Fall Fungi: Safely Forage and Prepare Autumn Mushrooms
By Lois Hoffman
When folks think of mushroom hunting, spring usually comes to mind, when forests are just starting to come alive. After a particular warm and wet spell, mushrooms seem to pop right before your eyes. The sometimes elusive morel is usually the prized treasure that lures most folks into the woods.
Actually, mushrooms can be gathered year around, even in winter and fall is an excellent time to forage for wild mushrooms. Some hunters even think that it may be the best time because of less competition and greater diversity. Just as in spring, you have to know what you are finding.
September is one of the prime months to look for them. Besides foraging for mushrooms, you can be outside when, hopefully, the mosquitoes and other bugs are less prominent and it is a beautiful time to be out, especially when the leaves start to turn. It’s not quite the brutal cold and is past the brutal heat. Temperature is a big factor, as it signals the fungus when it’s time to grow.
You just have to know the habitat of the varieties you are hunting. Some only grow on certain trees and others only grow around certain types of trees. Besides temperature, moisture is the key to their growth. Some kinds, like hen-of-the-woods can even grow in dry conditions by sucking moisture directly out of the host tree. Old growth forests with lots of moisture are pretty sure bets of producing mushrooms.
Photo by armennano on Pixabay
Fall Mushroom Varieties
Sulfur fungi, also known as chicken-of-the-woods, is bright orange when it is ready to be harvested. It is found on oak stumps, fallen logs or cherry trees. Springy and rubbery, it is used in any dishes where you would use chicken like stir fries, soups and broths. This is one type where there is little danger of mistaking it for anything else, even the similar and poisonous jack-o-lantern mushroom.
Hen-of-the-woods is just as large but less obvious than chicken-of-the-woods. It is found in the same kinds of locations and is usually quite hefty. Often, they are weighed in pounds instead of ounces with many of them weighing in between 30 to 40 pounds. They have a strong flavor and firm texture which lets them stand up in most any kind of dish.
Giant puffball is one that many are familiar with. They grow to basket size and are sliced like a loaf of bread then fried and eaten like a steak or chopped to make a soup or top a steak.
Chanterelles are yellow to orange in color and grow singly rather than in clusters. Like morel hunters, most everyone who hunts these have their secret spot. The difference is that these usually come back in the same place year after year.
Hericiums are also known as Lion’s Mane or Bear’s Head Tooth. They are white, coral-like fungus that usually grow on dead or dying beech trees. They are found in one to three-pound clusters and are broken apart and then fried.
Honey mushrooms are called “stumpers” in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They grow in clusters, mainly in areas that have recently been logged. They are best when found before their caps have opened up because after the caps have opened, insects find their way inside. They are treated like the butter mushrooms that can be purchased in supermarkets. They are versatile as they can be sautéed, pickled or poached. When found, they are quite plentiful, being able to harvest 20 to 30 pounds in a single day.
Oyster mushrooms have 12-inch diameter caps and are found in clusters.
Photo by István Mihály on Pixabay
Cleaning and Preparing Mushrooms
Cleaning fall mushrooms are so much easier than those found in the spring. Since they are found mainly on old wood and trees rather than on the ground, they are basically dirt-free. A quick ten second dunk in water is all that is needed. Any longer wash than that will dilute the flavor and make it harder to get a crusty sear when frying.
Lay them singly on paper towels to dry. If laid on a damp paper towel and put in the refrigerator, they will last quite a few days.
Lots of folks like to freeze them for later use. The best method for this is to first lightly sauté them and then pat them dry with a paper towel. Then put them in a freezer bag, removing as much air as possible, and then freeze. They should be good for months.
Still, others dry them and then add water to rehydrate them when they are ready to use them. Some even put them in a high-speed blender to make flour, which is later added to recipes to make mushroom-flavored breads and pastas.
Of course, the best way is to not fiddle around at all and to just eat as many right away as you can! Sear them until they are caramelized and then flip them over and sear on the other side. Add salt, pepper and a little butter to finish them. The milk solids in the butter bring out the flavor. Don’t add lots of extra seasonings because you certainly don’t want to cover up the natural flavor.
Safety When Mushroom Hunting
Fall mushrooms, like their spring cousins, are definitely a treat but safety always comes first. The Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club offers public hunts throughout the state from spring through fall to help teach proper identification.
If you are really serious about hunting mushrooms and would like to make a little profit from selling them to restaurants and such, the Midwest American Mycological Information is a nonprofit dedicated to providing information and training to folks who want to be legally certified to commercially gather and sell mushrooms in Michigan.
If you are a novice or even a seasoned veteran wanting to brush up a little, it is always best to go on a couple of expeditions with an experienced forager. Even with this, always carry a field guide to be able to identify different species. Sometimes there are only minute differences between an edible and a poisonous variety.
Best Counties for Mushroom Hunting
Green Flag Digital and moveBuddha published a recent report on the Most Magical Mushroom Foraging Counties in the US. The analysts crunched data from iNaturalist to find the best places for those intrigued by the world of mushrooms. Using observational data for the total number of mushroom observations across the nation (from iNaturalist) crossed over with communities actively interested in shrooms (thanks to meetup.com, festivals, and local clubs), they were able to uncover the best counties in the country for those interested in foraging
Fall mushroom hunting is a great way to find some delicious treats and to also get out and enjoy the great fall weather.
Lois Hoffman is a freelance writer and photographer covering rural living with more than 20 years of experience, contributing to Successful Farming, Country, and Farm & Ranch Living. She lives on a 37-acre hobby farm in Michigan. Read all of Lois’ GRIT posts here.
All GRIT community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.
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