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.