Looking outside my window I see dark clouds and thousands of tiny rain droplets falling wildly on my windows. However, as an avid mushroom hunter and eater, I am ecstatic that we are FINALLY getting enough rain to help encourage wild mushrooms to pop their heads up through the moist forest or grassy floors. It reminds me of going into spruce plantations as a young girl, poking my fingers into the spruce needles around the trunk of a solid spruce tree. Sure enough, my fingers would feel a slight bump under the decaying needles. Hidden out-of-sight I would gently release a young Boletus edulis, also known as “cepes” or “the king of mushrooms”.
In the early spring, between mid-April and mid-May in Missouri, it is a great time each year to discover fresh morels growing in the woods. Often you need to be careful, not to get them mixed up with false morels, which resemble a true morel in many ways. Morels often “pop up” in huge quantities around certain types of dying trees, for example, around dead elms. They can be found abundantly around ash trees and tulip trees. If you are lucky, just imagine, you can go picking easily fill up a bushel with morels. However, keep in mind, continuous moisture is required to keep your morels from shriveling up dry.
Before venturing into the woods to go hunting for wild mushrooms, make sure you are well educated with mushroom identification, or have with you an expert mycologist, or a person educated in the field of mushroom identification. If you are not sure, do not attempt to call yourself an expert. There are many mushrooms growing, and unfortunately, there are many that are poisonous. Stick to store bought mushrooms if you are not an expert in mushroom identification.
If you are living in Missouri, make sure you consider checking out Maxine Stone’s, “Missouri’s Wild Mushrooms”. She can provide details of what to expect when hunting for wild mushrooms. Maxine reminds us that not only do you have to consider safety, but beware of bugs – especially ticks and chiggers. I once went on a mushroom foray, that lasted a few hours, and ended up with over a dozen ticks on me and chigger bites that required two months of steroid cream to reduce the swelling!
So, once you have figured out if you are an expert mushroom identifier, or know someone who is and can accompany you can then focus on hunting for your special feast. When collection edible wild mushrooms, please keep in mind the following, taken from “Missouri’s Wild Mushrooms”:
“When you have found a good number of edible mushrooms, go through them to make sure that each and every one is what you think it is. It’s very easy to slip in a few that look similar to your edible collection, but are actually different species. This can be dangerous!
Please don’t collect mushrooms that might be contaminated with pesticides. Don’t hunt near railroad tracks as these areas are heavily sprayed. Golf courses are also places that get a lot of pesticides. Even lawns that have been chemically treated are not good places to pick your mushrooms.
A word to people from other countries. You may find mushrooms in Missouri that you think look “exactly like” the edible ones you find back home. Be careful! They actually may be poisonous “look-alikes” that grow here but not in your native country. Mistaking similar-looking mushrooms is the #1 cause of mushroom poisoning in the United States. Check with someone who is familiar with Missouri mushrooms before eating any tempting look-alikes.
Wild mushrooms should never be eaten raw. Raw mushrooms are difficult to digest, and also could contain toxins or contaminants which are destroyed by cooking.
The first time you eat any wild mushroom, put a few aside in the refrigerator. If someone has an allergic or poisonous reaction, an expert can use these samples to make a clear identification and the correct remedy can be given. (Please do this even if you are positive you have an edible species. Some people are allergic to mushrooms that other people can eat without a problem.”
To learn more about mushrooms, from fellow mushroom hunters, consider visiting the web site for the Missouri Mycological Society (MOMS) at: http://www.MoMyco.org. This organization’s purpose is:
1) To foster and expand the understanding of mushrooming;
2) To promote the hunting and identification of wild mushrooms; and
3) To provide opportunities to share ideas, experiences, and knowledge about mushroom hunting in Missouri.
They have several mushroom events throughout the year, including pot luck lunches and dinners. You can join and spend an entire weekend hunting mushrooms, while learning from professionals. It is a great group to support, especially to become a safe and smart mushroom hunter. I had an exciting time finding for the first time in my life Cantharellus cinnabarinus. It is a red chanterelle that is edible, as compared to the Cantharellus cibarius, or the golden chanterelle, that has a yellow to golden yellow or orange-yellow smooth cap. From morels to chanterelles, you will definitely learn and enjoy more about mushrooms! Again, follow the rules above, enjoy the company of an expert mushroom identifier, and you will have gained a new culinary treat to your meals.
Check these out!
Carluccio, Antonio. 2003. The Complete Mushroom Book – The Quiet Hunt. New York, NY: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.
Czarnecki, Jack. 1995. A Cook’s Book of Mushrooms. New York, NY: Artisan.
Czarnecki, Jack. 1997. Portobello Cookbook. New York, NY: Artisan.
Grigson, Jane. 1998. The Mushroom Feast. New York, NY: Lyons Press.
Hill, Nicola (Ed.) 1995. The Mushroom Cookbook. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press Book Publishers.
Kuo, Michael. 2008. Morels. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
McFarland, J. & G. M. Mueller. 2009. Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois & Surrounding States. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Pelouch, Milan. 2008. How To Find Morels Even As Others Are Coming Back Empty-Handed. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
Stone, Maxine. 2010. Missouri’s Wild Mushrooms. Jefferson City, MO: The Missouri Department of Conservation.
Turner, Nancy. 2009. The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms. Portland, OR: Timber Press.