I was just looking at the stats for this blog and I could not help but notice that many of the visitors here came looking for information about foraging for wild mushrooms or cooking wild mushrooms. There have been searches for edible mushrooms, poisonous mushrooms, and of course there have been the usual searches for King Bolete Map Ontario.
After a couple dry summers, we’ve had our share of rain this year and rain is a key ingredient in the fruiting of mushrooms, so perhaps that’s why all the interest. A persistent forager can do OK in Ontario forests. It isn’t spectacular the way it is on the west coast, but if you’re willing to put in the effort (and put up with the mosquitoes and deer flies), you can pick a modest basket of tasty edibles from time to time.
Some people think I’m out to discourage foragers because of a post I made here some time ago called “no edible mushrooms in Southern Ontario”. I thought I was having some harmless fun, but some people thought I was seriously saying there are no edible mushrooms in Southern Ontario. One reader corrected me: I am sorry to say, but I believe you are wrong friend. You see, I think your absolute statement of not one edible mushroom across all the forests and belts of SO is going a bit overboard.
Another reader, who chose to just call himself Mr. Goat was more aggressive in censuring me:
You ignore his very partial list of commonly found edibles in Southern Ontario and decide to use passive aggressiveness (which you call humour) – hippy dippy (what exactly does that mean – probably some outdated cliche about drug users – I wonder how many prescriptions you take..) to imply that Kevin is wrong. So on the record, you are either very ignorant or egotistical. Possibly a good helping of both. Your neck of the woods may have nothing (in terms of mushrooms to eat) , and you may want to educate yourself before you rant and post definitive key words that could confuse those that have not yet had a proper grounding in the basics of mushroom identification. Shame on you.
This was a valuable lesson for me. I learned that the way a post is received may not always be the way it was intended, and I appreciate that Mr. Goat set me straight.
My advice to those of you who are thinking about taking to the woods to pick some dinner, is to do your homework and be very careful what you eat. On an average day in the woods, you are likely to find many more mushrooms that will make you sick than tasty edibles. I know some people who simply won’t forage because they are afraid of being poisoned, but I’ve met other people who seem to have a devil-may-care attitude about it.
A field guide helps but many times a photo isn’t enough to make an identification. Lots of times I’ll find mushrooms I haven’t found before and I’ll try to make an identification, only to find that I just can’t be sure. I’ve had some mushrooms appear in my backyard that I’m maybe 90% sure are blewitts. They’ve fruited twice. I’ve studied them. I’ve taken spore prints. I’ve photographed them and shown the photos to others who are more knowledgeable than I am. Still I couldn’t be sure. SO I DID NOT EAT THE MUSHROOMS.
There are lots of questions to ask. What is the texture like? Does it smell? Does it change colour if you bruise or cut it. Does it have gills? Pores? Teeth? What is the colour of the spores (learn to take a spore print). Is the cap dry or damp or slimy? If you break a piece off, does a latex-like substance exude? Look closely. Look at the details.
With experience, you learn to easily identify a number of tasty and safe mushrooms that are common in our area. If you have a friend who is willing to take you out to the woods for an identification lesson, that’s a great head start.
All I ask is that if you are not sure of your identification, don’t eat the mushrooms. Don’t say to yourself, “it sorta looks like this one in the book” and then take it home and eat it. There are a few mushrooms in Ontario that will kill you beyond doubt and they are not uncommon. Every year I find a few mushrooms I know are killers. There are many more which will simply cause some nasty gastro-intestinal distress. The saying among foragers is there are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.
If you pick mushrooms in the woods for consumption, please cook them. Some mushrooms are fine when cooked, but may give you an upset stomach uncooked. Others might be OK raw, but you don’t know what other forest critter has been crawling around your mushroom.
The next question is where to go. I recommend you find a forest near you and start looking. You have to start somewhere. No doubt some spots are better than others but the only way to find out is to get out in the woods and look. Last Sunday I visited 4 forests I had never been to before. A couple of them did not turn out to be very promising, but the other ones are places I’ll return to again.