by ROSS BALLARD
Last fall I discovered a new hobby; mushroom picking is a great way to spend a day in the forest yet many people believe it to be very dangerous, which of course it can be if one is not extremely cautious. Edible wild mushrooms often have an "evil twin" that can cause serious stomach upset or much worse; however there are a small variety of local species that are easy to Identify and very tasty!
Conveniently enough you can purchase all the required supplies to have a fun and safe adventure right here in town. Available at Infinity office and health a basket is the easiest thing to keep your harvest from getting crushed. A number of identification guides are available at the local public library and for sale at both the museum and Infinity. A pocket knife and a small paint brush will aid in trimming and removing soil before storing. Bear spray is also a must have for this picker as I have had a couple encounters close to town. A large zip-lock bag and a camera (cell) are also useful for photographing or taking unknown species for identification; always keep these separate from your main harvest.
The smartest thing a new comer to picking can do is go out with an experienced harvester and pay close attention. Seeing first-hand what is what will greatly increase your knowledge and safety. The number one rule of picking is that if you do not have a 100% positive Identification; DO NOT EAT IT!
The reader should also know that most of the edible mushrooms found locally are NOT edible when raw. They also DO NOT mix well with alcohol; therefore it is important to read up on what you are harvesting. I now own several guides on the subject and reread them throughout the season to learn about new species and stay fresh on my knowledge.
My fondest memories of last year’s picking are a 6 pound harvest of fresh oyster mushrooms found on the side of a huge black cottonwood and a group of eight gem puffballs that were as large as softballs! Taking my find home I cleaned and cut them into thick slices and stacked them in my food dehydrator. At the end of the fall I had close to a dozen large Mason jars of dried fungi that I have used throughout the winter for soups, sauces, and whatever else comes to mind!
Other easy to identify species include the highly sought after pine or matsutake and the very common "slippery jack" which has a slippery wet brown cap and pores instead of gills. The four fungi mentioned above are easy to identify and each have a unique taste and texture that is all their own. The slippery jack and matsutake both flourish in pine forests, the latter also liking the shade of large Douglas fir stands. Worms and insects like both these fungi so it is necessary to take a slice out of the stem to make sure your harvest is not infested. Gem and giant puffballs are normally found on lawns and in large fields. They have a fast turn over time and you will almost always find a couple that are no longer any good for eating. Oyster mushrooms are among my favorite because if you luck out you can fill your basket to bursting in just a couple of minutes! The largest single mushroom I found last season was an oyster that weighed over two pounds and would not fit in my basket’s mouth!
I carried it home and fried some up in butter. Sooo good! The rest which I dehydrated went into a soup last week.
Is it just me or does free food taste better?!
This is Ross Ballard ever thankful for the natural wonders that surround our little village. We are so lucky to call this place home.
Thanks for reading!