The morel, from wikipedia
This fall like most we attended the Common Ground Fair in Unity. While there, we listened to a talk by Greg Marley, our local (Rockland, ME) mycologist (mushroom expert), mycophile (mushroom lover) and mycophagist (mushroom eater). His talk was meant to put an end to mycophobia.
Marley sees the world as divided into the mycophobic (like here and England) and the mycophillic (just about everywhere else). He tells us our society has an irrational fear of fungus, but then points out how mushroom poisonings in the mycophillic world number into the hundreds per year. The one thing to remember, he says, is to focus on edible and medicinal species which are not at all similar to poisonous ones. This means avoiding LBMs (little brown mushrooms) which are notoriously difficult to key out. Also, keeping a checklist of the traits of the most toxic
The death cap from wikipedia
‘shrooms is a good practice. The most toxic genus (the last stop before individual species) is by far, Amanita. One typical cap of Amanita phalloides, the death cap, can kill 5 people and will do so slowly over a week or so. Saving the life of the victim often involves a liver transplant. Amanitas have a white spore print, white gills which are free from the stem, a ring around the stem (an annulus) and a swollen base (a volva), as if it came out of an egg. The death cap is rare in Maine but other Amanitas, including equally toxic ones, are plentiful.
Now, are we ready for the edibles? Feeling uncertain? Good! Identifying edible fungus is best first done with an old hand. Someone who not only knows how to identify them, but where they are likely to grow. When I was a kid that guy was Smitty, a retired mail carrier and big band musician who lived
Shaggy Mane, from Sisyphus. A little past its prime.
across the street. Every May he and his wife Louise would take me into the woods and we would look for morels. This was northern Michigan, where morel hunting is a favorite pastime. The big benefit of morels, besides their flavor, is the fact that they look like sponges on a stalk and so can’t be mistaken for anything poisonous (actually, there’s one, but it’s easy to tell apart and it’s not as deadly as a death cap).
When I moved to Maine I had to leave morels behind. They do grow here occasionally, but you can’t gather enough for a meal, just the odd one. So after years of feeling sorry for myself I ended up listening to Greg Marley and realizing all I had to do was to substitute local edible mushrooms for the ones I miss. Greg presented the “fool-proof four” mushrooms for Maine. They are the morel, puffball, hen-of-the-woods, and shaggy mane. But he said these four are from
Hen of the woods, from AMG
another mycologist and the morels here are scarce. He also pointed out that the puffballs, while an easy target, are not the most choice. He advocated three more which may be more appropriate for Maine, the chanterelle, the sulphur shelf and the king bolete. I am looking forward to finding all these gems. I already came across a nice stand of shaggy manes, and I had a great meal.
There’s much more to getting started in wild mushrooming that looking at a few pictures and
Sulphur shelf, from wikipedia
warming up the frying pan. An intermediate step is to start an excel spreadsheet of all the specimens you find. Each row corresponds to the found fungus with columns for date, location (GPS is good!), habitat, link to photo, spore color, best guess (genus, species, common name) and notes. This will get you practice in identification, a feel for the features of different families and genera, and will give you a chance for a return visit next year. You need an up-to-date field guide. Mine is old and fails to reflect all the name changes that have occurred in the last 30
Chanterelles, from wikipedia
Mycology is very much an evolving field, with genetic data starting to turn the old classification system on its head. Two on-line resources to use are mushroomexpert.com and Europe’s Roger’s Mushrooms. Don’t do a google search for a picture of a certain species without realizing you will get pictures of misidentified mushrooms–stick with the above sources or a good field guide. Stay in touch with other mushroom hunters like Ari Rockland-Miller and his blog themushroomforager.com to see what’s popping up in the area.
Greg Marley’s book, Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares: The Love, Lore, and Mystique of Mushrooms is available in the usual places and is a great tour through the fungal world (did you know flying squirrels eat truffles?). Greg wrote in my copy, “Hope this gets you out into the mushrooms!” It did!