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The Hunt for Wild Mushrooms

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This article first appeared in the East End Food Cooperator in August, 2012 (I think it was August). Unfortunately I can’t find the link to the article, but you’ll get to the Coop’s website with the link above. I added the pictures below. :-)

The Hunt for Wild Mushrooms
by Melissa Sokulski

morel mushrooms, early spring

morel mushrooms, early spring

Mushrooms are an interesting entity: neither plant nor animal, fungi are their own kingdom and upon close examination actually have more in common with animals than plants. Their cell walls contain chitin, found in shells of crabs and exoskeletons of insects but absent from plants. Plants make their own food but like animals fungi digest their food with enzymes they produce. Fungi also take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide like animals, while plants do just the reverse.

Nevertheless, as a vegetarian I am comfortable eating mushrooms and wild mushrooms are a true culinary delight - a feast for the forager - if you know what you are looking for.

When my husband and I first decided to learn about wild mushrooms, we were extremely fortunate to stumble upon the amazing and generous Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club. We decided to go on one of their free weekly walks, open to members and guests. They meet at parks all over Allegheny County and beyond, there are now chapters of the club in Indiana county and Washington/Greene counties. Usually led by club mycologists and attended by experts as well as amateurs, this is a great way to learn about the fungus among us (I just had to!)

chicken mushroom

chicken mushroom

On our way to Deer Lake to meet the club one Saturday in August, my husband Dave and I promised each other that no matter what they said we would not eat any wild mushrooms. Wild mushrooms are dangerous, I proclaimed, mimicking the warnings of my herbal mentor who told me, “Native Americans didn’t even eat wild mushrooms,” (untrue) and “The number one cause of death among mycologists is mushroom poisoning!” (also not true.) But apparently a promise made is a promise broken in our household because before long we were filling our basket with golden yolk-colored chanterelles, a prized culinary mushroom.

a member of the western pa mushroom club with a basket of chanterelles, on our first mushroom walk

a member of the western pa mushroom club with a basket of chanterelles, on our first mushroom walk

One mushroom expert pointed out the false gills of the mushroom, and further explained that chanterelles grow singly from the ground unlike the poisonous (but rarely deadly) Jack O’Lantern, a common look-alike which often grows in clusters on wood. “But sometimes the wood is buried,” he warned, “like an underground root, so you have to be careful.” Another distinction is that Jack O’Lanterns are bio-luminescent, they glow in the dark. I was beginning to learn that edible or not, mushrooms are endlessly beautiful and fascinating.

We got the mushrooms home and prepared them, slicing them and noticing the apricot smell. We sauteed them (most edible wild mushrooms need to be cooked or can make you sick) and were hooked.

Filling out the application to join the club, one question asked, “How many wild mushrooms can you confidently identify?” I confidently filled in the blank with a zero. The thought of being able to identify wild mushrooms daunted me. Now I can identify over thirty, from delicious morels to the deadly Destroying Angel, both of which do indeed grow in this area.

Giant Puffball Mushrooms

Giant Puffball Mushrooms

The late summer into the fall is a great time to learn about wild mushrooms. There are a lot of beginner-friendly edible mushrooms to identify all throughout the city parks including the chicken mushroom or sulfur shelf (one of my favorites), chanterelles, giant puffball, black trumpets, lions mane or bear tooth, and the hen of the woods. The best way to learn to identify these mushrooms is by walking with experts like those in the mushroom club and attending their monthly meetings at Beechwood Farm Nature Reserve, which are also free and open to guests. Their annual foray is in September. There are walks and talks by experts, as well as a mushroom feast: dozens of dishes made with wild mushrooms by members of the mushroom club.

You can also find identification information and wild mushroom recipes on this website. Adding mushrooms to your foraging basket is as fun as it is delicious, and can be safe with care and knowledge. As I’ve heard many times from many people in the mushroom club, “There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old bold mushroom hunters.”

This article and all pictures copyright Melissa Sokulski

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Week 17: Three Kinds of Mushrooms!

CSF Newsletters
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Today is week 17 of the CSF!

In the share this week:

  • puffball mushroom *NEW
  • chanterelle mushroom *NEW
  • chicken mushroom
  • wood sorrel
  • quickweed
  • wild grape leaves

This week we have 3 kinds of edible mushrooms for you to sample: puffball, chanterelles and the chicken mushroom (which you’ve had before.)

Now that it is been raining all kinds of mushrooms are coming up!

Be sure to use caution with wild mushrooms: always cook them first, of course. But beyond that, some people have trouble digesting mushrooms, even well cooked edible ones. So if it’s your first time eating something, just eat a little at first and wait a day to make sure it doesn’t have a bad effect on you.

I would also recommend not mixing the mushrooms if it’s your first time eating any of them. Cook and sample them separately and note any effects.

We also changed up the greens this week just in case you were getting tired of purslane.

This week we have wood sorrel (aka sour grass), which is best to avoid in large quantities if you have kidney stone issues due to it’s higher content of oxalic acid. If you have no issues enjoy this green in salads or as garnish on dishes. It’s tart and delicious.

We also have quickweed, which is an abundant green right now. It has a bit of an earthy taste. You can enjoy it fresh or cooked, see what you like. Use it as you would any green, like spinach.

Finally we have more grape leaves. We tried to pick nice tender ones for you today! Cook them first before using: boil/simmer them at least 15 minutes to soften. Then they will roll nicely and become less chewy. To preserve, place in salted water (I did not cook the ones I am preserving, but you can blanche them first) and keep them in the water in the fridge.

Thanks and enjoy!!

Melissa

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Save Money and Enhance Health with Wild Foods

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Organic greens like spinach or kale can be pricey at the grocery store or farmers market. Add a pint of fresh berries and an omega 3 supplement like flax or fish oil, and your grocery bill rises further still. Throw in some fresh tropical fruit, organic nuts and wild mushrooms and it’s difficult to afford to eat healthy whole foods these days. Yet all of these foods are available at your doorstep for free, even if you live in the city.

Wild foods are abundant all around us now, in summer and fall. Wild greens like lambs quarters (Chenopodium alba) can be substituted for spinach in any recipe or salad, eaten cooked or raw. This green has a mild flavor all season, never turning bitter like dandelion greens. It is high in protein and has more calcium than kale. A good field guide such as Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods by Thomas Elias and Peter Dykeman, can help with positive identification.

Lambs Quarters

Lambs Quarters

Growing through the cracks of city sidewalks and popping up in empty planters is another green which is in abundance now: purslane (Portulaca oleracea). This succulent green has appreciable amounts of omega 3
fatty acid, which is the same beneficial oil as in fish and flax oil supplements. Add wild purslane to a salad or smoothie daily to get your dose of omega threes.

Wild Purslane

Purslane

In many places of the country blackberry brambles are considered an invasive weed. Right now their thorny branches are covered with large juicy berries. American Paw paw trees contain tropical fruit native to this country,
and grow as far north as Michigan, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. These fruits look like champagne mangoes yet their flesh tastes like banana custard and is closely related to the cherimoya.

Paw Paw Tree and Fruit

Paw Paw Tree and Fruit

In the midwest and northeast black walnuts and hickory nuts are getting ready to fall from the trees in great abundance. These can be gathered, hulled and dried to be cracked and eaten year round. All across the country
acorns are falling from oak trees yet few people realize that acorns are edible. Many of them are bitter from the high concentration of tanins, but these can be easily boiled away. Crack the shell to remove the acorn meat, then boil, changing the water as it turns brown until it no longer does. The nuts can be dried in the oven and ground into flour as the Native Americans did. If one has access to a creek or spring, simply tie the acorns in a cloth and set in the running water. In a day or two the bitter tanins will have washed away and the nuts can then be dried in a dehydrator.

Acorns in White Oak Tree

Acorns in White Oak Tree


While gathering acorns check the base of the oak tree for a wild mushroom called Hen of the Woods. This delicious edible mushroom is sold in specialty stores. It is also known by its Japanese name Maitake and is used to treat cancer and enhance health. Tea and supplement from this mushroom is also sold at stores. Growing on the ground are the yellow chanterelle mushrooms, another expensive find at specialty stores. These mushrooms are distinguished from the poisonous Jack O’Lantern because chanterelle grow singly from the ground and found in larger groups, while the Jack O’Lantern grows in clusters on wood. Before eating any wild mushroom, identification should be verified in person rather than from a field guide. Check the North American Mycological Society for a mushroom group near you. If you are in Western Pennsylvania, definitely check out The Western PA Mushroom Club.
Chanterelle mushroom growing in grassy lawn

Chanterelle mushroom growing in grassy lawn


This is only a sampling of the delicious healthy food that grows wild all around. Wild food is high in nutrition and cannot be priced out of reach or otherwise restricted. It is worthwhile to learn to identify these and other plants to take control of our budgets and health.

Be Well!

Melissa Sokulski, Acupuncturist, Herbalist
Food Under Foot
Birch Center for Health

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The very tasty chanterelle

General Posts, Identification, Look-Alikes, Poisonous or Toxic, Recipes
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the chanterelle

the chanterelle

On our first hike with the Western PA Mushroom Club we found many many mushrooms, including edible chanterelles!

a basket full of chanterelles

a basket full of chanterelles

Chanterelles are delicious mushrooms that in the east grow in the summertime (in the west,  they are a fall/winter mushroom.)

Chanterelles are trumpet-shaped and have ridges or folds instead of gills (a gilled look-alike is the Jack O’Lantern, which is indigestible to us and will make people very sick.) The smooth chanterelle barely have ridges at all and instead have smooth sides.

the orange mushrooms are the poisonous Jack O'Lanterns

both plates of orange mushrooms are the poisonous Jack O

Chanterelle smell vaguely of apricots. They also grow alone or possibly in twos or threes, but never in a whole bunch, as the Jack O’Lanterns often do. The Jack O’Lanterns (which glow in the dark) grow from dead wood (however this can be tricky, as they could be growing from a dead root underground) whereas the chanterelles grow from the soil (but can be right next to dead wood). They both grow in the woods, look for the egg-yolk colored chanterelles under the dead leaves lying on the ground. Finally, according to the book Mushrooms Demystified (amazon link), Jack O’Lanterns will never have white flesh.

It is often recommended to dry-saute the chanterelle first to let it release the water, then adding butter and a small amount of shallot (so as not to overwhelm the delicate taste of the chanterelle.)

We dry-fried once, but the other time we sauteed it in olive oil (it released it’s water fine), added some salt and garlic, and added back a bit of water as it cooked so the pan did not dry out. Delicious!

Chanterelles sauteed it in olive oil with some salt and garlic.

Chanterelles sauteed it in olive oil with some salt and garlic.

Chanterelles (like many wild mushrooms) need to be cooked at least 15 minutes to detoxify the mushroom, making it safe and digestible.

We learned not to refrigerate extra chanterelles – keep them in paper bags outside of refrigeration and they should last a couple weeks. When refrigerated, they will turn dark and slimy, releasing water into the bag.

We dehydrated chanterelles for future use. We sliced them thinly and laid them on the dehydrator tray (or you can put them in the oven at a low temperature.) We were told they reconstitute nicely.

dehydrated chanterelles on a dehydrator tray

dehydrated chanterelles on a dehydrator tray

Finally, we’ve heard you can preserve them in whiskey or scotch, soaking them in a jar with the alcohol for a month or so, then get rid of the chanterelle and the whiskey will become chanterelle-flavored. You can do this in vodka or wine as well, and then can add to cooking to infuse the dish with a chanterelle flavor.

Here is a recipe for the chanterelle omelet we made for Ella (she ate the whole thing!)

  • One egg – cracked into a bowl and beaten with a splash of water
  • 1 Tbsp red onion
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • 2 Tbsp grated pepper jack cheese
  • 2 Tbsp sauteed (as above) chanterelles
  • In a small pan over medium high heat, saute the onion in olive oil with salt about 5 minutes.
  • Pour egg so it spreads over the bottom of pan and let it cook through until bubbles appear and it is no longer runny.
  • Add the cheese and mushrooms to one half the egg, and fold the egg over in half, omelet style.
  • Enjoy immediately.
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Walking with the Western PA Mushroom Club

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Members of the Mushroom Club with Ella, showing off their mushrooms!

Members of the Mushroom Club with Ella, showing off their mushrooms!


Today Dave, Ella and I did something new: we went for a hike with the Western PA Mushroom Club!

Our two day camping trip to Raccoon Creek State Park prompted our interest in mushrooms. While there to get a glimpse of the Perseid Meteor Shower away from the city lights, we noticed an abundance of mushrooms! We stopped in to the nature center at the Wildflower Reserve, and the woman brought us out some great books on mushrooms that we poured over.

One thing we learned was that although mushrooms can be extremely dangerous and deadly, not to be afraid to dig them up and take a look at them. (I have always been too afraid to even touch anything!)

So we took pictures, took notes, went back to the books and found a huge amount of interesting information! By observation, I noticed some mushrooms had “gills” and others “pores.” When we returned to town we looked up the Mushroom Club, found that they walk just about every Saturday morning from spring through November, and so we set out with them today.

Mushroom Hatching from an egg. Many Amanitas are deadly poisonous, and some people avoid eating them altogether.

Mushroom Hatching from an "egg". Many Amanitas are deadly poisonous, and some people just avoided them.

Old Man of The Woods, edible, turns black when picking (we did not eat)

Old Man of The Woods, edible, turns black when picking (we did not eat)

Chanterelle Harvest (edible!)

Chanterelle Harvest (edible!)

identifying the mushrooms after the walk

identifying the mushrooms after the walk

The exciting thing was the harvest of tasty (once cooked!) chanterelles! Look for our entry on them coming soon!

A good book we found for identifying mushrooms is the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms (National Audubon Society Field Guides)
or go to our Amazon page of Recommended Mushroom Books.

Have fun, stay safe!

~ Melissa

Food Under Foot

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