Tag Archives: Mushrooms

A few thoughts on toxic wild mushrooms

Lots of people tell me they would never pick wild mushrooms for the table because they are afraid of being poisoned. I’m OK with this because it means there are more of those tasty mushrooms available for me in local forests.

No doubt there are some nasty, in fact deadly mushrooms in our forests. There are also quite a number of them that will give you a serious belly-ache and a bad case of the runs but won’t kill you. There is really just one rule. Be 100% sure of any mushroom you are eating. And, don’t eat the poisonous ones. If somebody tells you, oh my uncle Bud has eaten these for 30 years and he’s fine, but you can’t identify the mushroom, just don’t eat it. If you are 95% sure of your identification and you’re tempted to think 95% is good enough, just don’t eat it. When it comes to eating stuff I find in the forest, I’m very conservative.

I’ve had many conversations with people who have stories about people with loads of experience picking mushrooms poisoning themselves because the mushrooms they picked and ate looked exactly like the edible mushroom they have been picking and eating for many years. It’s true that there are some poisonous mushrooms that look a lot like tasty edibles, and in fact I avoid any mushrooms that I can’t positively identify 100% of the time. I see some pickers in fall each year picking mushrooms I can’t positively identify. For instance I see people with bags of red Russulas. I can’t tell the difference between the poisonous varieties of red Russulas and the good ones, so I just don’t pick them. Somebody told me these guys do it by taste. Well, good luck to them. Just because they eat them and don’t get sick doesn’t mean I’m going to do it.

Let’s look at one story that was in the news. It’s the story about Nicholas Evans, author of The Horse Whisperer, who managed to poison himself and 4 others. Here’s what Elizabeth Grice wrote in the Telegraph

Evans is a knowledgeable countryman who’d enjoyed mushroom expeditions since he was a boy. He’d been told just the place to find ceps and chanterelles and came back with a basketful of what he thought were Boletus edulis, or ceps. He was greeted like a returning hero. “Fantastic!” they said. No one noticed they were the deadly webcap, Cortinarius speciosissimus, a mushroom that damages the liver, kidneys and spinal cord. No one consulted the fungi guidebook in the kitchen.

“It had been 10 years since I’d picked ceps and I thought: these are a bit more ginger-coloured than I remember. I didn’t spot the crucial difference – that they had gills and ceps don’t.”

This apparently really happened. This guy needed a kidney transplant because he picked and ate wild mushrooms without paying any attention to identification. All boletes have pores on the under side of their caps. Cortinarius have gills. This is one of the first things you notice when you see a mushroom. Does it have pores? Does it have gills? Does it have teeth? It’s the very beginning of any attempt to identify a mushroom.

I can identify a good number of tasty edible mushrooms with certainty. I can also identify some of the nastiest killer mushrooms. Between those two groups are many, many species of mushrooms. I can identify some of them but many of them I can’t identify with certainty (and in some cases I can’t even get close). I keep trying to learn more species each year because it interests me, but but some mushrooms are very tricky to ID.

Some people have allergies to some wild mushrooms. Assuming you’ve identified the mushroom with certainty, but you’ve never eaten it before, cook up and eat a small amount and see how your body reacts before having a full meal of them.

Careful what you eat…

Somebody landed on this blog today after searching “can mushrooms give upset tummy.”

Yes, mushrooms can give upset tummy. Some wild mushrooms found in Ontario can make you very sick and some others can kill you dead dead dead dead dead.

During mushroom season, I post about picking wild mushrooms regularly and try to regularly add in a warning. Still I worry. I have seen people in the woods convince themselves that very difficult to identify mushrooms are safe to eat. They might get lucky, but then again they might not.

I’m very conservative when it comes to picking mushrooms for the table. “Pretty sure” just doesn’t cut it. I’ve been trying to identify mushrooms for a few years now. I know a bunch of them very well but there are many more that I really can’t identify accurately. I work at getting better at identification. I’ve read some books and I’ve even taken one course – but as I’ve said, I’m very conservative about what I eat. I suggest you should be too.

Please be very sure about your identification before you eat any wild mushrooms.

Mushroom, wine AND beer festival? almost perfect

The folks in Mendocino County are trying to cover all the baes with their Mushroom, Wine and Beer Festival. Next year they should step up their game and make it the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine, Beer, Scotch, Trout and Old Time Music Festival. That would be just about enough to get me thinking about California.  Thanks East Texas Red for pointing me to this.

A mycological adventure

A fellow named Jamie commented here at the land of milk & honey….he was interested in finding someone to lead a little mushroom walk at his cottage. I’m no pro-mycologist but I can identify a good number of tasty edibles and quite a few assorted other mushrooms, and it sounded like a fun idea. This morning I met him a the marina on his lake. Memphis and I hopped in his boat and off we went.

DSC04321We had exchanged a few emails during the week. He had found some blue mushrooms. Could they be blewitts? I suggested taking a spore print. Blewitts have pale pinkish-buff spore prints.

DSC04332Yikes – those mushrooms are not blewitts! Field guides can be dangerous things. You see a photo and a short description and it seems close to what you’ve found in the woods. Not so fast. There are look-alikes out there. You have to be certain if you plan to eat wild mushrooms. The field guide also lists the spore colour – if you aren’t certain of the ID, take a spore print.

DSC04326This one has everyone carefully combing the forest floor. Could it be a horn of plenty – Craterellus cornucopioides?



Memphis made a friend – a pup named Georgia. They had a great time together this afternoon.

Toothed Fungi
Toothed Fungi

Among the more interesting finds of the afternoon were two different edible toothed fungi – combed tooth and bear’s head tooth. These were both found growing on downed trees, a short distance from one another. Another edible mushroom found on dead wood was a chicken of the woods. If he’s lucky, Jamie will have another chicken in the same spot next year. A few other edibles were found – two varieties of Suillus – and also a few pear-shaped puff-balls and some honey mushrooms as well.

I had a fun time this afternoon – I got to make some new friends, enjoyed a great walk in the woods. We found some interesting mushrooms, and I had a chance to pass along some of my knowledge to others.

Mushroom walk

I was contacted recently on this blog by a fellow looking for someone to lead a mushroom walk up in cottage country. It’s getting right toward the end of our season here, but I agreed to do the walk on Saturday, and hopefully we’ll find some interesting mushrooms and some tasty edibles. I am not a mycologist. It’s just a hobby for me. I enjoy trying to identify mushrooms and I enjoy collecting tasty edibles for the table. I can identify quite a few species but there are hundreds and hundreds of different species in our woods. I’m sure we’ll find all kinds of things I won’t be able to identify – and a bunch of mushrooms I’m familiar with as well. These folks are pretty smart in seeking out someone to help them ID mushrooms. Even though I’m not a pro naturalist or mycologist, I’m sure by sharing some of my knowledge and experience, I can help a few people begin to learn for themselves.

Quite a number of people have found this blog by searching for info about Ontario mushrooms. I’d like to take a moment to remind people to be really careful about eating any mushrooms you pick in the woods – unless you’re 100% sure you know what you’ve got and you know it’s safe to eat. Also, even mushrooms known to be generally safe can cause stomach upset in some people, and certain edibles are more likely to do this than others. If you have identified a mushroom and you’re sure of the ID and you want to eat it, but sure you first cook up a little bit and eat that, and see how your body reacts – before enjoying more of the mushrooms.

Which entry doesn’t belong?

The following is from the stats for this blog, showing search terms that landed folks here at the land of milk and honey.

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 5.00.30 PMYou would think looking at this that there are people out there who don’t know there are no edible wild mushrooms in Ontario. Quebec folks….that’s where all the good mushroom patches are. Honest.

For those who are not familiar with Jerron Paxton, he is the musician formerly known as “Blind Boy Paxton”. He is an excellent musician and singer and entertainer. If he comes to your town, I highly recommend supporting him. Here he is performing a rag called Ragged but Right


Cooking lobster mushrooms

I’ve noticed, looking at the stats for this blog, that quite a few people have been searching for ways to prepare lobster mushrooms. Here’s one way – the way I prepared them for dinner tonight in fact.

Lobster mushroom and sausage omelet

You need:

  • lobster mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • two or three eggs
  • some tasty sausage (I used Goralska Polish sausage)
  • grated awesome cheese

In a cast iron pan, sautee the mushrooms with a little vegetable oil on medium heat. Lobsters are very firm mushrooms that hold their texture. As well, they don’t shed water in the cooking process the way some other mushrooms do. After a few minutes in the pan, add some chopped up sausage and let it cook together. You want the sausage to start to crisp up and the mushrooms to start turning a nice golden colour. When this is ready, transfer to a non-stick pan. I know you’re going to say, aw c’mon, do I have to use two pans? The answer is yes. I like the way the mushrooms and the sausage cook up in a cast iron pan, but in the end you’re making an omelet and non-stick pans are great for omelets. So, you transfer the sausage and mushrooms to a non-stick pan. With the transfer, they’ll bring along enough oil for the omelet. Heat up the pan to the high side of medium. While that’s happening, beat up your eggs with a fork. Some people add a little splash of milk. You can do that if you want. I usually don’t. When the pan is hot, pour the mixture over the mushrooms and sausage and move the pan around to spread around the eggs. When the eggs are just about done, toss some of your awesome grated cheese on top (tonight I used an old gruyere). Let it melt on there for a moment, fold two sides of the omelet to the middle and serve it up, maybe with a spoon of good salsa and some fresh ground pepper and just a wee bit of salt. There are a million variations. If you have some fresh herbs, chop them into the egg mixture before pouring it onto the pan.


If you want something even simpler and still super-delicious, sautee the lobster mushrooms in your cast iron pan until they get nice and golden. Add salt and fresh ground pepper and maybe a wee bit of some ground hot chiles and spoon loads of the mushrooms onto toast. Just that simple.

The Mushroom Hunters

The Mushroom Hunters – On the Trail of an Underground America, by Langdon Cook, explores a foraging culture the extent of which I had never imagined. The massive extraction on tasty edibles from the woods of the mountain west is driven by popularity of local foods in so many restaurants. The morels in that sauce have to come from somewhere.

The book introduces us to pickers and buyers and gives us an insider’s view of mushroom camps that are more like temporary villages, complete with competing buyers who set up their buying tables right in the camps. Pickers pull out dozens of pounds of mushrooms. Some of these pickers pull more mushrooms out of the woods in a day than I’ve picked in local woods in the years I’ve been foraging. The quantities are staggering. Some of those western woods are mushroom factories.

If I lived out there and knew that all the best mushroom spots were overrun with commercial pickers I might not be so happy (although I’d be happy to find a forest with a fraction of the tasty fungi those characters pull out of the forest). Here in Ontario I’ve never seen those quantities of mushrooms. Maybe there are areas where people can pick commercially, but I haven’t found them.  In the areas I forage, if one other picker has been around, it’s time to go to another forest. There just aren’t that many mushrooms to go around.

The Mushroom Hunters is a fascinating insight into a world most of us did not know even existed. It’s a compelling book that focuses on the author’s interaction with a few people who make their living foraging. I think that people who are interested in nature and food and unusual occupations would really enjoy this book. You don’t have to be a mushroom-hound to read it.