September and October are great months for learning about and foraging for fungi here in Maine. These past few weeks have been especially fruitful for us, as our freezer is filled with several varieties. My first breakthrough was on September 29, when I found this sulfur shelf, also called Chicken of the Woods, or Laetiporus sulphureus, growing on a dying oak tree.
I am timid about eating wild fungi. I decided to avoid gilled mushrooms because the really toxic killers all have gills. That leaves quite a few edible choices, and a few which can cause gastric upset, but not death. Someday I will be confident enough to pick and eat gilled species, but not now. Each one of my finds were tried with the expectation that they would make me a little sick, (not yet) so small portions and thorough cooking are a must!
The Chicken of the Woods is indeed similar to chicken, with a slightly stringy texture similar to breast meat, but with a mushroomy flavor. It holds up well in stews or sauces and is a great vegetarian alternative. The trick is to use the outer portions and cut around the bug intrusions.
Another easy target is the hedgehog mushroom, or Hydnum repandum. These look like crusty bread on top but have teeth or tiny icicles under the caps. A cluster of them on the forest floor can be enough for several meals. They taste like portobello. I found this one on October 5th.
On October 6, a foray was scheduled by the Maine Mycological Association at the Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, ME.
I jumped at the chance to mingle with people who knew mushrooms and didn’t mind the three hour drive. But before I went I found some strange white blobs growing along a dead spruce root on my own property. I remembered a picture in one of my books describing them as aborted entolomas but I thought I would take one along to make sure.
Anything which looks like a blob should be sliced in half to make sure it’s not a deadly Amanita
button, in which case the structure of an embryonic mushroom will be seen. The aborted Entoloma results from the parasitizing of one species by another resulting in sterile growth, but the result is delicious. The other cool thing is that it can be found in large quantities. My harvest was close to five pounds. It has become a favorite!
At the foray I paired up with Dr. Lawrence Leonard, and he conveyed some valuable advice. He taught me to always get a spore print and to look for one under the mushroom in its original spot, on a leaf or another mushroom. He also identified the Honey mushroom, Armillaria mellea, another important edible, and a gilled mushroom. It’s pretty easy to recognize by its prominent annular ring, white spore print from brown gills and clustering habit on wood.
At the end of the foray everybody’s finds were arranged on long tables. I took some photos of some other important edibles. Hen of the Woods, Grifola frondosa is one I wish I had found. It’s similar to the Chicken of the Woods in that it grows under dying oaks, and is very easy to identify. Also easy is the Cauliflower mushroom, Sparassis crispa. Sadly, I can’t report on how either of these taste. Maybe next year.