Foraging Season, Part 3: How to Prepare Wild Mushrooms
For the third and final installment of our series, Foraging Season, we’re sharing tips and tricks for preparing wild mushrooms (check out part 1 and part 2 here). October and November is the perfect time of year to get outside and seek out the wild mushrooms growing right in your backyard or local park. The temperature is chilled, the weather is damp – the ideal environment for fungi of all types to grow. Even if you’re not planning on preparing your mushrooms, foraging for mushrooms is an excellent way to get moving and experience the natural world around you. Discover how to prepare wild mushrooms below, then be sure to join the conversation in our ‘Shroom Club!
How to Prepare Wild Mushrooms
Now that you have brought home a basket full of delicious edible mushrooms, it’s time to treat yourself! Before jumping into it, it’s wise to try one new species at a time, eating only a small amount at first. Just as some people can’t eat nuts, shellfish, or other foods, allergic reactions to some mushrooms are certainly possible.
The first time you cook a mushroom, make it a one-species sautéd dish. Half the fun in mushroom cookery is experimenting, and this will give you the chance to experience your find in all its glorious essence.
Start over a low flame with some butter and keep a close eye on it so you don’t end up with burnt ‘shrooms. With that said, mushrooms are excellent assimilators, adapting to, and even enhancing, almost any culinary environment they find themselves in. Feel free to experiment, adding the mushrooms to soups, stews, casseroles, sauces, omelettes, pastas, breads, and so on. In general, a more delicately flavoured mushroom will do best with vegetables or other light dishes, while stronger-tasting mushrooms can take more highly seasoned foods. Most mycologists believe that mushrooms are more desirable and tastier unwashed. If you clean off most of the dirt in the field; at home, you can wipe them with a damp paper towel if needed.
4 Amazing Mushrooms To Start With:
Morels: The morel is probably North America’s most sought-after wild mushroom. It is also one of the easiest to identify. Morel season lasts for approximately three weeks in the spring. This short season falls at different times in different regions of the continent. They may begin as early as March in Los Angeles and North Carolina and end as late as June or July in Canada. Morels are found in the Rockies as late as August. Part of the attraction of morels is the mystery that surrounds their location. People speculate if the best spots are old apple orchards, conifer woods, swampy places, or construction sites. After all, it seems like we find them where and when they choose to appear. Morels vary in size and shape, and their colors range from pale gold to near black. But their most distinctive features are consistent: an egg-shaped-to-conical head of ridges and pits and a hollow cap and stem. The only “look-a-like” you want to familiarize yourself with as well is Gyromitra, the false morel. Once you have seen them both, however, there is no danger of mistaking one for the other again. The cap of the false morel is more brain-shaped than spongy, and it is not hollow when you cut it open. False morels are actually a celebrated mushroom in many areas of the world, including Finland. It is essential though to boil false morels twice in water before cooking to remove the poisonous compounds in them.
Boletes: Boletes are some of the most prized edible mushrooms. On a good day, they can easily be very bountiful too. With over 200 species in North America, this large family of mushrooms, Boletaceae, is easy to recognize. Boletes often resemble gilled mushrooms from the top, but when you turn them over, you will notice a spongy bottom with pores instead. Boletes grow in mycorrhizal association with the roots of many trees, and some grow under only one kind of tree such as ash or white pine. By noticing this, you can learn about both trees and mushrooms. The season for boletes is pleasingly long, often ranging from midsummer to late fall. Going back to a good spot again a few weeks later might result in another great haul. Most species of boletes that grow in North America are edible and taste great. There are some species that are unpalatable, bitter, or can cause discomfort if not properly cooked. Luckily, it’s quite easy to make an identification once you have a mushroom in your hand with pores underneath the cap.
Chanterelles: There are several choice species of chanterelles, but it is Cantharellus cibarius that is the best known and most popular. There are few sights more tantalizing than a woodland floor carpeted with scores of these vase-shaped, orange mushrooms. The chanterelle is usually presented as one of the easiest mushrooms to recognize. Still, there are a few species that resemble it; one of them is poisonous, and it does take some care to tell apart. The chanterelle is distinguished from its lookalikes by the presence of blunt ridges – they are not really gills – with forked veins running down the cap and onto the stem. As with all mushrooms, be sure before you eat! It’s funny how, so often, finding the first mushroom is hard. Once you have spotted one, all of a sudden mushrooms begin appear all around you. This is especially true for many species that like to hide under debris, like chanterelles. My mom taught me to hack this by putting on my “mushroom-eyes” and looking carefully for the first one, after which you’ll be surrounded by many.
Turkey Tail: On top of all the different edible species, it is surprisingly easy to find many medicinal mushrooms growing near you. Turkey tail being by far the most obvious one, it can often be found right outside your door – growing in the park or within city limits. Turkey tail earned its name due to the fungi’s fan shape that resembles, well, the tail of a turkey. The Latin name Trametes versicolor, meaning “of several colors” is also fitting for this mushroom that is identified by the concentric circles of varying colors. A pervasive grower, you can find it almost anywhere where there are dead or fallen hardwood trees, stumps, or branches. This quality may have been what lead to its use in traditional Chinese medicine: it has been said that ancient Taoists were astonished by how easily this rainbowed fungi grew from pine, which is considered a notoriously anti-fungal wood. They quickly concluded that a mushroom of such tenacity and strength must contain incredible medicinal properties. To be triple-certain of your identification, this six-step “Totally True Turkey Tail Test” can come handy:
Other favorite species of ours to look for:
- Chicken-of-the-woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)
- Maitake or Hen-of-the-woods (Grifola frondosa)
- Coral tooth fungus (Hericium coralloides)
- Reishi and other species of the family Ganoderma
- Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
- Shaggy mane (Coprinus comatus)
- Hedgehog mushroom (Hydnum repandum)
Now, enough reading. Time to go out! Tell the mushrooms we said hi!