Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Foraging for edible fungi

Wick's World


I returned to the Twin Cities on Sunday afternoon, looked out on my deck and saw a soccer ball sitting on the table. I took a closer look and realized it was a giant puffball, as in edible mushroom. My neighbor brought it over after I had versed her last week on the pleasures of edible mushrooms. Puffballs can get huge. Once I picked a specimen by the river near downtown Moose Lake that was larger than a basketball.

I had some down time in Moose Lake this weekend while I waited to finish a deal on selling my pontoon. I took advantage of it by hunting mushrooms. Even more delicious than the puffball I sautéed was the bright orange chicken-of-the-woods shelf mushroom I picked just outside Sturgeon Lake. Considered the premier of fungus edibles, this 10-pound species I brought home lives up to its name. The firm flesh, when lightly coated and deep-fried, does indeed taste like chicken.

Back in the mid-70s when I first moved to the woods of northern Minnesota, I was astonished at the plethora of mushrooms that could be found. This weekend I picked several species that I hadn’t seen since those days. With conditions being absolutely perfect for a banner year, I found perfume-flavored coral mushrooms, which like their name resemble coral, lined up in a row on decaying tree stumps. Chanterelles, a favorite of French chefs, were also found in abundance. In addition to puffballs and chicken-of-the-woods, I found several delicate mushrooms called the boletus, which is also used in French cooking. Locals refer to them as "red tops." With their spongy bottoms, they are another easily identifiable mushroom that is best eaten when sautéed in butter.

As a South Dakota native, our mushroom hunting began in early spring when we would hit the meadows looking for the easily recognizable morel mushroom. About the only other mushroom in South Dakota I felt I could safely eat was a cousin to the chicken-of-the-woods, the oyster shell mushroom. When Dutch elm disease spread across the country, America lost a huge amount of their shade trees. The one benefit of this natural disaster was the growth of the oyster shell mushroom, which thrives on dead and decaying bark. It is named for its appearance and not because it tastes like oysters. These white to cream-colored mushrooms are also referred to as shelf mushrooms as they are stacked like shelves on the side of a tree.

Inky caps are another edible that is hard to mistake for anything else. They are the small, black ones you find sprouting from your lawn. They are short-lived and soon turn into an inky-like substance, thus the name inky caps. A word of caution: Like several other species of mushrooms, these are not to be accompanied with a glass of wine as they can cause a gastro-intestinal disturbance. So you must make a choice; I choose wine.

Do not eat the large, attractive reddish or yellow mushrooms that have white dots on top. They are one of the many varieties of Amanitas. Although they generally won’t kill you, they can make you wish you were dead. Indigenous shamans around the world have used hallucinogenic varieties of the Amanita mushroom to produce visions. Unless you like watching yourself retching red and yellow fungi, I suggest you leave the visions to the pros.

Some other edibles I found this weekend are worth mentioning. The meadow mushroom makes a very tasty compliment to any meat dish, but I would advise all but well-seasoned mushroom hunters to shy away from this one. There are several poisonous species with which this one could be confused, one of which is a mushroom that grows almost everywhere on the planet. Eat this one and you will almost certainly be sent to an early grave. It is a variety of Amanita that is responsible for the majority of deaths from mushroom poisoning. Known variously as The Angel of Death, The Destroying Angel, The Fool’s Mushroom or the Death Cap, these have a white cap with a ring around their white stalk. They can be confused with young meadow mushrooms or small puffballs.

My rule has always been this: Eat only the easily identifiable mushrooms with which you are familiar and leave all others alone. When in doubt, throw it out.


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