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.
The following is from the stats for this blog, showing search terms that landed folks here at the land of milk and honey.
You 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
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
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 – 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.
There is a small area of a big forest I visited today, where chanterelles really love to grow. It’s just off a trail, down in a little hollow. If you aren’t looking for them, you might well miss the mushrooms growing on this spot. When I’m there, I watch from the trail for the tell-tale hint of bright yellow. If I see yellow, I move slowly into the area and look closely, because the mushrooms are often partially obscured by the forest duff.
In the forests I visit, I mostly find smallish chanterelles – one over two inches tall or with a cap over two inches wide is uncommon. Yet today I found a cluster of chanterelles, all in one hollow, that were much bigger than the norm.
The mushroom below is more the size chanterelle I’m used to finding – the one above is a monster.
I took the dogs for a walk in the woods this morning, looking for some tasty mushrooms for dinner. First let me say, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER eat any wild mushrooms unless you can identify them as edible beyond a shadow of a doubt. There are plenty of mushrooms in the forest that can kill you or make you very sick.
This morning I picked Hypomyces lactifluorum (lobster mushrooms), chanterelles, hedgehog mushrooms (Hydnum umbilicatum) and one ornate bolete.
Tuffy P was out at a gathering today on a property that has a forest. Now Tuffy rarely goes out mushroom foraging, but she has an eagle eye and if there is something interesting to see in the woods, she’ll find it. Last season, for instance, we went for a walk in a suburban forest and Tuffy P spotted a nice clump of Bear’s Head Tooth growing on a beech tree. Today she found something very interesting and took a photo to show me.
She saw these unusual growths coming from the base of a stump. My first guess is that these strange little items are the fungi known as Dead Man’s Fingers – Xylaria polymorpha
Dead Man’s Fingers are a saprobic fungus, meaning they get their nourishment from non-living organic matter – in this case from a dead or dying tree. Although I spend plenty of time wandering about forests looking for mushrooms, I’ve never come across dead man’s fingers in the woods. I did see some samples once though, collected by someone else during an outing with a mushroom class.
I was out in a forest today too. While Tuffy P was up in the Kawarthas, I took the dogs to a woods not too far outside the city for a little scouting mission. This forest fruits edible boletes, as well as lobster mushrooms and a few chanterelles. I thought with all the rain we’ve had there was an outside chance of finding some early lobster mushrooms or some early summer boletes. All I found though, was one bolete that was sadly way way past its expiry date. Hypothetically, we should expect to see some interesting edibles in our forests over the next few weeks. I say hypothetically, because everyone knows there are no edible mushrooms in Southern Ontario.