Fall mushroom hunting in the Pacific northwest, specifically Western Washington, is excellent. There are many choice edibles with no toxic look-a-likes here that make mushroom hunting easy for even the most uncertain of new mushroomers. This fall is turning out to be an excellent mushroom year. I encourage anyone to go get a book and hit the forest and field!
The Fly Amanita (Amanita muscaria) is a common mildly toxic mushroom. So beautiful but not so edible.
Coral mushrooms are sometimes choice edibles, sometimes have a mild laxative effect and others are varying degrees of toxic. They are very hard to correctly identify since many are so similar.
You will want books if you get serious about mushrooming. All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms and Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora are the two we highly recommend. Start out with All That the Rain Promises. It is water proof and covers just enough mushrooms to be useful while being small enough to pack around comfortably.
No matter how well written and useful, books can’t replace the knowledge an experienced mushroomer will be able to give you. I cannot stress enough how valuable a real human mentor is when learning to forage. They will know the areas, seasons, species and you will have an opportunity to learn how they prepare them which to me is the biggest challenge about foraging, especially with mushrooms.
I am both joking and serious folks.
If you are careful and use common since you will not be in any real danger but our society has such strong rooted fungiphobia that it’s natural to be mildly terrified after your first “on your own” meal of wild mushrooms.
Where to find them?
Depending on the species you are looking for there are many plant and tree species as well as other mushrooms you can use as guides to locate areas that might support them. In the PNW mushrooms are so plentiful that if you can get into a healthy, reasonably undisturbed forest you will find something edible. Looking for stands of mixed species trees with open under brush is usually your best bet for having the most diverse species and being the easiest to hunt. I’m not going to get into specifics of fungal-plant relationships since I really don’t pay attention to it when hunting or in books. Instead, I learn the “type” of forest to look for as a whole instead of any specific plant. If folks are interested there are many excellent books and we (meaning you have to ask for it!) could probably talk AJ into writing a post on the subject.
How to pick a mushroom?
Why? There is some concern that leaving a broken stalk attached to the mycelium (the actual fungal creature, the mushroom is just the fruit, if you will) can cause disease to set in and kill part of the fungus. I am slightly skeptical of this theory since mushrooms naturally rot anyway. However I can see how it might be like leaving rotten fruit on a tree, which can invite a higher pest load and causing unnecessary stress in the long run. So I error on what I consider to be the side of caution.
For tree growing mushrooms we cut them since the mycelium can sometimes be literally pulled off the tree and I don’t want to disturb it. There are some ground growing mushrooms that supposedly grow back from the same spot, potentially the same “stump” (cauliflower mushroom- Sparassis sp –radicata locally). Weather or not that is true; we cut those off at the ground instead of pulling them out. Ironically, as you can see in the photo, AJ is cutting a Pig’s Ear instead of pulling it. AJ and I started off at opposite ends of the spectrum, I thought we should cut all mushrooms and AJ thought we should pull all of them. We have since rubbed off on each and to some degree even reversed our stances. When you are identifying a mushroom you should pull it. With some species the way the mycelium attach to the mushroom is an important trait for identification.
Bring a soft brush , towel and sharp knife with you mushrooming. The sooner you clean them the less dirt and random natural tidbits will get ground into your mushrooms which mean you will be able to limit, or skip altogether, involving water. If you have to wash mushrooms use a heavy stream of cold water and your fingers or a brush to get them clean as fast as possible.
Washing should be your last resort.
It takes flavor away from them, makes cooking more challenging, shortens their keeping time as well as lengthens their drying time. If you wash mushrooms lay them out to dry on towels and make sure they are turned so water can’t pool anywhere in them. There are some species, in some cases, that actually need to be soaked. Usually because of maggots, bugs intent on staying, rocks, ash or sand.
We took this mushroom hunting trip back in September, the day after my birthday. We were on the hunt for the renowned edible Boletes.
AJ had become more than a little obsessed with boletes.
Through all his researching and pouring over maps he found an area that looked worth while for bolete hunting. The trip there was beautiful. It was one of those rare, clear and sunny days with the mountain in full view.
The hills we drove through were especially beautiful. I made AJ stop so I could take this photo. I was awestruck by the texture and color of the trees with the cows grazing in the shadow of the mountainous forest. I might paint this someday.
Our disappointment at not finding the boletes we were after was mitigated by all the other choice edibles we did find. We found some boletes; just not the edibles we wanted.
You can tell a chanterelle by it’s color, shape and gills. They range from a deep orangish yellow to a pale-yellow/ beige color. There are also purple/black/blue ones which are rare, edible close relatives. They generally form a cone like shape with a slight depression where the cap attached to the stock. Often the edges are very wrinkled and folded but sometimes they will be uniform. The gills are branching and follow down the stall unlike most gilled mushroom whose gills are unbranching and stop where the cap meets the stalk. The stalks should always be solid. If you find one with a hollow stalk it may be very old or not a chanterelle at all.
Pigs Ear Mushrooms
Besides chanterelles we also found pig’s ear mushrooms (Gomphus clavatus) a chanterelle relative. These guys are another choice edible that’s easy to identify and a rather rare find. They have a very distinct fluted shape and scalloped edges. As with chanterelles, the gills are branching and travel down the stalk.
There were masses of lobster mushrooms (Hypomyces lactifluorum+Lactarius sp.,Russula sp.) that someone has picked and then tossed. It may have been that the person who picked them decided they weren’t sure what they were or that they were too old to keep. Either way it makes me angry to see pounds and pounds of wasted mushrooms. If you are unsure of a mushrooms safety or species take three or so individuals of varying ages to identify them. There is no need to pick, kick over and crunch every single mushroom in sight.
Lobster mushrooms are Lactarius and Russula species that become infected with another fungus (Hypomyces lactifluorum) that makes them into a firm seafood flavored mushroom. They become red or orange colored. With an often upturned shape and only slight ridges, if at all, visible where the gills of the host species would have been. They can also be green instead of red or orange. We have never seen a green one so I assume they must be rarer since we regularly see the typical orange ones, the red type a little less frequently.
These mushrooms are highly perishable and you will often find them already so rotten they crumble when you touch them. look for these as “shrumps” little hills where the mushroom is still under the soil but sometimes you can see a little orange or red edge peeking out.
Lobster mushrooms are usually a little more on the dirty side and you often have to wash or cut out the ground in dirt. Do not wait until the next day to clean and use these mushroom! I had read that they would keep fine for a few days but I lost half a mess of lobster mushrooms because I waited until the next day to dry them. I can see a very fresh, young one lasting a day or two. However finding that sort of lobster mushroom is very hard because they are often entirely buried and even then I am sure you would lose notable quality keeping them around for that long.
Clock wise form top left: Pig Ear(Gomphus clavatus), chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), lobster mushrooms (Hypomyces lactifluorum+Lactarius sp.,Russula sp.), Cauliflower (Sparassis radicat?), Scaly Chanterelle *not generally regarded as safe to eat!* (Gomphus floccosus)
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