Look! In that field! Are those horses or crocodiles?

contributed by Pete Richards

Well, of course, they’re mushrooms.

For the last several years, I have found large mushrooms of the Agaricus group very late in our season – mid-October to mid-November.  I have seen these primarily near my home in Oberlin, but also at several locations along Route 2 from Maumee State Park to Oberlin.  Individual “buttons” can reach a pound in weight, and they often occur in rings where it is possible to gather several pounds of mushrooms from a single ring.

Mushrooms are white, typically slightly scaly, and tend to occur in clusters.  Unopened caps can be the size of softballs; the stems can be several inches in diameter.  The cap separates from the stem during growth, leaving a prominent ring.  The gills, when first exposed, are tan-pink, and become almost black with age.  The odor is of almond, but not as strong as what I think of the typical Agaricus arvensis, the horse mushroom.  The spore print is dark chocolate brown.

In attempting a better identification of this Agaricus species using MushroomExpert.com, I was surprised to discover that there are hundreds of species (nationally).  I was thinking in terms of three species –  A. arvensis; A. campestris, the meadow mushroom; and an uninteresting woods-dwelling species that I thought I remembered seeing pictures of.  Working through the lengthy key of 100(!) species, I encountered A. crocodilensis, noted for its large cap.  It seems to be a better choice for my specimens because of its scaly cap – the key indicates that A. arvensis tends to be smooth.  But the distinction based on field characteristics is very minor, and may not always be reliable.

So, are those horses or crocodiles in that field?  I really do not know.  Given my resources, I cannot know with certainty.  I do know that they are locally and seasonally abundant, large, pretty distinctive, and, for me, edible and tasty. These mushrooms sauté very nicely when cut into spoon-sized pieces.  The almond smell is conspicuous early, but apparently cooks off, as it disappears before most of the liquid is boiled away.  The resulting mushrooms have a nice solid texture and a good flavor, and they freeze well. Given the right place, it is easy to gather a winter’s supply of frozen mushrooms in one outing.

This commentary should not be construed to invite casual eating of mushrooms that the reader may think are the same species.  Neither the author nor the Ohio Mushroom Society warrant the edibility for you of this mushroom, or a mushroom you may find and think is the same.  The actual species in this commentary is not known.  It is known to be edible to me, but others may not have the same experience.  If you think you have found the same mushroom and wish to eat it, follow the standard procedures:

* Use all resources available to you to identify what you have found
* If you choose to eat the mushroom,
– cook it well
– eat only a small bite for the first time; imbibe no alcohol
– if you have no bad reaction, try a bit more, but still be cautious
– keep a sample of the mushroom to give to poison control if you have problems

A Spoonful of Umami

contributed by Lonelle Yoder

It’s shaping up to be a fantastic July for mushrooming, with rain, rain, and more rain. I hope many of you are finding basketfuls of chantarelles, chickens of the woods, and other delicious things. I, sadly (or not?), have had all my free time commandeered by the baby opossums, bluebirds and robins I’ve been fostering for the Ohio Wildlife Hospital, with little time left for me to make it out into the woods, so my mushrooming has been limited of late. Happily, though, I’ve found a great way to preserve and enjoy the flavors of mushrooms harvested in times of plenty, which allows me to enjoy them during dry spells: mushroom seasoning powder. If you’ve got more than you can eat right now, consider making this umami-packed powder, which has the added benefit of taking up very little space in your cupboard. This is also a great way to use the non-tender parts of mushrooms like chicken of the woods, which don’t make for good fresh eating. 

SHROOMAMI SEASONING POWDER 

It’s important to cook your mushrooms first, even though you will ultimately dehydrate them, since wild mushrooms should nearly always be cooked before consuming. So once you’ve cleaned them, roughly chop them, toss them with a little (not too much!) oil, and spread them on a baking tray. Roast at 400 or 425 F for 25-35 minutes, until the edges are browned. 

Roasting time will depend on the type of mushroom. For mushrooms that are on the tough side, like the stem pieces of chicken of the woods, you may want to use a wet cooking method rather than (or in addition to) roasting, as this will tenderize them a bit. Either add some cooking liquid (water, stock, or white wine or sherry) to the roasting pan, or braise them in the liquid on the stovetop for 10-15 minutes. If there is cooking liquid left in the pan after the mushrooms are cooked through, it begs you to make a quick sauce or gravy or add it to another dish! 

When your mushroom pieces are cooked through and lightly browned, chop them into smaller pieces and dry them in a dehydrator or in your oven on the “warm” setting.  

Now it’s time to pull out your kitchen gadgets! A food processor will work in a pinch, but I like to use an electric coffee grinder to get the finest grind possible. Working in small batches, grind the dehydrated mushrooms into a powder. Take care when taking the lid off of your grinding device, since the mushroom powder will be very light and apt to drift up and out of the bowl – give it a few seconds to settle before removing the lid. 

You’ll probably end up with some powder and some larger nubs; gently sifting it through a fine strainer will let you separate out the larger pieces, which you can re-grind or save separately from the powder. 

The mushroom powder can be used as is, but you can boost its flavor power by adding salt, pepper, dried herbs like thyme and sage, or anything else you fancy. Proportion-wise, aim for at least 3 parts mushroom powder to 1 part other seasonings.  

I like to save the larger pieces that I sifted out for adding to risotto, soup, tomato sauce, or anywhere else I’d use fresh mushrooms. The seasoned powder is great for adding to gravies, sauces, and soups, mixing into pasta dough, sprinkling on hamburgers, grilled or roasted vegetables or eggs, or rubbing onto meat roasts and anything else that benefits from an umami boost. I’d love to hear in the comments how you’ve used it!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go feed some baby robins.

A Nice Collaboration

Pete Richards

The Vermilion River north of Wakeman in Huron County features the Augusta-Anne Olson State Nature Preserve, well known to birding enthusiasts.  Immediately across a sharply meandering stretch of the river is Bellwether Farm, a 137-acre nature preserve and demonstration sustainable farm owned and operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio. It includes mature woods and steep slopes that separate the river valley from the glaciated shale surface into which it has eroded, as well as residences and farm lands, mainly on the uplands. The farm features educational programs to teach about farming, sustainability, and nature as it is seen there. Several places along the Vermilion are known as good places to look for morels. In fact the entire valley is a good candidate, though lack of access and careful secret-keeping obscure the details of the picture. Morels have frequently been found at Bellwether in the past. General foraging for morels is no longer permitted on the property, however. Instead, morels have been folded into the programs of the farm.

In keeping with their educational goals, the Farm Manager set up a morel program this spring. Saturday forays were held during late April and May to look for morels and provide participants with an introduction to mushrooms. Morels that were collected were sautéed and frozen, and augmented by collections made during the weeks by staff members. These were a feature of a gourmet celebration dinner and program, “Magnificent Mushrooms”, held on May 29 in the farm’s central building, the “Grange.” Chef Lonny Gatlin prepared pork steaks from the farm, with a gorgonzola sauce richly endowed with morels; mashed potatoes; salad with greens from the farm’s gardens; and lightly baked baby hakurei turnips, also farm-grown. Dessert was carrot-cake cupcakes, featuring farm carrots. Pete Richards, OMS board member, presented an illustrated talk on morels and how, when, and where to find them (and avoid false morels). Concern about telling people things they’d already learned on the Saturday hikes dissipated when it turned out that only one of the diners had been on one of the hikes.

OMS and Bellwether have also collaborated in the past with fall forays with the more traditional OMS focus on documenting the entire suite of fungi present at the time. The farm is a great place to look for mushrooms, and our findings fit nicely with their goal of cataloging the complete biota of the farm. There will be such a fall foray in 2021, scheduled for August 22 with a September 12 back-up date. For more on Bellwether Farm and their programs, visit www.bellwetherfarm.com/about.

Cooking with Wild Mushrooms

Martha Bishop, OMS Board Member

If you are lucky enough to find wild edible mushrooms this year, you may be looking for a few tips on preparation for the table!

 Of course, if you plan to eat any wild mushrooms, you should always be absolutely certain that you have correct identification, and that the species is listed in modern field guides as edible.    Always check with an experienced identifier if you are unsure about what mushroom you are looking at.  Many wild mushrooms can be confused with poisonous species if you do not have adequate experience with a particular species.  Some species that were previously considered edible are now known to contain dangerous toxins. 

Once you are sure of your ID and edibility, check to make sure that all of the mushrooms in your collection are the same species.  It is possible for species that look similar but are not the same to grow close together.  Also check your field guides to see whether there is any information about not collecting otherwise edible mushrooms from specific locations.  Mushrooms sometimes concentrate toxins from certain trees.  Never eat any mushrooms collected from industrial and agricultural sites or yards where chemicals may have been purposely or accidentally applied to the soil or trees.   Mushrooms have been shown to concentrate radiation, heavy metals, pesticides, and other chemicals.

Next, clean your mushrooms.  I wash them with in water to remove any insects and soil or other debris, and then dry them with a towel to remove excess moisture.   Many people like to soak morels overnight in salt water to remove insects from cavities in the mushrooms.  If any of your mushrooms appear to be discolored or showing other signs of spoiling, throw those away.  Old mushrooms, like any other spoiled food, could cause illness.

Generally, you should always cook wild mushrooms thoroughly before consuming them.  Many mushrooms, including morels, have substances that cause illness if the mushrooms are eaten raw or undercooked.   I usually cut mushrooms into small pieces cook them at least 10 minutes after they are heated through to make sure of thorough cooking.

If you are cooking a mushroom that you haven’t eaten before, eat only a couple of bites on the first day that you try them.  Some people experience personal reactions or allergies to new foods.  You can try eating more the next day if you suffer no ill effects.

I hope you will have success in finding some wild edible mushrooms this season!  Since it is illegal In Ohio to sell wild-collected Ohio mushrooms, this may be your best chance to try eating them.

Please see a couple of my favorite preparation methods below.

Favorite Morels

Morchella esculentoides

Morels can be fried, baked, or steamed and eaten as a side dish or included in other recipes calling for mushrooms.  This is my preferred way to prepare them because the flour helps to retain moisture and to concentrate the delicious flavor.

Ingredients:

  • Morels, precleaned, soaked overnight in salt water, and dried as above (You may want to cut large ones in half, lengthwise.)
  • Extra virgin olive oil, butter, or both
  • Flour

Put a generous amount of flour in a shallow bowl.  Roll the morels in the flour to coat.  Heat enough oil or butter to coat the skillet over medium high heat.  The skillet should be large enough to lay out the morels in a single layer.  Cook until browned on one side, and turn to brown on the other side.  Heat should be high enough to brown the mushrooms, but low enough to allow thorough heating through for several minutes.

Cantharellus lateritius

Brandied Chanterelles

This is a delicious recipe inspired by the combination of Walt’s famous recipe for candied chanterelles and the gift of a bottle of fine Armenian brandy.  You could use any brandy you prefer.  I have used cognac with good results.

Ingredients:

  • Chanterelles, cleaned and dried as above, and sliced
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Brandy
  • Wildflower honey (or any kind you have on hand)

On medium high, heat just enough olive oil in a large iron skillet to prevent sticking.  Add the chanterelles in a single layer and sauté until golden on both sides.  Remove from heat and add an ounce or two of brandy depending on how many mushrooms you have.  Be careful because the brandy may flame if you add it over the heat.  Add a little water or more brandy if all the brandy evaporates immediately.  Return to low heat and stir and simmer until the liquid evaporates.  Drizzle the mushrooms lightly with a bit of honey to glaze, and cook, stirring another minute to finish.

So, What Happens at a Foray?

contributed by OMS Board Chair Debra Shankland

We at the Ohio Mushroom Society are excited to once again offer in-person forays for our members.  These field experiences are fantastic opportunities to learn more about identifying mushrooms!  Some of you may not have been to a mushroom foray before, so here’s what to expect at an OMS-sponsored foray.

First, register with the foray Host (this step is very important!).  Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive an email confirmation detailing the location and where to meet for the event.  The confirmation should have an attachment of the OMS waiver form.  The waiver is for everyone’s protection, and a waiver must be completed for every foray you attend, since they’re only valid for the date specified.  To save time, we ask everyone to complete the waiver at home and bring the signed copy with you.

Forays are open and free to all OMS members; your membership will be verified by the Host prior to the foray.  If you were a member in 2020, your membership will automatically be extended thru 2021.  If you’re not a current member, you can join OMS on the spot–just complete a membership form and bring $15 in cash or check for a family membership.  You can download a form from the OMS website under the Join tab.  The foray Host should also have some copies. 

Some forays will take place in areas with spotty cell phone service, so it’s a good idea to check the route and perhaps print a map before you leave home.  Depending on how ‘out-of-the-way’ a foray location is, there may be an “OMS Foray” directional sign or two to help you locate the meeting spot.  Look for the Host, dressed in field gear, loitering near their car at the meeting spot.  They’ll greet you, ask you for your paperwork and check your name off the list.

To be prepared for a foray, one should be adequately dressed for the conditions in the woods, and packing drinking water, a whistle or other signaling device, a phone (in case cell service is good), a basket and a knife.  Other helpful items to have include smaller, rigid containers for tiny or fragile mushrooms, a notepad, field guide, and magnifying glass.  This year, we also ask that everyone wear a face mask covering the mouth and nose.  Everyone’s safety is a top concern!

With everyone and their gear and paperwork present and accounted for, your Host can facilitate introductions.  You can expect an explanation of the best ways to harvest mushrooms for identification purposes.  You’ll also get tips on safety, ways to handle mushrooms to keep them in good condition, and minimizing the group’s impact on the environment.  Your Host will orient you to the habitat types and trail conditions at that location, and let you know where and when to meet with the collected specimens for ID.

The group will be asked to separate into smaller sub-groups of 2 – 6 people to ensure as wide a search as possible for specimens.  Smaller, widely-spaced groups are not only safer during this pandemic, but it also prevents compaction of forest soils and damage to vegetation.  In a few locations, participants may be asked to stay on trails.  The only downside to separated groups is that some species may be over-represented, since one group may not know that another group has already collected a turkey tail, for example.

Usually, the woodland search occurs over 1.5 – 2 hours.  When the groups gather together once again, identification and examination of the collected specimens takes place, usually over the course of an hour, depending on how many species are collected.  The mushrooms are placed on individual paper plates on which their names (scientific and sometimes also common names) are written.  This makes for a great photo composition, where the caption is already written!  This is when you can learn the details that help you discern one species from a look-alike, ask questions, and discover more about seasonality and habitat preferences of different mushrooms.

The paper plates are collected at the conclusion of the foray, and the species names are recorded for the benefit of the landowner and our own understanding of which mushrooms occur where and when.  At some forays, some mushrooms, along with their habitat details, are collected and prepared as voucher specimens, to scientifically document their occurrence at a particular site.  Usually this happens at major, two-day forays, which also include guest speakers.

In short, a mushroom foray is not at all like the dictionary definition of a foray:  a sudden raid or military advance, to take plunder.  The goal is rather to learn more about mushrooms and enjoy a day in the woods, while leaving no trace of our presence.  There may be forays where modest harvest of plentiful species are allowed, but this isn’t always the case.  Places to gather for mushroom forays are few, and you can bet that more places will be closed to us if they’re ransacked.

I hope this helps to get you excited about this year’s forays!  OMS board volunteers are working hard now to secure foray locations and work out logistics so that these events can be conducted safely.  Look for the foray schedule under the Events tab, or in upcoming Mushroom Log issues.

Don’t Eat the Mushrooms! A True Story

contributed by OMS Board Member Bryan Lewis

Like so many, I came to mushrooms by foraging – specifically, for morels. Morels are delicious and relatively easy to safely identify for beginners. After some years of that (years!) I graduated to the also delicious and spectacularly more abundant chanterelle. And then I was hooked, drawn into the world of fungi.

Something about fungi is infectious; once you learn a little bit about identifying this or that you want to learn more and more. Shortly after just eating mushrooms, you start to notice how colorful and strangely beautiful they are, then you’re stupefied by their importance to ecology, their weirdness, and so on and on. Very quickly you encounter and start hanging out with others in the equally colorful, weird and amazing mushroom subculture. From professors to photographers to psychonauts – not to mention gourmands – the mushroom people are quite a wild group. This happened to me, and like a node in a mycelial network, I quickly relayed knowledge I learned from my new mushroom friends back to others whenever I happened to be out on a hike or in nature…

A few years ago I worked at an office kind of job in Boston. When there I was usually cooped up inside working a lot. I took any spare moment I could to escape out into woods and explore, sometimes with co-workers. Of course, on those walks I would find many mushrooms and regale my friends with stories I learned from Walt Sturgeon, Gary Lincoff and others. Perhaps my friends thought I was a bit out-there, but I think that they appreciated my passion and enjoyed the stories and information. Because I forage, they also saw me occasionally pick edible mushrooms.

I keep in touch with many friends from that job. One, in particular, occasionally sent me a photo, usually of a marasmius oreades or some such fungus just prior to being mowed over. Once he found a morel (especially rare in Boston!). But generally speaking, nothing all that interesting. And then, more recently, one day late in the fall I got a text from him with this photo and this exact message:

“Local harvest. Safe to eat?”

YIKES! Now, even the most greenhorn mushroom forager knows that a cutting board in a kitchen is NOT THE BEST PLACE TO IDENTIFY A MUSHROOM. From a photo. In a text. On a phone.

As soon as I saw the text I tried to call my friend to discourage this crazy, irresponsible foraging behavior, but no answer! Judging from the season and the photo – cap appearance, thick flesh, overall shape – I figured these were *probably* late-fall oyster mushrooms. But still! Did my over-enthusiasm for mushroom foraging lead my friend to this fate? And, just what fate would that be? Distressed, I sent detailed texts of possible similar mushrooms (oysters , lentinellus, etc.) and also scarier but less-likely possibilities, and obvious questions asking where, exactly, were these mushrooms growing, do they have a particular odor or taste, and so on. But each text began the same way: Don’t eat the mushrooms!

Finally later that evening, he called back and said he picked them with another friend, apparently a local mushroom forager, who identified and helped to prepare them. And after all, no one got sick, but the meal was only so-so. I could’ve told them that late fall oysters aren’t the greatest-tasting shrooms and saved them the trouble. Now, I’ve learned something. When wandering in the woods with friends not yet indoctrinated into the mushroom culture, I say don’t eat any mushrooms! Or plants for that matter. It’s a good strategy for at least two reasons: peace of mind, and more for me!

Good News for 2021

Hello Ohio Mushroom Society members and guests!

Here’s some good news for the New Year:  this years’ membership is free!  If you were a current member in good standing in 2020, your membership will automatically be renewed for 2021 without the need to write a check.  Folks wishing to join OMS for the first time this year will need to pay at the normal levels, but with no increase in dues (starting at $15 for an electronic family membership).

Also, remember that OMS membership gives you a $5 discount on North American Mycological Association (NAMA) membership dues.  Dues for both OMS and NAMA are due in January.  See https://namyco.org/join.php for more information.

If you’re looking for more good news, look to the woods!  Time in nature is calming, therapeutic, and time well spent.  Even a walk around your neighborhood is a healthy tonic.  You never know what happy surprises await you in unexpected places…

About a month ago I discovered a large colony of a short-stemmed gilled mushroom in the mulch under some planted evergreens in a yard.  Though I still haven’t identified it yet, I’m using it as an opportunity to practice my identification skills before the “real” field season begins.

We’re all anxious to get out there for group discovery and learning again.  Your volunteer board members are, too!  We plan most of our mini, and biannual major forays, at an annual February meeting, this year on Zoom of course. We hope to put together a calendar of activities covering at least the first half of the year, subject to change as always.  Calendar listings will be found here under the Events tab and in the March-April edition of the Mushroom Log.

Until then, be well, seek good news, and discover the nature near you!

-Debra

NAMA Seeks Membership Director

If you are a current member of the North American Mycological Association (NAMA), please consider applying for their Membership Director vacancy. Like most club administration positions, it’s unpaid, but not without some great perks! The successful candidate will learn a lot while serving with other volunteers across North America. For more details, please see the announcement below.

For more information about NAMA, visit their website here: https://namyco.org

NAMA is seeking a Membership Director to work with our webmaster and treasurer to welcome new members and support our renewing members—whether individuals or affiliated clubs.

Familiarity with data entry forms, reports, spreadsheets, and customer relations are crucial skills in this position. Training will be provided. You’ll need to regularly respond to membership questions and dedicate time at vital points in the NAMA year: membership renewal January through March and when foray registration opens. You’ll prepare a membership report at the beginning of our fiscal year. Occasional membership drives will give you opportunities to get creative.

The Membership Director also serves as an ex-officio member of the NAMA executive committee. As a result, you and your club would have a voice in many of our significant decisions such as foray locations, speaker invitations, and so forth.
 
You’d also be building a group of mycological and professional mentors as you exercise your leadership, communication, and database skills.   

The Membership Director receives a registration fee waiver to attend the annual foray.

Please contact NAMA President Barbara Ching president@namyco.org to learn more.