Mushroom Magic

Last week, the kids and I were walking to our park and I spotted this lovely thing on our neighbor’s corner.

011 (640x427) (2)

Over the past few years, Nik and I have loved being a part of a group called the Baltimore Foodmakers.  There are a lot of foragers/mushroom hunters in the group and from them, I’ve learned a bit about the art of searching for mushrooms.  One thing I’ve learned is that big edible mushrooms often grow on trees, or dead logs.  I also knew that underneath that dirt, there was a huge stump left behind by the tragic loss of a tulip poplar back in 2012.  So I took a picture of it and emailed it to the group, mostly out of curiosity to find out what it was. A couple different people replied, guessing that it might be an oyster mushroom.  One exceeding kind friend, who has a lifetime of foraging experience to share (including TONS of mushroom knowledge), very kindly came over a couple days later and conclusively identified it as an oyster for us.  (Make sure you read clear to the end for some important mushroom safety information.)

This particular presentation of an oyster is evidently atypical. The fungus must have been desperate to flower and so forced its way through the dirt! Here’s a few more shots of it for the curious, wanna-be mushroom hunters out there.

012 (640x427) (2)bottom

019 (640x427) (3)side

020 (640x427) (2)top (after picking, in the shade)

021 (640x427) (2)cross-section

By the time I picked this one, it weighed just over two pounds and was definitely past its prime.  The edges were dried out and tough and the inner section was pretty tough too. My friend also identified an almost fishy smell to it, which meant it was old.  (It just smelled like mushroom to me.)  Even after cutting off the tough parts, I was able to slice up a good amount of it and we ate it sauteed with asparagus in a creamy garlic thyme sauce over pasta (as inspired by this recipe).  The mushrooms were delicious but definitely on the rubbery side (because it had grown too big by the time I picked it).

I still have a lot more to cut up because, beside the original mushroom, I found another one yesterday! This one was growing on the other side of the stump (which is still exposed).  It only weighed 7 ounces and is noticeably more supple.  We’re definitely going to eat all of this little one! (I likely will use most of the other huge one to make mushroom stock for soup.)

002 (640x427) (2) 004 (640x427) (2)Not that I know much at all about mushrooms, but judging from pictures I’ve seen on the internet, I think this particular oyster growth is much more typical of the way that oysters usually grow. 

My amazingly knowledgeable friend also asked me if I’d seen a particular kind of black beetle on them and I said, “Yes! Tons of them and so weird, I’ve never seen that kind before!” As it turns out, they only like to live on oyster mushrooms!  (Read more about them in this article. Those beetles are another way to positively identify it as an oyster.)

I’m not sure if we’ll get any more off of that stump.  There’s no shade there, which makes it non-ideal for mushroom growing.  We count ourselves really lucky to have found two of them and also to have a friend who could help us positively identify them so we could feel safe eating them.  I’m going to keep watching that stump like a hawk though!

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A bit about foraging etiquette: I did ask my neighbor’s permission to pick the mushroom before I picked it.  I asked my foraging friend what I should do and she said that it’s common courtesy to ask permission if it’s clear that what you want to pick is on someone’s private property.  This evening I’m planning to take some of the good one over to him, to see if he’d like to eat some of it.  His tree did house it after all.

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We would NOT have eaten the mushroom with only a visual identification from one picture.  Mushrooms can kill you or make you extremely sick.  The best way to learn about foraging for wild mushrooms safely is to find a super knowledgeable friend who can teach you.  My friend also taught us how to look for morels on a foraging walk several Aprils ago. I now feel fairly confident that I can safely identify oysters and morels.  Any other mushrooms?  I’ll be asking for help again!  In sum, (to quote my friend) please do not EVER eat a mushroom that you are not 100% certain of in terms of identity and edibility, either because you yourself have experience with that mushroom, or because you’ve had an experienced mycologist identify it for you.

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2 Responses to Mushroom Magic

  1. Sepideh says:

    The thing about old mushrooms smelling fishy is something that we learned the hard way last year.

    We had a yard where the grass grew taller than the mushrooms so it was easy to twist an ankle by accidentally stepping on an unseen mushroom. To address this problem, we pulled up many of the mushrooms and put them in the compost, and there was an overwhelming smell of rotting fish to the whole thing.

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