Friday, November 07, 2008

As Winter Approaches...

the mushroom season is slowly come to an end. The cold nights and lack of moisture the last few weeks have marked the end to an incredible fall season of mushrooms. Normally, I name the year at this time. Like 2007 was the year of chanterelles, as I found them in record numbers. This year I would say it was the year of the hen, but it was really the year of the mushroom here. With the constant and unusually high amounts of rain we received all year, I picked record numbers (for me at least) of about everything from morels in spring, to chants and sweettooth in summer, and of course hens in the fall. I even found more chicken of the woods this year than I have in the past. My cupboards are full of dried mushrooms and I have a nice section of my freezer full of everything from partially fried morels to several pounds of some excellent mushroom duxelle (which takes about 10 hours to make by the way, but well worth it.)

The season drawing to a close does not mean that there will be no more mushrooms. I am sure if I looked hard enough I could still find a hen or two especially if I went a little bit further south, but I am literally henned out so I probably won't be heading out anytime soon to look for more.

And in a few weeks, I'm sure I will get the urge to walk the woods again. There are two mushrooms that you can find in abundance during the warmer spells of winter. The first I will mention only in passing. It is the velvet foot or Flammulina velutipes mushroom . I DO NOT recommend that novices hunt and eat this one as it has a very poisonous look-a-like, the deadly galerina. Although many mushrooms are poisonous, few are truly fatal, but the galerina is one of them. Look at the pictures on the right. The first one is velvet foot and the second one is the deadly galerina.
Can you tell the difference? This is one case where you have to take a spore print to be absolutely certain. Velvet foot should give you a white print, galerina will produce a rusty brown spore print. Until you really know what you are doing, it is best to just stick with the cultivated version of this mushroom, Enoki, pictured last. You can hunt it down in the produce aisle of you local grocer or some of the finer restaurants in town.
It took me about five years before I trusted myself to properly identify this mushroom and I still pass on it many times I see it just in case. However, they are quite tasty. If you have ever had tried enoki then you know a little bit of what I mean. Though they look completely different and even taste different they give you a hint of the flavor of those found in the wild.

The mushroom that you can find around here all winter that is good for beginners is the oyster mushroom or Pleurotus ostreatis. I usualy find these in woods with more softwoods (elm, willow, and maples) so I hunt for them in the same locations I hunt morels in spring. Look for downed logs in these areas and check them even if there hasn't been any rain. The cold nice and frost often provide enough moisture to keep them flushing as long as the daytime temps are in the 40s. Oysters can survive temps down in the 20s, so even hard freezes have little effect as long as the days warm up a bit.

So if you didn't get your fill of wild edibles this year, do not fret, there is still a chance to find some nice oysters. I tend to avoid older specimen who have that slight fishy smell, but I know plenty of people who eat them as well. In my opinion they aren't quite as tasty and the texture can leave something to be desired, so I generall only pick the younger ones, especially those still in the button stage. The one good thing about hunting in winter is NO BUGS so not only do you not have to worry about ticks and skeeters, but your mushrooms are nice and larva and beetle free so you can keep all you find.

Another reason I mainly look for oysters where I hunt morels is that you can never start scouting too early. Finding that dead elm or recently blow down or chopped off cottonwood, sycamore, or maple and making note of it can pay huge dividends come spring when you can be the first to these trees with the potential to produce 50 to 100 morels. If find some of these, check them early and often come April, especially those with lots of exposure to the sun. Last year I found a nice mess of morels around one of these trees. So, even if you don't find any oysters, a winter walk in the woods can be well worth the effort.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fifty Pounds in one Day

OK, so you have just hiked to the top of a steep hill and find yourself looking at oak after oak to no avail when you come across this. I spotted this one at nearly 100 yards out. It was huge, literally the size of a beach ball.

This has been an incredible year for hens and this one topped all. I had never seen one this large in my years of fall hunting. And get this, I didn't even pick it. I just took some photos showed it to some hunters to be, that were with me and walked away.
I know what you are thinking. How could you do that? How could you turn your back on such a marvelous specimen? Well, there were several reasons so let me lay them all out for you.

First, take a look at this picture. This thing was bigger than my backpack and probably approaching 30 pounds. Hauling that back down the hill I scrambled up and back to my car seemed like more of a chore than I wanted.
Second, the underneath of many fronds were just turning yellow. Yes, it wasn't too far gone for eating, but it was on its way and let me move on to my next point.
Third, did I say I had already found 14 other hens that afternoon and had over 20 pounds in my vehicle?
In the end I only picked about 8 of the 15 or approximately half of the 50 pounds or so I uncovered today. I only came home with two nice hens and gave the rest away to the hunters to be. They were eager to try some, though I cautioned that they only try a bit at first, to make sure they were not allergic, as a few are.

I also came across a small patch of sweet tooth that were big and bug free. Like the ones I found a few weeks ago, these were atop a rocky ridge right above the outcroppings. They were a nice treat. I saw some hericiums of all three varieties, purple gilled lacaria and some oysters but all were too old for the table.

I managed to find one very fresh hen on a nice slope so I could take one of my favorite "uphill underneath" shots. The fresh hens I found today were very dark and brown, however they varied to light tan, as seen in the one above. There were plenty of small ones that I left behind so unless the cold really sets in, the hens may be here for a good while more. So, keep checking those oaks. If anyone is in Mid-MO and wants to try some hen, just let me know. I have plenty to spare.
Happy hunting.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Halloween Mushroom

Well not too much out in the woods these days as the rains has become fewer and farther between and the night and days grow colder. However there are some good fall edibles still in abundance. The kids and I returned to the scene of our first hen hunt yesterday only nine days after walking it previously and found a new flush of hens on several trees. With the lack of rain and being so fresh these were some of the cleanest, I have picked and took record time to clean. That is an often unmentioned downside of finding a 20 pound hen of the woods, the 3 to 4 hours it takes to clean is from bugs, dirt and to trim of embedded debris.

We also came across a nice chicken that had sprouted wings since last we had visited the trail. The kids really got a kick out of how "Halloweeny" the mushroom was. Anyone need a costume idea?

Here they are with their Halloween find. Notice how well the mushroom goes with my daughter's pants. Thanks to Jon Rapp, once again, for such fabulous photos. He is really spoiling me.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sulfur Shelf - Chicken of the Woods

Normally, when I do find some nice chicken of the woods mushrooms they are Laetiporus cincinnatus or the white pored variety. But I had a few minutes to spare so I thought I would check one of my sweettooth patches out real quick and see if anything was still up. Unfortunately there were no sweettooh but I did find some pretty yellow fungal fingers beginning to stick out of an old dead snag. I left them alone and returned 4 days and a good rain later to find some real beauties of Laetiporus sulphurues.

Here are a few pics that Jon, a local hunter, he takes such great photos I rarely use my own camera anymore.

In the end I came home with three nice one pound clusters of some of the freshest chickens you can find. Made for some good eating and even had enough left over to dry some for winter.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fall "Fowl"age

The colder nights not only bring on the glorious fall foliage that Missouri is known for, but it tends to stir up some most delicious fowl as well. This is not the traditional birds that most hunters seek out, but rather the fungal variety that us mushroom hunters are hoping to track down. Namely Grifola Frondosa or the hen of the woods mushroom. In Japan it is called the Maitake mushroom, where it is sought out high and low as a delicacy and medical remedy for many forms of cancer and other health conditions. Maitake literally means dancing mushroom, which is what happens when you first come across a nice clean one.

I happened out with my kids today. They love to hunt mushrooms but being only a month shy of turning four, they are not quite ready to traverse the woods. However, that is the good thing about hen of the woods. They are so big and in this area no one else really hunts them, so you can usually spot and pick them right off the trail when conditions are right. And right they have been for the past two weeks. So I was not surprised when a known hen producing tree had a nice beauty sitting at its base. That is a bonus of finding a hen, note that tree for years to come because they grow year after year in the same spot. The one we found today weighed in at a little over 2 pounds (another bonus of finding them, lots of mushroom). The one in the picture measured about 13 inches across by 10 inches wide by 9 inches tall. I usually find mine at the base of oak trees but they do show up around other trees as well. When prepaering for the table, brush of any dirt and cut or break off the fronds. If it is a young specimen you can also use the central stem, however, I find it a little tough unless you prepare it slow like in a stew. I prefer to lightly saute mine in oil and serve over fish or on a salad. But they are excellent grilled, baked and about anyway. It has a taste that is hard to describe but many, including myself prefer it to morels, so it is a worth a try if you are lucky to find one. See for more information.

We also happened on some chicken of the woods or sulfur shelf mushrooms. These would have been ripe for the table had I been out last week. They were beginning to fade and a little long in the pore so we left them behind. But that is another fowl fungus that can be readily found in fall and the bright orange really stands out. I usually find them on old black fallen logs and stumps, but you can also find them on scars and breaks in live trees (primarily oak).

If you haven't managed to get out in the woods, it is time to get hiking before the winds of winter move in and end the mushroom season for good. Hen of the woods dries very well and is a good mushroom to store and eat on those cold winter days.

Ahistory and kids on the maitake trail (photos by Jon Rapp)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Time to Get Back Out There...

Well, if you have stayed away from the woods, like I have the last few weeks, now is prime time to get back out there. The recent rains have a flourish of mushrooms flushing from summer varieties to the start of the fall ones. I haven't found any honies or hens yet, but they are sure to be a week or so away, especially with all the rain in the forecast due to hurricane Ike.

I did manage to get away and walk some local woods at lunch the last two days. Found corals, indigo milkies, some blue-green clitocybe, black trumpets, chants of all types and sizes, and one of my favorites, sweet tooth or hedgehog mushrooms. They are one of my favorites and I have never found them in much quantity, so it was a pleasent surprise to stumble across some nice size patches. I will definately be checking these areas again next year.

What was great and this really highlights the benefits of hunting summer and fall mushrooms versus the elusive morel, is that these were right off the trail and only minutes from the parking lot. In spring with all the morel hunters you'd have to be first to pick these areas, but in summer you can take your time because the competition is non-existent and there are plenty of shrooms for all. So get out there and keep your eyes open for some tasty finds.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Too Many Mushrooms - Anyone up for a trade?

Boy the rains have made for bumper crops of just about everything. In addition to mushrooms, my family and I have been picking gallons of berries. Right now, the wild blackberry bushes are overflowing and the berries are larger than ever, swollen with all the extra rain. Been busy canning jam and jelly all week. Probably have to go pick some more to make a pie or two.

I give mushrooms to family and friends and, often in return they give me stuff from their garden. This week it was beans and tomatoes, and they are oh so good. It got me thinking, if anyone close by has some extra veggies or fruit from their garden and would like to trade for some fresh chanterelles, drop me a line. I have several pounds of nice fresh chants (picked yesterday morning) just sitting in the fridge and for the first time, I must admit that I have about had my fill of them and I definitely have enough canned for winter. It would be great to get some local produce and share some tasty chants. I really would like to find a local grower's coop who would be interested in me providing edible wild mushrooms in exchange for some fresh veggies.

No mushroom hunting this weekend. Just too dang hot, but let me know if you find anything. The patches of smoth chants look like seas of orange right now, and are easy to spot. So if you can stand the heat, it is a good time to scout out new areas. If the chants are there you will finds them easily. Happy hunting and let me know if you find anything good.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Preserving Chanterelles

Since there are an abundance of chanterelles (especially Cantharellus lateritius) in the woods these days, I thought it might be good to go over a few storing and preservations tips that I have come across over the years and found, in my own experience, to be generally helpful.

As for storing the chants. They keep best when they are kept in either paper bags or cardboard boxes in the fridge. Like all other mushrooms, do NOT store them in plastic bags or containers of any sort. The mushrooms produce a gas that gets trapped by the plastic and begins to break them down. After a day or two all you have left is a mushy mess. Also, do NOT clean them prior to storage and they will last longer. In a paper bag they start to dry a bit in 3 to 5 days but you can still find good ones (or good pieces) for up to ten days. In a box, they can last two, three, even four weeks depending on how fresh they were when picked.

As for preserving chanterelles, I haven't found a good method for freezing them. I have tried sticking them straight in the freezer fresh (like you can do with hen of the woods) and I have tried precooking them a bit first (the way I prepare fried morels to be frozen) and both left me with a much mushier mushroom than I desired once thawed and cooked.

Many people dry them, though I don't do this too much because they tend to be much chewier than I like once reconstituted. I do dry a few each season for using in soups and stews. So, here are a few tips that will help. First, only use the cleanest specimen and DO NOT wash them in water, just remove any embedded debris that you can. You can dust off any dirt once they are dried and not so fragile. Second, cut them into small pieces, mainly consisting of the cap and largely discarding the stem. Last, dry them very slowly at a low temperature under 100 degrees F. Following those steps will help reduce the chewiness.

The best way to preserve chants is to can them. Now before you try this step, you must be well schooled in canning fruits and vegetables. The last thing you want is a bad case of Botulism. This is the first year that I have canned chanterelles, so I looked around the web and followed these instructions. They seemed to work well and I canned over ten pounds. I opened a jar last week to cook with them and see how they tasted and was pleasantly surprised by the freshness (granted these were only canned a week and a half ago, so not a true test). Here are the directions I followed.

To can chanterelles, clean them thoroughly and cut them in big chunks and steam for 20 minutes. Place the pieces in small canning jars and cover them with the liquid from the steaming vessel or boiling water to make up the difference. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon vinegar. Finally, sterilize them for 40 minutes in a pressure cooker at 10 pounds pressure. (Excerpted from

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hydnum repandum - the Sweet Tooth or Hedgehog Mushroom

I was out picking more smooth chants over the weekend. They are out in force and larger than I have ever seen them due to the rain. I found one area where the chants were so large five of them made a pound. We are talking 6 to 8 inches across. The way they split and flay out when they get large makes them look like large orange flowers bursting forth. If you come across a patch like this in the woods, you cannot miss them even from 100 feet away.

While out picking, I thought I would check a hillside in which I had found hedgehog or sweet tooth mushrooms on in th past. Either my timing or the moisture was off before because in 2006 and 2007 I did not find any hedgehogs in this area, but I was hoping with all the rain my luck would soon change. And I was right, because I uncovered a small patch (just under a pound) of the sweet little guys.

As you can tell from the photos, they look a lot like a faded chanterelle from the top but when you turn them over and see the teeth then you really know what you have. Because of their teeth, they are one of the safest wild mushrooms to identify as there are no other look-a-likes (poisonous or edible) so they cannot be mistakenly identified for anything else.

Although they look, feel, and even smell a little like chanterelles, when cooked they are a different animal. They do have a somewhat similar flavor to chants but they have a subtle sweetness (hence the name sweet tooth) and they act different. Those who have cooked chants will know that because of their water content, chanterelles often cook down to about 1/3 their original size, losing much of the moisture contained in the mushroom. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, actually absorb moisture while cooking and can soak up the tastes of the other ingredients in your dish, making them one of my favorite.

However, they are quite rare to find in large quantities. In the last five years, I have only located one patch, and it only produces about a pound or so when the weather conditions are right, so I never get my fill of them.

(Photos taken by Jon Rapp)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Smooth Chanterelles

Now is one of the best time to hit the woods if you are wanting to try out some chanterelles. The smooth chants are up and the patches are easy to spot because of the massive amounts of bright orange.

These chants are a good one for beginners because the underside has no gills or wrinkles. It is completely smooth underneath. There may be a hint of ridges or wrinkles on some of the larger ones, but because of this smooth feature there are no poisonous look-a-likes, making it one f the safest chanterelles to identify and eat. They are also out in abundance and if you find a nice patch, you can pick 2-3 pounds of them in only 10 minutes.

You will usually find a few larva tunnels in the stems and fleshier parts so be sure to trim these unless you want that extra protein. Always be sure to cook them thoroughly, eat them in moderation and avoid drinking alcoholic or at least limit alcohol to one glass as mixing alcohol and wild mushrooms has often led to some gastronomical distress.

One thing to consider when cooking smooth chanterelles is that these meaty mushrooms retain a lot of water. So avoid washing your finds if possible. If you do have to wash them, try to lay them out on towels and dry them thoroughly. Because they have so much water, chants will often reduce in size, ending up only about a third the size once cooked.

I have found smoooth chants in many places but the place I find the largest patches is in the small dry runoff valleys running down into small creeks. When you find a valey with some, walk both up and down it. Patches tend to be strung out along these drainage lines. At least that is the case in my area.

Happy hunting.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

You Never Know What You Are Going to Find

I went out today for an afternoon hunt to see if I could turn up some nice trumpets and chants and to do a little scouting in case anyone decides to join me for a foray on Thursday (this is where I plan to go)

Last week's flush of yellow chanterelles were largely spent. Lots of waterlogged and bug filled suckers. I did manage to pick a good half a pound or so of nice fresh bug free buttons, so new flushes are on.

My main target was black trumpets and I was not disappointed. Picked about a pound with some really nice and big ones to be found.

I find a lot of my trumpets as you can see from the photos growing out of moss. I think this is because they tend to grow in places where there is not a lot of leaf litter and most of these places are mossy. Some say they have a relationship with moss, but I don't think so. I have found large patches with no moss to be found. They are easier to spot in moss, so I will usually look for mossy spots first and then start looking closer for trumpets. Like morels, once you find one stop and look very close. There are bound to be a bunch more.

Most trumpets are small (2 inches high and maybe an inch or two across). But here are some photos to give you a give idea of the size they can get. Notice how smooth the underside is.

Even the cap or cup can get quite large.

After picking my fill of trumpets, I was walking along and saw this miserable looking cluster. It was a lighter colored brown compared to the trumpets I had been finding but I thought it was just an older group. I did wonder for a moment why they were so clustered. I have found clusters of black trumpets before but they were not tightly packed and seemed to grow in more ordered clusters.

When I got down to take this picture I soon realized that these were not trumpets at all. Notice the gray ridges on the underside. They also had a much more pungently fruity smell compared to trumpets.

Black trumpets, or the horn of plenty, are a form of Craterellus, specifically Craterellus cornucopioides, but they are completely smooth underneath or only slightly wrinkled. I believe this one to be Craterellus foetidus. It was neat find for me as I have never found anything but the horn of plenty.

While I was crawling around on my hands and knees in the moss looking for black trumpets and other black chants, I came across these very tiny black chanterelles. Sorry, it was hard to focus on such small specimens, but here is what I think is Craterellus calyculus

They are very small and although most suggest that they are edible, they are not worth collecting as the largest one picture here was about half the size of a dime. But it was neat to find a total of three different kinds of black chanterelles today. Bodes well for anyone wanting to go on a foray this week.

Anyone up for a Foray?

Well early scouting trips have begun to turn up some nice edibles in good numbers. In the past week I have found several edible lactarius, common yellow chanterelles, cinnabar red chanterells, and even a pound of black trumpets, also known as the horn of plenty. Been a few sighting of oysters and a lot of chicken are starting to roost. So I was thinking it maybe a good time to have a local foray for anyone who may be interested in learning more on how to properly identify some of these easy targets.

My schedule this week allows for a few options - Thursday (7/10) and Sunday (7/13) If you are available and interested in either of these dates contact me through the report a mushroom find link on the right side of the page near the top. Let me know which day you could go and general times when you are available to hunt those days. I will also email a few of you who had expressed an earlier interest.

Here are a few photos to get you in the mood:

Boone County black trumpets - found these at Three Creeks Conservation Area. Very fresh and in perfect shape. Most were just starting out and much smaller (photo by Jon Rapp)

Here is what I mean, there were a lot of tiny ones starting out. These were about the size of a match head. You have to be quick to get trumpets as they usually grow and dry up within 5 to 7 days. One of the most ephemeral of the summer edibles. (Three Creeks Conservation Area photo by Jon Rapp)

Here is a nice young, fresh chicken that was encountered and photographed by some friends of mine. They were nice enough to take a photo and share it with me. I found about a pound of chicken last week, but it was pouring rain so I could not take any photos. This one, like most I find around Mid-MO was the white-pored variety and was growing from buried wood. I have yet to find the yellow-pored species this year. I usually find it growing above ground off dead an living trees.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Are Mushrooms Good for You?

We all know that mushrooms are fun to find and delicious to eat, but in a recent chat with a local park ranger, I was asked about the nutritional value of mushrooms. To be honest, I hadn't given much thought to this before. I knew that some mushrooms had medicinal values and were used in treating and preventing cancer, heart disease, and other health conditions, but I had never bothered to do much research on how healthy they actually were.

So I did a little digging, first through my books at home, and then online and at the library. I was rather surprised by what I found. Now keep in ind these are numbers for mushrooms cooked plainly. Adding breading and butter or stuffing them with cheese, etc. will, of course, increase these numbers. Here are the nutritional highlights of common Missouri edible mushrooms:

Morel, 5 medium (84g)
Calories: 20
Protein: 2g
Carbohydrate: 3g
Total Fat: 0.0g
Fiber: 0.0g

Chanterelle, 1 large
Calories: 1.7
Protein: 0.12g
Carbohydrate: 0.35g
Total Fat: 0.02g
Fiber: 0.13g

Black Trumpet, 5g (dry)
Calories: 15
Protein: 0.12g
Carbohydrate: 2.4g
Total Fat: 0.02g
Fiber: 0.6g

Lion’s mane, 5 medium (84g)
Calories: 20
Protein: 2g
Carbohydrate: 3g
Total Fat: 0.0g
Fiber: 0.0g

I also found a nice table listing the nutritional values of some common mushrooms.

(Source: Paul Staments, Mycelium Running, p. 198-99)

From the numbers it appears that mushrooms certainly aren't bad for you and certain varieties are loaded with beneficial nutrients. As Staments points out, even the FDA has "officially designated mushrooms as 'healthy food'" (p. 197).

So eat up, but always remember to eat them in moderation and always be certain of your identification before eating anything.

(For more information on the medicinal benefits of eating mushrooms, check out the listing on I don't promote the site itself but they have a concise listing of recent articles focused on the subject.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Tasty Colors of Summer - Black, Yellow, Red and Blue

Sorry folks I know I have been MIA for a while but so have the edible mushrooms. Despite the abundance of rain the woods near me just weren't showing any chants, chickens or anything else. Despite my disappointment, I had a feeling my luck would change over the weekend and boy what a weekend it was.

I am always looking to learn more about fungi and what it edible among them, so I headed to a foray down at Ha Ha Tonka State Park on Friday with camping gear and mushroom baskets in tow. People may laugh at a hunter carrying a basket but when you come back with smooshed chanterelles (which are much more delicate than morels) you will soon understand why baskets are superior.

Anyway, the foray was hosted by the Missouri Mycological Society , or MOMS for short. I had recently had some email conversations with them about starting a Mid-MO chapter so I figured I had better check them out so I could see what they were like.

A better bunch of people you will not find. When I got there I was greeted warmly and with fine food and drink. Speaking of food and drink, I don't think I have ever feasted better on a camping trip in my life. From venison burgers to chicken of the woods goulash, I quickly realized how these people kept up the energy to go trapsing around mile after mile all day long, bringing back all sorts of fabulous fungi, but more on that later.

As I set up my tent, thinking of the woods, a fellow hunter came back after a ten minute scout in the woods right around camp with a basket full. There were many specimen in there but my eyes first noticed the beautiful clean yellow chanterelles in one side and next to them a larger pile of black trumpets.

Never having found a fresh black trumpet, the patches I found last year had only dried up mushrooms, I was instantly consumed and finished setting up the tent as fast as possible so I could hit the woods.

There was a beautiful group of chanterelles growing right at the trailhead across from camp, which is always a good sign. I spread out with a few others and we quickly got separated as we begin to focus on what was on the forest floor and less on each other. For the first hour, I could not find my own patch. Everyone else I saw had a good mess of them, but I had only a handful. After some time I realized my mistake as I stumbled across my first patch, which in this case seemed to be growing at the bottom of the sloping woods. I was working mainly up and across the top, like I would for yellow chants which explains my lack of them.

Realizing my mistake I backtracked and quickly picked a pound or so. What a marvelous smell they had. It was very fruity like common chants but much stronger and more pronounced. It was a sweet smell to my nose. And soon back in camp, I was eating some prepared by Shannon, the organizer and host for this foray. If anyone of you has read 100 Edible Mushrooms you may recognize his name from the section on eating pickled stinkhorn eggs. Luckily, I did not get to try any stinkhorn eggs, but the wild mushroom medley with broccoli was delicious.

When I wasn't picking, I did manage to take a few photos.

First, here is a common yellow chanterelle. I didn't see any smooth ones yet, which is what I usually pick but these were everywhere.

Here is a photo showing the underside . Notice the ridges instead of gills on the underside. I mainly picked the ones growing out of moss because they were especially clean as you can tell from this one.

These brightly colored chants are cinnabars. They were everywhere, which is good because you would need a lot of them to make a meal. The caps are usually the size of a dime. They do not add much flavor, but they sure do add a lot of color to chanterelle dishes.

And here is a cluster of black trumpets. When you see this look around because, like morels, there are always more to be found. Unlike morels, there is lots more to be found. I picked a full lunch sack sitting in one spot for ten minutes and not moving an inch. They can fruit in quite an abundance if conditions are right and boy were they right.

Here is the same cluster from another angle. I tended to find them near moss, but let me stress the word tended. Being, in my humble opinion, one of the hardest mushrooms to see, I often first find them by looking for black in patches of moss. But I don't really think they have any true association with moss, as I found huge patches with no moss anywhere. They did however tend to grow around oak trees.

Here is a cluster that was no where near moss. Notice how the tips are starting to dry. They dry out fast and don't stay fresh long, even in moist conditions, but they fruit constantly so you can find fresh clusters throughout the season. You can see some dried up ones in the background of these photos.

This was a special find. Have you ever seen a blue mushroom? Well now you have and can you believe it is edible. Well, it is and it is mighty tasty. You cannot mistake indigo lactarius for another mushroom so it is a great one for beginners.

The gills are completely blue and when cut bleed a blue milk, giving it the common name blue milky. It is quite tasty and for a special treat for the kids slice it up and cook it in a pan with some eggs for breakfast. Even if your kids won't try the mushroom, they'll be sure to love the green eggs. Now if only I could find some green ham...

All in all it was a great weekend and I learned an awful lot from the MOMS folks. But I will save that for future post on the benefits of a foray.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

After the Morels…

Jim left this comment earlier today on a post from last year about chicken of the woods:

hi, i just wanted to see what was up next and i stumbled across your site. we found about 15 pounds of yellows and greys this year, in chicago's southwest suburbs, mild compared to some people we know, one of which found a verified 115 pounds of them in about 4 days! I'd post a photo aof a nice large cluster of five that i found. Anyway, I'm wondering whats next? Chanterelle etc? I didn't think sheepshead we're until fall. (reddening lepiotia is coming up soon i know) I saw and appreciate your recipie on chicken mushroom and wil try them again. I have cooked them 3 different ways so far, always very woody in texture, almost unchewable lol. taste good though, kinda like mushroom gum :) happy hunting, jim

Well, Jim, I have not been able to find all of the edible mushrooms that grow in Missouri, but I can give you a good general idea of some of the more common and easily identifiable ones. I have never tried reddening lepiotia, though I have seen them. How do they taste?

But before I go on to talk about the other edibles, let me address you texture problems with the chicken of the woods. Being a polypore, it gets very tough with age, so when I find one, I only cut young specimens or the outer edge of older ones. Usually just the first one or two inches, because it is the most tender. Try those harvesting tips next time you find one and see if it improves the texture.

Now back to the matter at hand. Here is a general run down of some common and easily identifiable edible mushrooms in Mid-MO along with some general times for when they flush:

  • Oyster Mushrooms – Can be found anytime of the year after a few days of rain. I have even found them in the dead of winter when it only gets above freezng for a few hours each day. I usually find mine on dead elm or willow trees, but they grow on many others as well. It is a saprobe, meaning that it gets its food from dead organic matter, so it is always found on dead trees/wood. It can be a frustrating find because often clusters grow way up high and well out of reach. I have known hunters to take telescoping tree trimmers out in the woods when they find a tree with some nice high clusters.
  • Black Trumpets – or black chanterelles, can be one of the hardest edible mushrooms to spot. Found from June through August, trumpets blend in so well, that one is usually first spotted growing out of moss where it stands out in contrast to the deep green carpet. Even then they can be hard to spot, but once you do, do not move. Like morels, they grow in patches and you’ll usually find yourself surrounded by many clusters once you start looking closely. They have a very rich flavor that is greatly enhanced by drying them. Use them sparingly because a little trumpet goes a long way.
  • Chanterelles – like black trumpets, chants can be found from June through the fall. I have found them as late as the first two weeks of October. There are many forms of chanterelles but I have only found three so far.
    • The most abundant is the smooth chanterelle. This orange beauty grows in large patches usually near oak trees in the Missouri hardwoods. They fruit abundantly when moisture is good and are one of the tastiest edible in my own humble opinion. More than any other chanterelle, they really have a nice apricot smell to them. A full bag smell very fruity. When they come up, try and get out and pick them as fast as you can, because the maggots really like them and late in the season it can be hard to find any bug free ones for the table. These are easy to identify because they have no gills on the underside. As the name implies it is very smooth with only a feint impression of the ridges.
    • Nex,t is the common yellow chanterelle. I often find these along small creeks and along the trails at local parks. This one can be found at the same time as the smooth chant. It has true ridges which run down the stem and are distinctive from gills because they do not easily detach from the cap. Once again the apricot smell is a good give away. It also grows in patches though they tend to be smaller. With lots of rain they can be a pain to clean as dirt that is splashed on them becomes embedded as they grow.
    • Last, is the cinnabar. This red little devil is a real treat to find and quite a beuty to behold. Although its small size usually does not lend itself to pounds and pounds, when you find enough of them to eat, I highly recommend trying them. They may be the best tasting chant, maybe. I often mix together all three chanterelles when cooking, the coral pinkish red, yellow and orange can really light up a dish and provide rich color along with flavor. There are many other varieties of chants that grow in Missouri, but I have yet to find them.
  • Puffballs – these are pretty common in Missouri and come in many forms but the ones that most people eat are the giant puffballs and the pear-shaped puffball. Both can be quite large so you may only need one or two for a meal. If you have ever come across a soccer ball sized one in the woods like I have you will know what I mean. Always cut your puffballs in half to make sure they are good to eat. They need to be all white flesh and show no black or dark spots. Also, they should not show any small mushrooms like the one pictured here:
    This is a amanita which emerges from an egg-like sac or volva. Amanitas contain some of the most deadly mushrooms found in North America, so if you cut into a puffball and see this, DO NOT EAT IT.

  • Chicken of the woods – this shelf fungus found throughout the summer and early fall is easy to recognize by its blazing orange color. It grows on wood, both living and dead, but can grow on decaying wood or roots underground giving it the impression of growing from the soil. Two varieties can be found in Missouri, one with white pores and one with yellow pores. The yellow pored variety seems to be harder to find, but there is no noticeable difference in taste between the two. As I said earlier, what effects taste and texture is the age. The younger, the fresher the better. On older specimens only harvest the fresh outer edges.
  • Shaggy Manes - I have only found a few of these and never enough to eat, so I do not know how they taste. But I know many hunters, especially those up north in Michigan, swear by them. Their shaggy appearance is unmistakable and makes it an easy mushroom for the kiddos to search out on family outings. Shaggies need to be eaten or prepared for storage almost immediately after picking. They begin to break down very quickly and if you are slow to cook them, you'll return to find only a bag of black goo.
  • Hen of the woods – or the Maitake mushroom as it is known in Japan is also called the dancing mushroom, perhaps because of the little dance one does when you find a 3 to 4 pound specimen. These tasty frond-like fungus are also sought after for their medicinal benefits and have been used to prevent and treat cancer and other diseases for centuries. They grow at the base of trees (usually oaks) and appear year after year. So once you find some good hen trees be sure to visit them every year for continued harvests.

Let me say a few words of caution before trying new wild edibles. As with anything some people have adverse allergic reactions to mushrooms, especially the chicken of the woods. So whenever you first try these only cook and make a little bit, say enough for a few bites. Eat this then if all is well, try a bit more the next day, working your way up to a full helping on the third day. As with anything never eat too many mushrooms. Too many of any mushroom, even morels, can make you sick. Also, do not drink alcohol while tasting wild mushrooms. I am not sure why, but even a single beer can cause some distress when combined with certain types of fungi. Last, but most important is the age old rule, “When in doubt, throw it out.” If you are not 100% confident in your identification, do not eat it. Follow these rules and you should do ok.

I would still like to hold a small foray soon but I am waiting until I see signs of the summer edibles out. There are a lot of mushrooms up and about and I have been out hunting down a few non-edibles for the camera with another local mycophile. As I am able to identify some of these, I will post them. They may not be edible but they sure are pretty and very interesting.

Good luck and keep hitting the woods. Let me know if you find anything. There should be some chants and other summer mushrooms showing up soon in the southern parts of the state.

Happy hunting.

Friday, May 23, 2008

No More Morels or Some Tips on Identifying Other Edible Mushrooms

Now that morel season has come to a close. It is time a good time to start learning about some other easy to identify edible wild mushrooms that you can hunt year round. Beyond the morel provides an overview of a few of these.

For those who have never hunted any of the other wild mushrooms, I suggest you learn to identify the deadly ones first. Although many mushrooms are poisonous, most just make you sick. However there are a few that are extremely toxic ones. Only a small bite of a galerina or a destroying angel can be enough to kill you. There have been many deaths attributed to eating poisonous mushrooms, but the ones below have been the most lethal and caused numerous deaths among both novice hunters and age-old pros. I cannot stress enough the old mushroom hunters adage "when in doubt, throw it out." There are old hunters and there are bold hunters, but there are no old and bold hunters. The most common deadly mushrooms found in our area that you should know are:
  1. Deadly Galerina (Galerina autumnalis)
  2. Destroying Angel (Amanita bisporigera)
  3. Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)
  4. The Jack O'Lantern (Omphalotus illudens)

Once you have memorized the traits of the deadly ones you can move on to the good ones. I recommend starting out with ones that have no poisonous look a-likes and do not require more extensive identification techniques such as spore printing and staining. Here is a list of ones to start with:
  1. Black Trumpet (Craterellus cornucopioides)
  2. Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)
  3. Hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa)
  4. Hedgehog or Sweet tooth (hydnum repandum)
  5. Lion's mane or Bearded tooth (my favorite is Hericium erinaceus)
  6. Indigo Milky (Lactarius indigo)
There are many others but they have some look-a-likes and so I will wait to talk about them. Do a little research and then after the next raining spell hit the hardwoods and you might be surprised at the abundance of wild mushrooms that are available throughout the summer.

If you would really like to learn more about mushroom identification proper, then I suggest you consider joining the Missouri Mycological Society (MoMs). They have an upcoming foray June 20-22 at Ha Ha Tonka State Park in south central MO. I am currently planning to attend. I am by no means a mycologists, so it is nice to go on forays and learn from those who are more professionally trained and those "so-called" amateurs who have been hunting for 30-50 years. The wisdom they share can be priceless. MoMs often holds forays in the eastern part of the state so this is a great opportunity to stay close and hunt with them in our own backyard.

Speaking of opportunities, MoMs is considering starting a central Missouri chapter, meaning there would be more opportunities for organized local forays around Mid-MO. I know a few of you have contacted me about hunting in the summer and fall. If you would be interested in joining a Mid-MO mushroom group, please let me know. If 5 to 10 people contact me, I would be more than happy to work with MoMs to set it up and organize some more structured forays in our area. Membership in MoMs is very reasonable ($15 annual dues) and the benefits and knowledge you can get are well worth the investment. I have met a few of the people and they are great. I have yet to make it to an event, but I hear the food cannot be missed. So, if this sounds like it might be for you, let me know.

With the rain last night and more predicted for this afternoon, I might just hit the woods this holiday weekend to see if there are any early black trumpets or chanterelles about. A lot of summer and fall mushrooms have also been reported to have overwintered and already been found. I myself came across some fresh small hericiums a few weeks ago and I have seen reports of some nice chicken of the woods already being found across the state. Usually I don't find these until June, but with such an exceptional spring for mushrooms there is no telling what may have popped up already. If anyone thinks they may be up for a hunt, let me know. I will probably be going out sometime on Sunday or Monday.

Happy hunting.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Storing your harvest for the rest of the year...

I posted this last year at the end of the season but for those who have missed it, here are the ways that I store my morels so I can eat them throughout the year. In case you hit the motherlode in the next few days here are some good tips to follow.

Drying morels

Whether you use an actual food dehydrator or just a heated room, like me, drying is one of the best ways to preserve your morels. Drying morels really concentrates the flavor and if dried properly they can last 3-5 years in storage. I dry mine simply by laying them out on old food dehydrator trays in a small room with baseboard heating that I can keep at a constant 95 degrees. Usually takes 2 days until they are completely dry. I don't turn them or rotate trays or anything and have never had bad results. Although simple a few things can go wrong but if you take some simple steps you can ensure success.

First, never wash or soak any morels you plan to dry. The dirt, bugs and gunk usually falls off once dried or you can rinse them thoroughly once rehydrated. If you soak the morels and then try to dry them often times you'll come back to find that they have turned somewhat translucent and are not good when rehydrated. I tend to dry smaller mushrooms usually ones found earlier in the year while still in their grey state. They make excellent soups, sauces, stocks and stews.

Second, never rush the drying process. I don't know how many times I have heard people say they dried a nice batch of morels and stored them only to come back and find a gnarly threadlike mess of mold and other fungi had destroyed their hard work. It even happened to me a few times with other types of mushrooms. So, always make sure that they are completely dry before packing them away for storage. All it takes is one partially dried mushroom to spoil a batch.

Which leads me to my final tip, always store your dried batch in airtight (and lightproof if possible) containers in the freezer. Air, light, and heat are the three things that will break down dried mushrooms. I store mine in dark mason jars. The jars hold up well against freezer burn and do not allow the mushrooms to get crushed like freezer bags (though those work just fine). I have stored morels for up to five years this way and the ones that were five years old tasted the same as the ones I dried only the year before. So if you have a bumper crop this is a good way to make sure you have some in future years when the pickings are more lean.

Flash fry and freeze

Drying is good, but if you are like me and what you really crave during the year is the taste of nice fresh fried ones, then drying just won't cut it. Once rehydrated and fried dried morels are chewy and lose that meaty consistency. But do not fret, there is a great way to prepare and store morels that not only makes them accessible all year, but very easy to enjoy. Here is what you do.

Simply clean, cut and prepare your morels like you would normally. This method works best when using a light coating, so if you usually batter your morels or dip them in egg/cookie crumbs it may be more difficult. I just clean mine, roll them in some seasoned flour and fry them up in butter. This method works very well for that.

Anyway, once you have them ready to go, simply fry them up like you normally would except only saute them for about 3 minutes on each side. After that remove them from the pan and place them on cookie sheets lined with wax paper. Be sure that they are not touching. Once the sheet is full of partially fried morels, pop it in the freezer and remove it after an hour or so. You can now peel off the individually frozen morels and store them in freezer bags. When you want some, you just take the amount you want and throw them right in a pan of hot butter and finish cooking them - instant gratification.

At the start of this season, I fried up what I had left over from last year along with some fresh ones and I had a real heard time guessing which was which in a blind taste test. If kept sealed properly they usually last about a year before freezer burn starts to set in, but most often they are long gone before then.

A second flush?

I have seen many reports by several hunters around the area finding fresh small ones. Camoshroomer was kind enough to send me this photo of some he found last Friday.

Those tiny ones in the middle make me think that perhaps some patches have indeed flushed again and sent up new mushrooms. I know I said that this usually doesn't happen, but this year isn't the usual season, it is ideal. With lots of rain, with cool temps with and only a handful of days above 75, it seems the season might hang on quite a bit longer. Get back out there, if you have not had your fill, there are still plenty to be found even some new ones, but be prepared to search among the undergrowth and check yourself for ticks. These late season hassles are well worth the effort when you come back with a nice mess of big yellows.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Taking a break...

I was out camping and hunting other things (not mushrooms) all weekend. I did happen to come across a few old and wise morels in my travels. They are still out there and worth hunting if your willing to really look, but with all the hunters that have picked the best patches and with the undergrowth now at least two feet tall, it often takes just blind luck to stumble upon some. But if you happen across a patch now even a small one, they should be truly big and worthy of the pan.

I remember back in the early 1990's when I took a break from studying and came across patches upon patches of big yellows in the middle of Rock Bridge State Park. My brother and I picked our shirts full and came back the next day with friends who all filled their sacks. This has been one of those seasons, so even though it is winding down, don't fret. If you didn't get your fill keep on hiking to deeper parts of the woods. You never know what you'll find.

My posts will be fewer (more like twice a week) now that morel season is winding down. But if you are interested in hunting the other easily recognizable edible mushrooms out there, let me know. I was thinking of maybe having a few summer forays if the weather is favorable. Black trumpets usually start up in June and they are mighty tasty, though some say they are one of the hardest mushrooms to spot. If you think you are up for the challenge.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Do mushrooms continue to pop?

This question was asked by an anonymous reader and it is one I am asked often, so I figured I would just reply in a post. It is such a simple question, however the answer is of much debate among both scientists and hunters alike. Just ask any two and you are sure to get a different opinion. But from my own research on the commercial growing of morels and from my own experiences hunting, here is my thoughts on the matter.

First let me differentiate a between the words flush and pop. When I say flush, I mean when the sclerotia first forms mushrooms. Personally, I believe that morels only flush once in the same spot. I think, in any one spot, the morels all generally form within the first few days of the season and then they have varying growth spurts depending on soil conditions and exposure to the elements (shade, sun, etc.).

This explains why you can walk a patch one day find some and return the next and find more. The ones on the second day were there the day before, they were just still small and hidden under the leaves so you didn't see them.

Mushrooms can grow quite fast, and in my own experience growth is related to the amount of moisture in the ground and the air temperature, with more emphasis on air temps. Temps above 70 will increase growth. I have seen mushrooms that were only an inch grow to nearly 4 inches in less than 24 hours in 80 degree weather. This sudden growth certainly does give the impression that the mushrooms pop up seemingly out of nowhere.

So, to answer your question, morels only flush once in a spot, but they continue to pop up throughout the season giving the impression that new mushrooms are forming when in fact the popping is only small mushrooms that were already there that grew.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Morels in May?

OK, so it isn't quite May yet, but it's only a few hours away. It has been a long time since I've hunted morels in May. In past years, the Missouri heat would pick up at the end of April sending soil temps too high for more flushes. The hot weather would also contribute to the mold and rot that start attacking morels late in the season. But this year seems different, more like the six week long seasons when I was a in high school and an undergrad.

Speaking of school, I have been finishing up a master's thesis, so I have not been able to get out and hunt since last Saturday. But I turned in my final draft today and just needed some stress relief, so I left work an hour early to hit the woods. I had my bike loaded up so I could save some time and bike out a ways from where other hunters on foot had already been searching.

I got to a likely spot and went to hide my bike behind some bushes when I looked down and saw a nice pair. It didn't take long before I was getting out a second sack. I hunt with small bags so I don't squash the mushrooms by placing too many on top. Don't get me started on the myths of mesh bags, but in my opinion they have a tendency to shred the mushrooms. Plastic is alright for rainy days, but DO NOT store morels in plastic bags as the bags trap a gas that makes the mushrooms break down and rot. So I prefer paper. I find the small paper freeze bags that grocery stores use for ice cream are perfect. Not too big and extra thick paper to resist tears from stray branches and thorns. Here are a few photos from the ones today.

Here is a seven inch yellow. It is showing a few signs of age but was still fresh and meaty.
Do you see the one lurking in the background?

Here is the lurker. He was attempting to hide under a few leaves, but it is hard to hide when you're larger than a coke can.

How many?

The morel triangle. There is a little elm sapling in the middle, coincidence?

I left a few that were dried up and rotting, but many that I found were still very fresh despite the recent dry spell. The soil was very moist still so that must be helping them stay fresh.

The itch weed is getting tall, as seen behind this perfect specimen. I hate that stuff.

The bottoms are about over but the hills are still hiding a few and with more cool wet weather on the way, it may be worth hunting for the next week maybe even two.

I'll be camping near Jeff city this weekend and I think things may be over there so I am not expecting to do any hunting. It looks like I won't be able to get back out again until next Monday. I do hope the weather holds off the heat. There is a lot of woods that still need to be walked. Be sure to get out there and get them before they are gone.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Finally a Half Free

I was only able to get out mushroom hunting yesterday. Things are starting to wind down here but there are still plenty to be had. Found 100 on Saturday in about 3 hours.

Here is a nice cluster I found near the base of an uprooted cottonwood.
No others were around, just this lucky patch of seven.

Another angle

Like I said, they are getting big. Another week and and this one will be as big as the bottle, I have found them that big before and the cold weather will keep them from rotting.

This one wasn't too fat, but it was tall. Cap was 4 inches and so was the stem. It had to grow a ways to poke through the thick leaves.

I was unable to go hunting today because of another hobby of mine, and had to assist in a wild cave tour at the local state park. As we pulled into the parking lot and headed for the cave, I must admit I was bit jealous when I saw a couple of people off in the distance combing the forest floor with sacks in hand. But I was content, I'm well over 1000 and have plenty dried and a good ten batches cleaned, floured, pre-sauted and frozen for good eating until next spring.

As we neared the end of our hike and headed down the steps leading down the steep, moss-draped banks into the mouth of the cavern, I paused to wait for the people in front of me to move on. I happened to look to my left and noticed there, growing on an 80 degree slope in the middle of ferns and moss, was a nice little half free. Having never seen one in the wild, I was delighted. It made me think of all the posts about people finding a heck of a lot more half frees than in a normal year. They surely are growing everywhere it seems, even at the mouth of a cave clinging to the walls. I didn't have my camera, so I'll have to go back out and see if I can find a few to photograph, but it really made my day to check that little bugger off my list.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

So Many Mushrooms, So Little Time

I didn't get time to do much hunting yesterday but I did get out to a spot in town at lunch and found five 2" to 3" yellows, nice and fresh. Talked to some hunters returning from the woods and they had done well but nothing too big. So the hills are starting to produce. The bottoms are about done. Getting really big there and easy pickings.

Went out with a buddy and found 150 today in two hours. Large yellows and greys some the size of coke cans. I split them with my buddy and when I got home mine weighed 2 1/2 pounds so I can only assume we got about 5 pounds together. It was another good day, especially since I had to work and could only hunt for a few hours.

I only took a few photos because most were getting big and yellowing, and although very tasty , they aren't really that photogenic anymore.

Here is an example of a cluster of yellows with my backpack behind them. I always hunt with a backpack so I can haul water, my camera, etc and haul out the extra full bags on days like these. There are three in this cluster if you notice the one hiding around back.

After filling our bags and since we were in the area, I figured I would check a spot that had produced some nice ones late last year, so I knew my fellows hunters tended to overlook it. I didn't expect much, anticipating that this late in the season and right on the edge of section that really gets picked early and often, we would have no luck. But, oh boy, was I surprised. We picked between 30 to 40 nice fat and meaty 4" to 6" greys. Here are a few of the beauties.

I was amazed because they were mainly right out in the open with very little cover and they were so big. I still do not know why people don't hunt this spot when they hunt trees only 50 feet away. Just shows you that you always need to check the whole area, even that last little bit because that is where these were waiting.

One final note, if you do your research on morels you'll learn that there are only two types of morels: yellows and blacks. The color variation of yellows from white to grey to yellow can vary greatly and can be due to age, environment, weather conditions, all sorts of things. No matter how they look, they are the same general type of morel. They rarely come out yellow which is why everyone reports finding greys first. If left alone greys will become nice yellows or they may keep their grey color like the ones pictured above. I didn't leave any of these because I didn't plan on returning, but I bet, if I would have left a 6 inch grey behind, I might have come back to find a 10 inch yellow in a few more days. But who has that kind of patience especially considering, in my own humble opinion, that a fellow hunter from Indiana always claims "greys are the best."