Black Trumpet Mushroom

Black Trumpet Mushroom

Friday, November 21, 2014

How I learn to stop worrying and love the shrooms

Destroying Angels - Beautiful but deadly
When I mention my passion for foraging edible mushrooms to the uninitiated the reactions run the gambit from enthusiastic to polite interest to complete abhorrence, ‘You take mushrooms you find in the woods and eat them??’ with the unspoken and sometimes spoken ‘Are you out of your mind?!’ 

With this last group I've found that trying to explain that most of the choice edibles are not difficult to identify doesn't convince them in the least. 

It goes something like this...
"But how do you know? How can you be sure?"
"Once you find a few chanterelles its hard to mistake them for anything else. Their only look alike is the Jack O' Lantern mushroom but..."
"Jack O'Lanterns? Are they poisonous."
"Well only mildly...They wouldn't kill you." 

This only serves to increase their mycophobia. All they hear is the uncertainty inherent in this hobby and I can see that I've lost them. 

So this time I’m going to try a different tack. I’m going to start off by showing you the deadliest mushrooms out there, what they look like, and what they can do to you.

The two mushrooms responsible for the great majority of fatal poisoning in North America are the Destroying Angel and Death Cap. Both of these mushrooms have an extremely toxic enzyme that, once ingested, will attack and break down your liver and kidney functions and lead to a bad case of well, death. Even will all modern medicine can do only 50% of the people poisoned by Destroying Angel survive.

Here’s a fascinating survivors story that occurred right here in Ithaca…

Terrified yet?

Well you shouldn't be and here’s why…Take a look at the photos. Note the obvious similarities. They're both white and gilled, right? Now here’s a simple truism that will keep you alive for years of mushroom foraging: Nobody but nobody should ever collect and eat a white gilled mushroom! Sure there are a few experts out there who know some edible lookalikes but even these people will do careful analysis including spore prints. Furthermore, there’s no reason to even be tempted because there are no choice edibles that look remotely like these so why would you bother? 

Now to be sure, I'm not advocating going out there and indiscriminately eating any non-white mushroom. There are a whole host of mushrooms out there that will give you a bad belly ache and even worse.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Maitakes make a late but welcome appearance...

Could it be that after a historic chanterelle season there was going to be a maitake bust?? Say it ain't so...

Ok, it ain't so. I finally found my first Hen October 5th and have found enough since then to put my mind at ease. 

Sure after all the rain this summer we could have had a really amazing maitake year with just one September downpour. But it never happened...September rains were down 40%. October didn't exactly bring a monsoon but I guess there was enough consistent small amounts to finally get things started. I've found 2 fairly large Hens and a few medium sized ones so far so I'm satisfied. 

In the last few days we've finally had some real rain but it might be too late because its also turned cold, the last nights have been in the mid-30s. I've seen very few mushrooms of any kind in spite of the precip. This weekend's foraging only brought in a small amount of Oyster mushrooms and nothing more. 

There's a slight warming trend ahead. I have a feeling it will be the last chance for Hen of the Woods and several other choice edibles like Lion's Mane and Hedgehogs. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blewits have a mind of their own...

One thing about being a dog owner is that you find yourself walking in forests even when you have no real hope of finding any mushrooms. And so it was that Fred and I were out in the woods yesterday, after 8 days of no rain, getting our walk in and I spotted these fairly fresh light purple mushrooms. 'Corts' I assumed, but I grabbed one to do spore print (something you always want to do when ID'ing blewits) and sure enough they were blewits.

Not much of a haul but I was amazed that anything was fruiting. September was already dry and we just went through the driest period. Just goes to show you that some mushrooms have their own timetable. I guess the good early rains were enough for these blewits.

This is decidedly NOT the case for my beloved maitakes. Its October 1st and I've found zero maitakes. At this point we need an inch or more of rain to get things started and there's nothing like that in the forecast. Ah well...Last year I found my last one on Oct. 23rd so there's still hope.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Big Three

Golden and Smooth Chanterelles with Black Trumpet. 8.2.14
From early to mid August was the peak of the 2014 gathering season and these are the mushrooms that made up 90% of my haul. Sure there was the occasional Chicken of the Woods or Oysters to be had but it was hard to get excited about gathering those when I already had a bag full of the choice edibles pictured on the left.

I'll always take Hedgehogs when I find them though, same with Lions Mane. Found my first Lions Mane yesterday, a nice reward on a day when there wasn't much else to be seen. But a lovely walk in the woods was had as always.

Sadly those heydays are over. The rains petered out in late August just like last year and I'm getting anxious about the effect this will have on the Maitake season. For now I think its safe to say that we're near the end of our 2nd epic Chanterelle season in a row. If anything I'd say this season was even better then last years because the rains were more spread out with periods of dry weather between so the chanties were less likely to get porous and waterlogged. I have several bags of sautéed chanties zipped locked in the freezer along with 3 bags of fresh ones in the fridge I still haven't found the time to deal with.

Chanterelles lookalike...

Not Chanterelles!
July 20th.

Oh my the rain just keeps coming. If I didn't have to work I'd have several pounds of golden Chanterelles by now. Hopefully this weekend I can make up for some lost time.

Chanterelles are some of the easiest mushrooms to spot and identify HOWEVER there are some lookalikes you should be aware of. The most notorious of which is the Jack O'Lantern mushroom pictured left.

The color and the gills might fool you a little. Also they have a sweet odor that you might mistake for the lovely scent of true chanties. But look at how they're growing - all in a clump with the stems all joined at the base. You'll never see a patch of chanterelles like this. They also have a more uniform deep orange color then the yellow to orange color of chanties.

If you're reading this with a growing sense of anxiety and an increasingly uncomfortable feeling in your stomach fear not, you won't die. You'll be in for a bad several hours but it'll pass. Just remember to keep yourself hydrated.

Edibility aside, Jack O' Lanterns have one very cool feature. They're bioluminescent. If you find a good patch come back at night, let your eyes completely adjust to the dark and you'll see an eerie glow coming from the underside of the mushrooms.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Great Start for 2014

The rain has been in a consistent weekly pattern lately and the golden chanterelles they are a bloomin'. Found this interesting one today with three stems fused together. Normally I always cut the mushroom at its base to preserve the mycelium (think of mycelium as mushroom roots) but I made an exception for this one.

One big benefit of the weekly rain, dry, rain pattern is that the stems are mostly solid and firm. Last year's heavy rain would often over saturate the chanties and make the center part spongy and porous.

The Lazy Man's Guide to Chanterelle Hunting - A friend and I had an interesting outing last week. We drove out to a nearby state forest and foraged from the comfort of my car. As I drove slowly down the dirt roads he looked one way I looked the other and we kept our eyes pealed for the telltale bright orange color of chanterelle caps. In this way we covered a lot of ground and found 4 or 5 patches.

Its worth noting that we always found the patches from 10 to 40 feet from the road. Further exploration into the forest yielded next to nothing. I've found this to be generally true with Chanterelles, they often can be found next to trails and roads. I have no idea why.

More rain is expected tomorrow. Excellent...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Its on...

Late June chanties popping through the undergrowth
Ok now the foraging seasons of 2014 begins in earnest. We've had pretty good rainfall for June, +1" above normal, but I was still a bit surprised to see these Chanterelles up before July. In years past the first ones would usually come up sometime in early July here in upstate NY, say July 4th-10th.

But when you have a dog to walk you may as well forage. So with no real expectations I went back to an early yielding patch from last year and low and behold, there they were peeping up between rocks and last years fallen leaves.

That was two days ago...Today I walked around a new area looking for more and came up with just one small chanty. But it wasn't a total loss; I came across a nice patch of Oyster mushrooms for some compensation.

I think we're one good rainfall away from an excellent start to the season. We have some rain forecast for the next few days, lets hope it includes at least one good soaking.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

For the love of Ramps

Young ramps, April 18th
Welcome to the 2014 mushroom season. May the rains be plentiful and the fungus abundant.

My total morel take this year was zero, which is only 3-4 below average so I'm not all that broken up about it. I know its different in the midwest and elsewhere but here in the Northeast morels are scarce. Ramps on the other hand...

For some reason Ramp fever had eluded me in the past. I noticed them but I was too distracted by the grand snipe, I mean morel, hunt. But this year there's a place nearby I frequently go for dog walks that's covered with them. So I pulled a few wondering what all the fuss was about. 

Well it didn't take long before I was absolutely hooked. Ramps - all of them, right down to the leaf tips - went in everything I cooked. The smell is of a freshly pulled ramp is intoxicating; the cold, moist dirt and sharp scent have captured the essence of springtime for me. The fact that they're the first fresh edible you see after the long winter months makes them even more coveted. 

Identifying: If you're looking for Ramps they're really hard to miss because in early April they're about the only green thing you'll see in the forest. If you need anything more to go on look for red stems on the young ones and a pungent garlicky smell, its hard to go wrong really. 

Gathering: Early on the roots are strong and its hard to get the bulb without digging around the plant. Later in the season you can loosen it up with a few pulls to the left and right and it'll will pop right out. The bulb will be larger too.

When: Here in upstate New York I was finding them from early April until early June, but we had a cooler start to summer and I suspect it was an especially long ramp season this year. 

Ramp pesto: Ramps including leaves if they're still fresh, olive oil, salt, walnuts (pine nuts, pecans, your choice), process to taste. Easy peasy, lasts a long time in the fridge, and tastes fantastic. 

I'm obliged to add that you should gather ramps responsibly. Take no more than 5% of a particular patch because they take years to grow back. I've heard that if you don't pull the entire bulb out they'll grow back next season but I haven't had that confirmed, anyone know?