Monday, October 25, 2010

Hens and oaks -- a tip for tracking them down

Much of my success in spring with morels is due to my knowledge of trees and what I learn each season about how the various species associated with morels are producing that year. The spring trees were fairly easy, at least to me, perhaps due to my passion for finding morels, but come summer and fall I have never paid much attention ,other than that I knew I found hens generally on oak trees.

Well that changed this year. While out meandering for hens with a fellow blog reader and hunter ( that is one of the benefit of having a blog like this, I meet great people and learn a lot from you guys). Anyway, he pointed out a few minor differences that helped me. For example, the most common red oaks have very dark, almost blackish, bark and pointed leaves. So, now when I walk through the woods, I often pay a little more attention to the darker-barked oak trees, than I do the lighter ones. However, if you do this you could be really missing out. Because several red oaks have lighter color bark but a great producers.

Recently, I noticed a trend with a certain red oak that is very easy to identify, the shingle oak. It is the only oak tree in MO that has banana shaped leaves like the ones seen here.

I noticed that although I find a majority of my hens on the more generic looking, dark barked pointed leaf red oaks, because there are a lot more of them, the shingle oaks seem to be much more susceptible to infestation by the hen of the woods mushroom (grifola frondosa).

Don't get me wrong, these trees are fairly rare among the oaks in Mid-MO, but it seems that almost one in three shingle oaks that if find has hens. For example, I found a small section of woods with about 30 some red oaks, six of which were shingle oaks and four of the six had hens. None of the red oaks were infested.

So I am thinking about this when I go to my barber, who has recently been turned on to wild mushrooms and finds hens to be just as good if not better than morels. She had found a tree while walking her dog in town. It was right on the street in a backside part of someone's lot that was overgrown with bush honeysuckle, so there was no chance of fertilizers or pesticides/herbicides. I was excited that she had found a tree, but she kept saying it wasn't on an oak. That was my clue and I said I had to take a look. I had a suspicion it was a shingle.

It was actually just around the block. As I turned the corner my eyes went to the trunks. Lots of nice dark red oaks lines the street. Looking up at the canopy though, only one was a shingle and sure enough that was the tree with several old hens and some harvested stumps.

Another observation that supports my speculation is that I find nice hens on very small shingle oak trees (trunks 10 to 12 inches across). This might suggest that they get infected at an earlier age, since I do not find hens on any other red oaks of that size (except for the Chinkapin Oak).

I mentioned my shingle oak suspicions on the Morel Hunters Board and I several others reaffirmed the relationship between shingles and hens. The I got an email from Camoshroomer this afternoon. It is his photo above of the leaves. The tree was this one.
This photo is one of several trees he found. He said, "four trees of about 15 in the yard had hens, 2 were shingle, the only shingles." That translates to 100% infection rate in that yard for shingle oaks and a 15% rate for the remaining 13 trees.

Now just because I start using numbers, don't think this is by any means scientific. I didn't do any real research to see if mycologists or biologists have documented such an associations. But, when more than one hunter says he has good hen days hunting, the very easy to ID and recognize, shingle oaks, I'd take extra note of it.

Now all this being said about the red oak family, I do have two very old white oaks trees that produce hens pretty steadily, so you can't entirely rule them out either. As with morels, when it comes to hens there are exceptions to every rule.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

More MO Maitake

Not much time to write tonight but here are a few photos from todays hunt.

Here are a few of the ones that were so fresh I had to leave them behind. Hopefully they will grow and I can pick them later this week.

One tree over from where I left behind the babies, i found this nice chicken of the woods. I prefer them a little younger than this, but knowing that I was meeting Mr. Rogers soon, who loves them, I figured I had better take it with me to pass along to someone who would enjoy it.

Here were my finds before I met up with Mr Rogers.

We walked a trail that has now come up empty twice and wasted some time. On the way back we took a trip over to a tree that was a known producer but that I had checked about 8 days ago and found zilch, and today these nice ones were there.

Didn't have much time after that but before I headed home Mr Rogers showed me a tree that he left 4 on the other day. All looked nice and healthy with no signs of drying. Mr Rogers said they had gotten about 2 to 3 times bigger in just a few days, which is promising for the ones that I left behind.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mmm, Maitake

Someone recently asked me what do you do when you find all of those hen of the woods mushroom (or grifola frondosa as Feral Boy would be sure to point out). Well, my first answer, of course, is always to preserve some, by either drying or freezing. The second answer is cook them and eat them.

Hens happen to be a very adaptable mushroom for all types of cooking so there are some great recipes, such as the soup one I provided earlier. Also, you can make fancy French things, that although they sound a little pretentious, are indeed quite delicious and very versatile.

Take for example this recipe below for a mushroom duxelle. It is quite an undertaking to simmer down 5 pounds of chopped mushrooms. It usually takes quite a few hours of work, but the reward is great because you end up with some incredible tasting pate like substance that you can use for anything from stuffing pork chops and pastries, to just eating plain on warm bread.

Mushroom Duxelle

mushrooms, finely grated through cheese wheel or food processor -- 5 pounds
scallions, finely chopped -- 2.5 cups
salt -- 1 1/2 tablespoons
butter -- 1 pound
parsley, finely chopped -- 1 cup

Preparation steps:
1. grate mushrooms
2. in a small stockpot or large saucepan, saute mushroom and scallions with salt and butter, reduce heat to medium low when thoroughly sauteed and simmer until all liquid evaporates. This could take an hour or two.
3. remove mixture from heat and mix in fresh parsley.

Chill and use for whatever. Meadow Mushrooms, Hen of the woods, and chanterelles (black trumpets) works best for this recipe, but any mushroom will do.

Final yield will be around 3 pounds. Will keep in the fridge for 2 weeks and in the freezer for 6 months.

Recipe was originally posted on the Michigan Morel Board by a friend and world-class Michigan mushroomer, Miker.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

All It takes Is One Good Tree

Although it has been dry, most polypores like the hen of the woods mushroom (grifrola frondosa) are still going like gangbusters because they get moisture from the roots and trees. I had been finding dry one earlier this week, but after Mr. Rogers, a local hunter reported finding many fresh ones on Saturday, I decided to give it another go.

I din't see much at first. Everything was really dry. However, every now and then I would see a fresh rooting polypore or rosy russula so things looked good. I was walking along ridges off a main trail and I paying attention to trees, so I quickly got off track and just as I was turning back to retrace my steps to the trail I saw this little guy.

This is the first year that I have been paying attention to the actual type of oaks, and all but one of the hens I have found have been on types of red oaks. However, this one was on a different type of tree. It was a broad leaf, heck I don't even know if it was an oak. but it sure was a nice fresh hen.

After that I looked around there a little more but seeing nothing I headed back to find the trail and continue on my intended path. I was following in the footsteps of Mr. Rogers. He said he had only walked about half of the trail and after seeing this photo of a dead tree with 8 giant hens around it, 5 of which were too old that he left them behind, I just had to see it.

I never did see that tree. I did see a few other stumps that he had left behind. And I checked every dead tree I saw, but still nothing. After a while, I was a good mile down the trail and was beginning to wonder if he had picked them all. But soon enough I came around a corner and saw this tree.

It was nice to see a bunch of hens, even if most of them were dried up.

When Mr Rogers and I walked this area back in July looking for chanties and other edibles, I had found and been carrying that grate for a bit. I sat it down next to that big oak, saying that this looked like a good hen tree. If only I had gotten there a few weeks sooner. Still I was happy because I knew where I should check next fall.

By this time I was dragging, the trial I was on goes along bluffs along a creek but it goes up and down all the time on rough and rocky terrain. However, I knew of one more large oak about 200 yards down the trail that had lost its top (a sure sign that some disease probably fungus, was working its way around). After all, hen of the woods are parasites as well as saprophytes. So, I decided to go a bit further and see if it had anything.

Boy am I glad I did.

A glorious hen tree, with seven real beauties around it. Just like in spring, during morel season, when it comes to hens, sometimes all it takes is one good tree.

Although a few were starting to yellow, like this one here.

It had clearly spored out, as you can tell by the white on the fronds and on the leaves underneath it. It was just starting to yellow along the edges, but it was very fresh. These are fine to eat, but I like to eat the fresher ones and so I dry these out for use all year long.

Here is a nice fresh one growing up amongst the plants.

Here is a close up of the freshest ones on the far side of the tree

They really are a pretty mushroom when you take a closer look.

This was my favorite view. Only after I picked them all and had three grocery sacks with around 30 pounds did I remember the arduous mile trek up and down, up and down, up and down, back to the car. Although my legs ached when I finally got home, It was well worth the trip.

Don't let the dry weather keep you from getting out. If you want some hens, get out there , walk a trail, and check those oak trees. You may surprised by what you find.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A Hen In Hand is Worth, well you know the rest.

It has been a great fall for hens so far in Mid-MO, which is good because if the arid forecast holds, it looks like the fall season will dry up almost as quickly as it began.

I went out with a few local hunters for a long stroll around a local wilderness area. I knew we'd find a few because one of the fellows with me, who is new to hen hunting, had left behind several. Being new he didn't know what was a good one and what was a bad one and having a lot of success he had fairly high standards and only took the freshest.

Myself, not having found but three or four hens the night before was happy to go back after the ones he left behind which were barely showing signs of yellowing. So we knew we would at least come home with a few. In the end we probably pulled 15 to 20 pounds finding just over 10 hens during the hunt. The one below was the freshest of the day, but not the biggest.

I learned a bit today myself, as for the first time I was with someone who knew his oaks. All of the hens we found today were on red oaks, those are the oaks with the dark bark. Although I have found ones on white oaks in the past, we did not find a one on anything but a red oak today.

There is a great little piece on fall edible mushrooms in the most recent edition of the Missouri Conservationist . Mr Rogers, who has had great luck with hens, was one of the hunters with me today. During our hunt, he pointed out that there is a great recipe for hen of the woods soup in the article. He and his wife made it and really liked it and his parents did the same. I think I may give it a shot this weekend. It sounds pretty tasty. There are several good mushroom recipes in that edition. You can read the article here. Note that the cover photo and several of the other photos in the issue are by local fungal photographer Jon Rapp, whose photos I often use in here. Way to go Jon!

The article also highlights a new book for Missouri mushroom hunters both avid and amateur alike. It is called Missouri's Wild Mushrooms. Written by Maxine Stone, former president of the Missouri Mycological Society, and one heck of a cook and fungiphile, not to mention a decent writer, the book provides the best overview of edible mushrooms in our fine state. Jon Rapp also contributed a lot of the photos. All in all, it is well worth the $14.

But I digress, getting back to the hens, it has been an odd year for me. Of the 50 or so trees that have produced hens in past years, none of them are producing. One had a small dried up hen and one only have stumps (I have yet to figure out who cut those). However, despite this lack of success with my old tried and true trees, as we were out walking I decided to check a really old tree. It had fallen over a few years back and hadn't produced a hen since 2007, but i figured since we were in the neighborhood I would take a look and see. Boy I am glad I did. This old log was right on the edge of a field. The tree had actually fallen into the field, but the hens didn't seem to care.

A straggly looking specimen on the right but a nice 8 pound beauty on the right. This was the biggest of the day for me, but in the end I probably came home with a good 12 to 15 pounds of very usable hen.

Here is an older hen but still a good one. I like to dry the older ones for using all year. You can also freeze them. Some lightly sauté each side and I know others who freeze it fresh. Seems to come out fine in both cases as long as it is a nice fresh mushroom. If it is starting to yellow a bit on the edges, in my own experience, it is better to eat fresh or dry rather than freeze them.

Work will keep me out of the woods over the next week and with the beautiful but very dry forecast, I fear that even the hens that are out there will soon dry up. All of the other mushrooms are already starting to do so, though we were able to scare up 3/4 of a pound of trumpets that had yet to succumb to the sunny days.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Trumpets galore!!! or Accepting a Challenge

Boy, if you can get out in the woods do it now. The trumpets have been going like gangbusters especially around Mid-MO. It is pretty easy to go out and get a good mess of them. Just look in mixed hard woods with lots of oaks. In my own experience they prefer more hilly terrain. Nice rolling hilly woods seem best.

And right now if you find the right areas, they are fairly easy to spot as they are growing in huge masses. Now don't get me wrong, they are still the HARDEST mushroom to spot in my opinion. One trick that many hunters use, whether they know it or not, is to look at mossy spots because there they stand out really well. This is indeed a good trick, but step lightly. Usually when you get to the moss you have already walked halfway across a patch and tromped Lord knows how many mushrooms.

Let me talk about moss for a minute. Mr. Rogers, a local hunter and I were out picking bag after bag of the yummy smelling clusters no where near any moss, when he reminded me of a sentiment that Michael Kuo had shared in his book 100 Edible Mushrooms. So, I picked my copy of of the shelf when I got home and read this.
Speaking about black trumpets, Dr. Kuo said:
"Their relationship with moss is worthy of mycological investigation in my humble amateur's opinion. I challenge you to find an in-situ photo of Cratellus cornucopiodes on the Internet or in a book that does not have moss or sphagnum in it." (p.99)

I must say I was surprised that he was basing his argument on photos in books and on the internet rather than his or other hunters' own experiences. This is something he warns not to do when identifying mushrooms, and I would argue the same thing applies when trying to generalize about them as well.

I believe this is more a matter of how expectation sets your outlook. What I mean is, if you expect to find them on moss then that is mainly where you will look, especially when they are easier to see there.

Going back to Dr. Kuo's photo argument, it seems more logical to me that they are always pictured in moss, because they stand out and are more picturesque. The green makes for nice contrast which really brings out the shape and contours of the mushrooms. Photos of trumpets taken in the camouflaging browns of the leaf litter and blacks of the loamy soil do not make the cut because they do not have the photogenic appeal of their mossy counterparts. In fact, I bet a true photographer would pass over the ones in the leaves to find that perfectly outlined specimen standing tall above a sea of mossy green.

Now don't get me wrong, I find Micheal Kuo's books and resources some of the best out there for amateurs. He is a great writer and a highly respected mycologist, and I have benefited greatly from the sharing of his insights, experiences, and knowledge. I just don't think he thought this one thing quite through and accept his challenge.

If you only hunted moss this time of the year, you would find a few, but you would miss the massive patches flourishing in the oak leaves far from any moss or sphagnum. I highly recommend that you get out there if you can and see if you can find this tasty treat. There are no poisonous look-a-like making them a pretty safe mushroom for beginners and one of the best tasting mushrooms out there. I rate them even higher than morels.

Here are a few in-situ photos of trumpets to train your eyes. Please note, especially if you are Dr.Kuo, that there is absolutely no moss in sight.

Trumpets marching uphill (click and zoom in to see the troops nearing the log)

I spent a good half hour sitting and picking here.

Oh yeah and I have seen but not picked a few young hens. Mr Rogers has already found a 9 pounder locally though I dare not say where. Hopefully more posts to come on these beauties real soon. Happy hunting.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

A Cautionary Tale

I can never stress enough the importance of being absolutely certain you have properly identified a mushroom before eating it. Whenever someone who is starting out hunting wild mushrooms for the first time asks me which mushrooms they should learn about and try to find first, I always say the poisonous ones in your area. Only by knowing what all of the known poisoners are will you ever be certain about other IDs. Here is a basic but good guide for poisonous mushrooms in Missouri.

And certainty is the top priority. This must be followed with no exceptions. I've mentioned old adages before to help folks remember such as "when in doubt throw it out" or "white on white ain't right" referring to several deadly forms of amanitas. There even the old standard, "there are old mushroom hunters and bold mushrooms hunters, but there are no old bold mushroom hunters."

However, these are just words and nothing hits home better than a good story. So here is one that happened almost literally in my own backyard (it was actually the backyard next door).

About a week ago my neighbor, who I have never really spoken to about mushrooms before, noticed some firm white buttons growing in her yard by the sidewalk. They were very fresh and smelled like the ones you see in the store and with a novices eyes, they even kind of looked like them.

She took them inside and googled "white mushroom." She read a few pages and compared pictures and since they looked a lot like the photos she saw, she figured they were ok to eat. With her dinner that night, she ate two nice sized buttons sliced up with her salad. I think but am not certain that she ate them raw. Another no-no in the mushroom world. Even if they were edible, they could have had bacteria which could have contributed to what was to follow.

About 4 hours later the symptoms hit which included very violent gastrointestinal distress. What she described was not pleasant. It was a perfect description of what Kuo refers to as Human Faucet Syndrome (basically uncontrollable movements out of both ends) as your body tries to get rid of the toxin. After a few hours of this, she eventually had her daughter call the paramedics.

I do not think that they IDed the mushroom, but based on the rapid onset of her symptoms they could rule out the more toxic varieties which usually don't show symptoms until 36 to 48 hours later. And the general course of treatment for the less deadly poisoning is to help the person get rid of what they ate, then they usually recover, which thankfully is what happened in this case.
However, do not think that just because a mushroom is only poisonous and not deadly it can't kill you. This particular mushroom has killed people before, mainly those who were really young, old, or sick. It also is known for several dog and cat deaths.

After talking with my neighbor, I asked her to let me know if she saw any more so I could try and ID them for her. She brought me these buttons a few days later. It was hard to ID these because they were so young.

I posted them on several boards and got a range of responses as to potential IDs, which goes to show how hard it is to ID something with just a few photos.

She finally brought over a large fully opened one and I immediately knew what it was, the infamous green-spored lepiota (chlorophyllum molybdites). Even experienced hunters have been tripped up by this one because it looks a lot like the parasol mushroom which is a tasty edible. The give away is the spore print which is green. Sometimes as they get older the gills turn green with the spores, but usually it is hard to tell just by looking and so a spore is necessary to be certain.

Top view

Bottom view (notice the green tinge to the gills)

I told her what she had eaten and how lucky she was that it was not something more deadly which also grows in her lawn and looks very similar in the button stage. The doctors had already warned her of these and after the ordeal, she has sworn off all mushrooms, so I don't think I need to worry about her eating anything else. Oh and did I say that she is a nurse.

It just goes to show how anyone can make an innocent mistake if they are not certain. Wild mushrooms are no thing to toy with.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Mother Patch

There is a park in town that several of us have nicknamed Chanty Park. It is a great park with large fields, several streams, and some large wooded areas. But back in one wooded draw along an intermittent spring-fed stream is a valley that is full of smooth chanterelle patches. I know at least 7 people who pick here and there is more than enough to go around.

When I was first exploring this area and saw this valley I knew there had to be something special up top on the ridge. In my experience I find patches of chants always seem to travel down washes into valleys like these so I figured there must be patches up top that had seeded all the ones at the bottom. I backtracked down the valley and walked the entire ridge not seeing any mushrooms except for a mess of aging black-staining polypores.

As I neared the ridge top at the head of the valley, I saw those familiar orange dots up ahead. They were everywhere. The patch was at least 1,000 square feet and it was loaded. A few weeks ago as the chants were just starting to really flush, I took a few photos from the middle of the patch. You will have to zoom in to see all of the orange dotting the hillside.

Down the hill

Up the hill

To the left

To the right

This is what I would call a mother patch. I believe this massive patch has been sending spores washing down the valley for years, resulting in the virtual chanterelle farm below. I shared the location of the mother patch and my hypothesis with a few fellow hunters who pick out there (they hadn't actually found it yet, because there really was no need to leave the valley when you could pick your fill there). After checking it out, they tended to agree with me.

Has anyone else found these sorts of mother patches of smooth chants? If so, leave a comment and your thoughts to how patches spread. Happy picking.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Nature's Fungal Fireworks - Chanterelles

Right now the woods are really starting to come alive with some vibrantly colored and just as tasty mushrooms. Chanterelle patches paint the forest with glorious sprays of red, yellow, and orange. They light up the forest floor much like the fireworks everyone will be enjoying this upcoming weekend.

True to their golden nature they can even give one a sense of that prospectors of old, discovering hidden veins. Stumbling on a hillside of chanterelles can bring back feelings reminiscent of the spring rush of finding morels. However, you can quickly be overwhelmed by the shear numbers you can pick, as that hillside could easily contain three, four, even ten thousand mushrooms.

So, if you are one of those feeling overwhelmed, here are a few tips that I follow to help ease the anxiety.
  1. Become a picker - accept the fact that in the summer, in Missouri at least, there is almost no competition for chanterelles or other mushrooms for that matter. Unlike morel season, where the local public spots become parking lots and every good tree has a path to it with every leaf and rock log, stick and rock disturbed, your only competition in sumer is the maggots who like to grow up in the meaty caps. And even when the chants are buggy, you can usually still pick enough to trim off good mess of clean bug-free edges to eat.

  2. Become a chooser - when you have many choice you can really move beyond picking to choosing. I generally will not pick any chanterelles unless the cap is bigger than 2 inches. This means that I mainly pick smooth chants, since they grow larger than the common ones and the cinnabars. But that is OK by me. The smooth chants come in larger patches and are much more prolific. They are meatier and I think a little tastier. Also they store a little longer when kept fresh in the fridge. I usually keep them in paper bags stored in a paper towel-lined vegetable drawer.

    One note on taste. Since I rarely pick any under 2 inches I don't pick a lot of cinnabars. I do pick some to add color to chant dishes, but I don't really eat enough of them to be a true judge. Several people recently have told me that they think the cinnabars have the most flavor (black trumpets excluded). I'll let you be the judge.

  3. Become a saver - there are many ways to preserve your bountiful catch of chanterelles. You can of course dry them. They are good reconstituted in soups and stews, but tend to be a little chewy. Also drying them doesn't seem to concentrate the flavor like it does with other mushrooms, like black trumpets and morels. I only recommend drying a few. I am experimenting with some dried batches by soaking them in brandy to make my own chanterelle-infused liquor. In another 6 months we shall see if it was successful.

    You can also cook them up a bit like you would normally and then freeze them in usable batches. I have not tried this, but it has been recommended by many hunters and it works well for morels. However the best way to preserve taste and texture is to can them. This takes a lot of time and a lot of mushrooms, however it can really pay off. One good week of hunting and canning will ensure fresh chanterelles for many years to come. I provide the canning directions I use along with more information on this old post on Preserving Chants.

That should help with the anxiety, but let me give you a few tips to make the picking easier when they are really numerous.

  • Ditch the basket...if you normally use one. It is heavy and needless. I use paper sacks instead. Start with small paper bags like you used for a sack lunch. These work well because you limit crushing because you can only stack so many in one of those lunch bags. Once full, I carry these bags in a larger grocery store paper sack, preferably ones with those nice handles. Hy-Vee is a good source for these.

  • Ditch the knife! I know people who pick and snap off the stem, but there is nothing like a nice clean cut. Chanterelles are usually barely standing there propped up by leaf litter and sticks, and often take two hands to cut to be sure you don't damage them. Using scissors instead makes the process a lot faster. You can lop off entire clusters in one quick snip. the only downside is the occasional stick that pokes up and clogs the blades.

  • DON'T ditch your discretion! Last but not least, this is most important of all. When you are home cleaning hundreds and hundreds of the suckers, please stay vigilant and check every single mushroom to make sure they are all chants. You don't know how many times I have found a lone gilled mushroom hiding out in a bag of chants. Almost indistinguishable amidst its fungal brethren and perfectly hidden, you have to be very careful. Generally these are lacarria or some russala species; however, one quick oversight could easily be your last, as all it would take is a single deadly galerina to sneak into the mix. So make sure all of them are clearly chants. I throw out anything that is even the least bit questionable just to be safe. Your mushrooms should all look like these.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Mushrooms - Boletus Atkinsonii

Every summer I try to focus on finding and identifying at least 1 or 2 new edibles and giving them a try. This year I decided that I would focus on boletes. Generally the boletes in our area are fairly safe. There are no known deadly boletes but there are still a few that can get you quite sick, so it is still good to be cautious. Now I have found and eaten a few boletes in the past. Everyone must try the Old Man of the Woods at least once (though if you do, I highly suggest trying them dry and NOT fresh), and I have had my share of easy to ID shrooms, like the easy to ID gilled-bolete.

The main reason I have waited this long is that when you get into some of the better edible boletes it can be very hard and challenging to identify them. Take for example, the bolete photographed above. Micheal Rogers found these early on in the week. He sent photos around to several experts including Tom Volk who thought it matched pretty well with Boletus Nobilissimus. Missouri Mycological Society member Jay Justice, probably the leading expert on Bolete ID, for our area suggested that they were either Boletus variipes or B. atkinsonii. So which is it?

Tom Volk has probably the most experience, having seen mushrooms across the country and around the world, and based on the cap color and description it really does align well with the noble bolete. However, there is something said for local knowledge and the noble bolete has only been found in New York . Jay who knows mushrooms of the MIdwest and Missouri knows what has been found and so his suggestion is probably a more reasonable educated guess. Lucky in this case all of these are edible, so you don't necessarily have to have a exact ID to be comfortable enjoying these. And let me tell you they are well worth it. Not bad at all fresh, but rivals the King Bolete himself, the porcini, in nutty flavor and richness when dried.

This only highlights the difficulty of merely trying to ID a bolete by only using macroscopic features, or only those features that are visible to the naked eye. Often times, you must look at the spores to be truly sure. Luckily there is a short cut that can often help you avoid purchasing and dusting off your microscope skills. Luckily, many boletes can be ID'ed by judging there chemical reactions to certain substance. There are actually three chemicals that professional and amateur mycologists use to ID boletes, however, two of them, iron salts & potassium hydroxide can be rather hard to come by for the average person. Luckily the last one is ammonia which is readily available in any grocery or household store (though get the pure form and not some lemon-scented version). Using just a few drops can often tell you what bolete you have in front of you.

So let's return back to the suspect bolete in question. I had the two options above and in my own research, I found reference to another bolete common to the Midwest (mainly Illinois) that fit the bill, boletus reticulatus .
In fact, after going out with Michael on Friday to see some of them myself,
I was pretty convinced that what he had found was indeed reticulatus because it was a perfect match. However, when I finally tested a cap with ammonia here is what I saw. The drop flashed and then turned a nice shade of magenta, which meant it was most likely boletus atkinsonii. B nobillisimus turns purple as well, but since it hasn't been found outside of NY, I am ruling it out. B reticulatus was the other one, but ammonia will either not react with the cap, or it will turn it a dull orange, which was not the case.

So do not be afraid of boletes, generally anything that doesn't bruise blue or have red or orange pores is fair game in our neck of the woods. But if you add and carry around a small dropper of ammonia in your bag, you can be more certain of which boletes you have as you experiment with tastes and flavors, so you know which ones are the best to seek out in the future.

Here are a few other pictures that Michael took of these fellows:

This one had a cap color that was more of an almost greenish tan, or a light brown with a green hue. Most of the ones I picked were this color. If you click on the photo and zoom in you can see the net-like reticulation on the stem. This is important to know because most of the choice edible boletes have this characteristic.

Going back to cap color, several of them, mainly the younger ones, like this prime button had a more yellowish tan color. I also picked a couple that had a dark brown cap, but all reacted the same with the ammonia. Also as you can clearly see the stem was white. The flesh and pores were as white as the stem and it did not bruise any color nor were there any signs of bruising around worm holes and damaged areas of flesh.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chanterelles - Up and Coming

Well as you can tell from my total lack of posts, I have been busy doing other things and have not been out hunting for fungal morsels just yet. Part of this is because of the hectic nature of my work and home life, but it is mainly because everything and the chanterelles especially, seem to be behind a little bit this season.
This certainly was the case at last weekend's foray in Ha Ha Tonka State Park. The last two year's the group had found between 150 to over 300 species, but this year we barely broke 50 and most was wood loving species which are still prevalent in dry weather.

Now I reckon things have picked up down there in the last 10 days as they have gotten a nice progression of rain, so I will probably check it out later this week.

In the meantime, many local hunters around Columbia have begun sending me reports of finding small buttons, so it will soon be on full force around Mid-MO if it isn't already. You can expect more posts and photos in the coming weeks. The photo above was taken by Michael R. of Fulton, who was out hunting today and, in addition to chanterelles, reported finding something that sounded an awful lot like a bolete that was a close relative to the King. Hopefully, I'll know more on that soon.

So if you have been waiting for chants you can start to satisfy your desires. They are small but the buttons are always the best (NO BUGS) and worth the extra effort to have them in hand.

Photo by Mycologista of Columbia