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. 

Free Virtual Special Event

Fabulous Fungus Fair
Saturday, November 14, 2:00–3:30 pm ET

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Advance Zoom registration required

Explore the wondrous world of fungi! Join Harvard students for a closer look at the mushrooms, yeasts, and molds found in gardens, forests, labs—even in our own refrigerators. This popular annual event turns virtual this year, featuring videos created by Harvard students. Join the webinar to participate in live conversation in response to student projects. Be prepared to see fungi in a whole new way!

Click here to register for the free event. To join the program, you will need to download the free Zoom app in advance. If you already have Zoom, you do not need to download it again. For details on how to improve your Zoom experience, visit the How to Attend an HMSC Program webpage.

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Myco People are Interesting

submitted by Walt Sturgeon

Having been a member of the Ohio Mushroom Society for 45+ years I have encountered some remarkable folks.  Here are some examples.

There was the dousing lady. She had a medallion on a string and was testing mushrooms on the foray display tables. If the medallion swayed, she considered the mushroom was good for her. Fortunately, she was not eating them based on this determination!

Then there was a barefoot young man who announced after he got in a carpool, that there might be an odor as he seldom showered.  Some months later he was looking for OMS references after being arrested for possession of a controlled substance in Montana.

One of my favorite people stories was a phone call.  I did not know the man.  He was interested in finding Gymnopilus spectabilis, a hallucinogenic species.  He wanted to join me in observing it in the woods. I told him that I knew a couple logs where I had found it in the past and that I could contact him if I saw it again.  Then he said he wanted to collect it under the light of the full moon!  Don’t call me, I’ll call you.  This man later became a prominent Amanita muscaria afficionado at the Telluride Mushroom Festival.

I have met two savant boys. One questioned me about a Cordyceps species. It soon became apparent to me that he knew as much or more about Cordyceps than me. As an adult mycologist he has written a book and travels extensively studying fungi. The other would be in the front row when I was giving a talk around the display tables.  His questions were hardly that of a child and his interest was intense.  A couple years later he is giving mushroom slide programs to adult audiences.

My first mushroom program was at Mill Creek Park in Youngstown.  I brought an Amanita muscaria as an example of a common poisonous mushroom.  I probably exaggerated its toxicity a bit. One man in the audience stepped up and in front of the crowd and took a bite of the cap.  So much for my credibility.  I doubt that he ate enough to poison him, but it was a learning experience for me.  The next day a woman went to the park office with a bag of Amanita muscaria. She had washed the warts off the all the caps, and wanted to confirm that this was the mushroom I showed as a good edible.  So much for stressing how toxic it is. Some people hear what they want to hear. Most mushroom hunters are good people and overall are an interesting group.  I have made many good friends in mycological circles.  As in any pursuit, it takes all kinds.

(October) Mushroom of the Month

This should have been our Mushroom of the Month post for October but I’ve “FALL-en” behind, whoops! In any case, enjoy these polypores dressed in their autumn finest, as captured by Pete Richards. We think they’re Ischnoderma resinosa, but feel free to chime in in the comments if you have other ideas.

Look for an entertaining blog post from Walt Sturgeon next week!