In many North American regions, August is synonymous with mushroom hunting and you will see many hikers out on the trails harvesting these gourmet delicacies. Rare, coveted mushrooms like chanterelles can go for over $20/pound at the grocery store during the few weeks they are in season each year.
As with any wild-harvested food, certain precautions must be taken when foraging wild mushrooms, because many varieties are poisonous and/or deadly. Furthermore, many edible varieties can be easily confused with poisonous look-a-likes. Until you become familiar with the types of wild mushrooms you like to eat, it is imperative that you take a few precautions to ensure that you don’t eat something deadly, or feed it to your friends.
Basic Mushroom Foraging Precautions:
1. Take a class – many areas where wild mushrooms are in abundance offer field classes where novices can learn to both identify and cook wild varieties.
2. Go with a friend – team up with someone who is familiar with wild varieties and has successfully foraged mushrooms in past summers.
3. Purchase a good field guide with color photos – this is a good item to have in your backpack while learning to identify, but all field guides will also tell you not to eat anything that you can’t identify with 100% certainty.
4. Spore Print – this is the most definitive way to identify a mushroom with certainty and can be learned from a field guide or website, although the best way is to learn hands-on from an expert or by taking a class.
5. Research – there are dozens of websites on each edible mushroom variety, and many will discuss their poisonous look-a-like neighbors. Other sites are dedicated to identifying multiple varieties.
Here you could link out to one or more websites like these:
Chanterelle Cantharellus Cibarius
The chanterelle is a favorite in August and September, and can be found in many forested areas of the county at some point in the summer or fall. Often described as “flutes,” chanterelles are funnel or cone-shaped yellow-orange mushrooms with gills and uniform color, usually with 1-3 inch caps.
Despite their bright color, chanterelles are often hard to find; however, once you discover a “hot spot,” the area is usually a place you can return to year after year to forage chanterelles. They are usually found under conifers or birch trees and prefer old growth or mature trees. They will emerge from underneath needles, moss, and other duff on the forest floor, growing in groups or “fairy circles.” Nearby water, such as a lake, is often helpful in providing the right amount of moisture during the dry summer months in which they emerge.
The taste of a chanterelle is rich, buttery, and fruity. It is often paired with meat or poultry dishes, but works excellently in savory vegetarian dishes as a “meat.” A favorite breakfast dish is chanterelle mushroom biscuits with mushroom gravy.
King Bolete Boletus Edulis
More commonly known as the porcini mushroom, this gourmet delicacy is both popular and easy to find due to its large size. The King Bolete is often caricatured in mushroom art (think Smurf house). Its unusually stout, fat stem is whitish, and the caps range from light brown to bright orange and deep red, 2-10 inches across. The caps have pores underneath (instead of gills), which can sometimes make them look inedible. Indeed, many remove the pore layer before cooking, although it is edible as well.
The king bolete can be found abundantly in many areas in the fall, especially August. They get so large you can often see them from a distance in groups, and can be very easy to find. They are most common under oak, hemlock, and spruce trees, but are also often found under birch trees and in mixed forests. They emerge 1-2 weeks after a good rain, in or near areas that tend to stay moist.
Boletes have a distinct nutty flavor and meaty texture. Their size, taste, and texture make a great substitute for meat in a dish, but they also work well served as a side dish with meat. They are also good deep-fried in a tempura batter.
Puffball Calvatia spp. and Lycoperdon spp.
Puffballs are extremely common, growing all over the continent, year round in milder areas. Most of us have found at least a few puffballs in our time, but many people don’t realize they are edible. They are easy to find and identify, and their mild taste can make them a great first mushroom to both find and eat.
Puffballs can be as small as a nickel or penny, and can get significantly larger than a watermelon! They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, but they are distinct and easy to identify due to the round and puffy nature that gives them their name. They are often stemless, although some varieties have a stem. When edible, they are cushiony yet firm. Later, they dry out and become airy, visibly releasing spores when touched. At this point, they should no longer be eaten.
Puffballs like open areas and grow well in fields and even on lawns. Most common varieties are white and are easy to spot growing in groups. There are a few similar looking poisonous varieties, but these can be identified by slicing them in half. A puffball, when edible, has clean, white, uniformly-colored flesh. They can be sautéed, fried, and are an easy substitute for common store-bought mushrooms in recipes.
Shaggy Mane Coprinus Comatus
The shaggy mane is a very beautiful mushroom, but it doesn’t look like the kind you would want to eat. It’s a good idea to overlook its shaggy exterior, because it grows in a variety of areas and is easy to identify. It is also rather tasty.
The shaggy mane is also found all over the continent, particularly because it prefers to grow in disturbed areas. It is easy to spot for the same reason, and it grows in groups or fairy rings.
These mushrooms tend to be on the smaller side, with skinny stems and bullet-shaped caps ranging in size from half an inch to a few inches. They are especially easy to spot and identify due to the cascading scales on the caps the give them their “shaggy” appearance. The caps are either white or grayish, with the gills turning black and “inky” as they mature. They should be eaten before reaching maturity.
Shaggy manes can be prepared similarly to the above listed mushrooms, but they are particularly popular as a soup, such as cream of shaggy mane soup, or as a mushroom sauce.
Hedgehog Hydnum Repandum
The underside or gills of the hedgehog mushroom look like the spiny back of a hedgehog, making them look inedbile. However, they are closely related to the chanterelle and many foragers think they are just as tasty and easier to find and identify.
Hedgehog mushrooms have thicker stalks and caps that can be 2-8 or more inches across. The caps can ripple or have a lot of indentations on top; underneath are the tooth-like gills that have earned the mushroom’s other nickname “sweet tooth.”
The hedgehog mushroom ranges in color from creamy white to pale tan to reddish-orange, and can be fairly uniform in color like a chanterelle. They can grow alone or in groups and are found in hardwood forests, such as birch, or under conifers. They are found throughout North America and tend to grow in the same spot year after year.
Hedgehog mushrooms should be eaten when small; if harvested when larger, you may want to remove the “teeth” or gills before eating. These mushrooms are very thick and meaty, so they work well in slow-cooked dishes like marinara sauces, stews, collards, and crock-pot recipes. They have an intense flavor that comes out when they are cooked, and it becomes even more intense when they are dried. Chanterelles don’t deep-fry well because they are so moist, but this drier and similar tasting alternative works great when battered and deep-fried.
- The 7 Weirdest Drugs in World History (makethelist.net)
- How to pick wild mushrooms (guardian.co.uk)
- 7 Tips for Enjoying Nature’s Mushroom Bounty (treehugger.com)