August 2010
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Mushroom hunting conditionsMushroom hunting conditions

Enough chicken of the woods to feed an army. Found near my house today,but too far gone to pick for good eating.

Two weeks ago heavy rains penetrated even the dense canopies of evergreen trees,soaking the ground. Then came a heat wave.  A week later our woodsy world erupted in mushrooms.  Unfortunately,I was away during that time so I missed the main event but have been wowed by what I’ve been finding at the tail end of that flush. 

After spending most of the summer searching regularly,but finding only dissappointing numbers of chanterelles,a few lobsters,and some porcini and chicken of the woods that had gone by,I was feeling rather discouraged about mushroom hunting.  It didn’t help that the past few wet summers yielded little in the way of good edibles.  (Mushrooms like moist but not wet conditions.) 

On my walks with the dog since returning, a mere glance into areas of mixed hemlock-deciduous forest on well-drained benches along the top of a ravine that runs next to our road,brought success. There,in places I’ve never seen them before, were clusters of beautiful porchinis – the beloved culinary mushroom, Boletus edulis.  When young,the caps look like appetizing buns,freshly browned from the oven,and picked before the caps flatten,while the flesh is still firm and heavy,they are among the best mushrooms,wild or cultivated.  I love the scent —a mild,savory smell that hints at the intense umami that makes porcini such a prized ingredient. 

For our Friday night bruschetta,we sauteed some sliced porcinis,added diced onions and garlic after the moisture was cooked out of the mushrooms and then deglazed with red wine and tossed in a little parsley at the end.  That, dolloped generously on slices of good,crusty bread and broiled with a little cheese on top was awesome!  The rest of the porcinis were thinly sliced and are currently air drying.  Drying concentrates the flavor of porcinis so that when reconstituted in a little water,a little can be added to risottos,sauces and stews for great effect.

Porcini in various poses on black and white paper for taking spore prints.

Before indulging further in myco-enthusiasms,I must offer appropriate caution.  Eating wild mushrooms can be fatal!  No one should attempt to eat wild mushrooms without first learning the basics of mushroom identification.  There are old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hunters but no old,bold mushroom hunters.  

A little fear is a healthy component of this sport.  All it took for me was to read a terrifying description of death from liver failure caused by eating one of the common white Amanita species known as the Destroying Angel,to instill in me the powerful desire to take spore prints and to consult multiple sources before sampling any new mushroom for the first time.  Besides the Aminitas avoid the Galerinas.  One of a host of “LBMs” (little brown mushrooms), galerinas are difficult even for experts to identify, so I avoid the whole universe of LBMs all together.

Most mushrooms are neither lethally poisonous nor particularly good to eat. The edibility of mushrooms range on a spectrum from very few mushrooms that are deadly,to a lot that could give you a tummy ache and possibly hallucinations,to another large number on the edible side that won’t hurt you but aren’t particularly tasty either,and finally to the 20 or so species that the field guides refer to as ”choice.”   

With all the reference books,websites, smart phone apps, and mycology club outings available these days,learning to identify just the choice mushrooms in your habitat should be a do-able undertaking for anyone with the interest and desire to learn.  Besides good eating,you’ll be rewarded with a fun way to liven-up a walk in the woods and a growing appreciation for the amazing world of fungi that silently co-exists with ours.

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