” The mushrooms can be shy & hide themselves from our eyes. For example, it took many years of looking for the morels for them to let me into their club and show themselves to me. I’m still not convinced I’m truly in there. It is this “finding” them every year that causes me to squeal with delight and call out “oh hello again friend!” when I see any of the edibles for the first time.
My wish for you is to feel the squeal. ❤️
Mushroom Identification References
Mushrooming Without Fear by Alexander Schwab Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada by David L. Spahr Mushroom Picker’s Foolproof Field Guide by Peter Jordan The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms.