Mushroom Time Again

Ah, early fall…

Mushrooms are springing up out of the damp ground, and every search-engine term that lands viewers here is some version of “Wild Mushrooms in Rhode Island.”

For all you searchers, here’s the skinny:

Yes, there are edible wild mushrooms in this state.

No, foragers are not going to tell you where to find them… That’s classified.

What I will do, is explain a few basic rules, and show you some pictures of Mushrooms I Have Known…

First, you must know the clan watch-words:

When In Doubt, Don’t.

Ok, so it doesn’t have the ominous ring of “Winter is Coming,” but the sentiment is the same… If you can’t identify a mushroom with 100% certainty, DO NOT eat it. Take its picture, take a sample, take a spore print, but don’t even think of putting it on pasta if there is the slightest sliver of doubt… Even the ones that won’t kill you outright could make you so sick you’ll wish you were dead.

Still with me? Ok. Let’s meet some fungus, and talk about a few other rules…

The Chicken of the Woods in the photo is one of the easiest edibles to identify, and yet I’ve never tasted it… Why? Because I never find them young enough to bother with. Think of it like a zucchini – too big, and it’s woody and tasteless. And, crawling with bugs.

Two rules in-play here: You have to not only know the species, but at what stage in its development it is still considered ‘food’; and you never eat a mushroom from the wild if the quality doesn’t measure up to what you would purchase in a store.

You’d never get the roly-polys out. Trust me.

Ah, now this little guy is a heartbreaker… A Chestnut Bolete. Close-kin of the King Bolete, who all you cooks know by its Italian name: Porcini. What makes him sad? Not the flavor; it’s highly desirable…

He’s all alone under a beech tree in my yard. No others around him…so he has to stay right there, not come into my kitchen. Why? So that he can mature and drop spores. With any luck, there will be a nice, full stand of them in a few years. It’s hard – I’d love to pop him into a risotto…

A rule and a hint, here: Never take the last one. If you come upon a carpet of chanterelles – I’m told they grow here, but I’ve never seen them – fill your little basket, but leave enough to keep the underground structure fed and happy, and to create more for next year.

Hint: Know your trees. Understanding the habitat of different fungi is one of the first keys to identification. If you’ve got a specific type in mind, knowing what it’s likely to be growing near – or on – can help narrow your search.

Most of the mushrooms you will find are not going to be dinner, but don’t let that stop you from looking. An afternoon in the woods, and a heightened sense of the world under your feet is ample reward. They all have beauty, and purpose. Enjoy them for what they are…

And, maybe someday, you’ll get lucky, too….


17 thoughts on “Mushroom Time Again

  1. My Mom talked of walking wooded areas with her Mother while they picked mushrooms. About the time I was born, she and Dad owned a home with a basement in which one room had a dirt floor. They used it to grow mushrooms. Even so, later in life she wouldn’t think of picking mushrooms, following your “When in doubt. Don’t” rule. Now though, in Michigan on the hill behind Zia’s garage, puff balls will start appearing in a few weeks. It’s the only mushroom that I’ll ever pick.

  2. A botany lesson for me today.Thoough I’ll probably never ea a muhroom that did not come from the store, it was an innteresting session.

  3. Thank you for the pictures, because it “s very interested for me, because I have never seen these mushrooms in my country, in France, and so it’s very funny for me and I know them “vey well” the classicl mushrooms we can buy on the markets, or eat in the restaurants at this season : it was a great lesson and a very good heritage of my grandfather, with who I went in the forest to cut them !……Thanks Henry !

  4. So interesting. I have bought books on this but don´t know enough to pick my own. Lots of the old boys round here know their stuff, but (as you say) are reluctant to share their secret spots! The closest I have got to this is have two injected bales in our garage all autumn and winter which kept us supplied with oyster mushrooms. Very tasty they were too but nothing like wild mushrooms!

  5. Great advice there. I must admit I would be too scared to pick any. I don’t mushrooms at all. Bur I know they some red ones grow around here, ones that pixies surely dance around at night, and I would love to photograph them, but alas, I’ve never found any. Thanks for the mini lesson, was great.

  6. Your mushrooms are beautiful.

    Knowing absolutely nothing about identifying mushrooms, the only way I take any home is as a photograph. They’re one of my favorite photographic subjects although they seem to be the most difficult for me to capture as I see them. (Not sure that makes sense and it would take a whole blog post to explain.)

    Very interesting post. Thank you. 🙂

  7. Hi Is this a Chanterelle:

    These are growing in my yard and I’d like to cook them up if they are ok too.

    Also if they are ok too can someone recommend a novice recipe? I’ve never cooked a wild mushroom.



    • Don’t eat that. It’s definatley not a chanterlle. A photo isn’t enough to identify a mushroom, either. It could be a bunch of honey mushrooms, it could be poisonous paxillus – both are common this time of year.
      If you’re interested in learning to identify edibles, get yourself a good guide, and learn to take spore prints. If there’s ever any doubt, don’t eat it.
      Good Luck!

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