Saturday, June 13, 2009

Safety First: Puffball Precautions

The Safety First series takes a look at the dangers of mushroom hunting and how hobbyists can avoid these dangers.

Hunting puffball mushrooms is often a very safe and profitable endeavor – not to mention tasty! However, there are a few precautions the aspiring mycophagist should be aware of before sitting down to a puffball meal:

As you may know, some immature mushrooms (or buttons) are contained inside a universal veil. This structure protects the mushroom during it’s development and usually ruptures when the mushroom has reached the appropriate size. It is important to know that both poisonous and edible mushrooms can use the button as a pit stop on the way to adulthood. This advice is important for identifying all mushrooms as food for the table, but it becomes VITAL when identifying puffball mushrooms. Often times the buttons of poisonous mushrooms – especially the amanita family – will look exactly like several varieties of puffballs. How do you tell the difference? Fortunately, telling the difference from the button of a developing mushroom and a potentially tasty puffball snack is relatively easy. All you need to do is make a longitudinal slice of the mushroom and take a look at the interior. The slice should reveal SOLID WHITE FLESH and have no hint of a stalk or gills. If you notice either (even if you “just suspect”) then discard the specimen right away! “When in doubt, throw it out!”

Conveniently, the second step in harvesting puffballs can be performed while you are looking at the interior of the mushroom. The flesh of a puffball mushroom should be solid white, not marbled, brown, purple, green, or any other color of the rainbow. If you split the mushroom open and see any other color other than solid white then it’s time to throw it out. Eating the mature flesh of a puffball mushroom is likely to cause some major gastrointestinal havoc! For the same reason, it is also wise for you to cook your puffball finds very quickly to avoid any spoilage.

Finally, it seems that more people have allergic reactions to the puffball mushrooms than they do for other families. Due to this risk it is advisable to make your first forays into puffballs tentative ones. By eating less on the first time you lessen the impact that potential allergic reactions can have. Wait, you say you’ve eaten puffballs before and not had any reactions? Not so fast! In his their book “Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America,” David Fischer and Alan Bessette have this to say:

“Some pople have allergic reactions to some species of puffballs, particularly the Giant. These allergies develop, at least in some cases, after years of eating them. In absence of any evidence to the contrary, and considering the similarities in taste and texture between the numerous species, it would be wise for persons suffering such reactions to avoid the entire group…”

With this information, it would probably be best to say that, as with any other mushroom, eating a large amount of puffballs in one sitting is probably not a good idea …

All this said, I can personally vouch for the great taste and texture this group of mushrooms affords any mushroom hunter who is lucky enough to find one unspoiled.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mushroom Hunter's Tools: Cosmetic Brush

The Mushroom Hunter's Tools segment explores some common (and not so common) tools of the hobby. This week well brush up on a common tool used for cleaning.

When picking wild mushrooms for the table, the MH will often encounter all kinds of dirt and debris speckling their fungal finds. Of course, this debris will have to be removed before the mushrooms are prepared and cooked! But how? Many people unfamiliar with the handling of our often delicate friends may simply pick or rub this "dirt" off - that is if they don't simply dunk the whole thing in water.* (Not recommended btw . . .) However, as the MH is sure to know, some species are very delicate, making them difficult to clean without damaging them.

Enter the cosmetic brush! This tool excels at removing bits of debris from stalks, caps, and especially gills. Not convinced (or too manly) to purchase a cosmetic brush for your mushroom hunting tool kit? Here are some reasons why you should:

  • Unlike a cloth (or your finger) a brush will not apply as much direct pressure to the body of the mushroom. This will result in less bruised or broken pieces and more mushrooms for the table.
  • The individual bristles on the brush will get into cracks, folds, and gills much better than the surface of the cloth. This will often aleviate the need for running water to be used when cleaning the mushroom.
  • If you purchase a retractable cosmetic brush (like those pictured above) it can be easily stored and carried with you on the hunt.
The best part about having a brush with you on a hunt is that you will have an opportunity to partially clean the mushrooms before they hit the chopping block at home. As you pick each specimen, lightly clean them before placing it into your basket. This could potentially save you hours of work if you are lucky enough to get a big haul.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Awesome Fungi: A 1.25 lb Morel!

Each week, Awesome Fungi puts the spotlight on a mushroom species that is simply awesome. This week we take a look at a real monster of a morel:

The City Bay Times has released an article in which a Michigan resident by the name of Charley Robinson has come across a morel that was 17 inches in girth and weighed 1.25 pounds! (The particular species wasn't mentioned) Unfortunately there was no photo associated with the article, but Robinson was kind enough to give some sage advice from his 60 year MH career.
Here are some highlights:

  • Robinson waits to pick his morel finds until they are "a little dry". He says this is an indicator that the mushroom has stopped growing.
  • According to the article, Robinson uses an ingenuous trick involving wood ash. He apparently spreads the ash in areas he has found morels before. The article omits the exact details of the process, but the idea of manipulating the morel's fondness of burnt substrate is pure genius!
  • Robinson looks for black morels (Morchella elata) in poplar forests and large blond morels (Morchella esculenta) in the mixed beech maple forests.
To read more of Robinson's tips or to read the whole story, follow the link above.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Mushroom Hunter’s Tools: The Walking Stick

The Mushroom Hunter's Tools segment explores some common (and not so common) tools of the hobby. Let's take a look at what our bearded friend below has got in his hand . . .

Gandalf here has a good idea. Now, I’m not suggesting that the average mushroom hunter should invest in a magical staff to aid in the casting of spells (although more power to you if you can do it ;p). However, a walking stick can be a valuable tool for any MH that frequently hikes in the woods.

What are the advantages to having a walking stick?

  • Having a walking stick can obviously help the MH keep his balance in situations where this would normally be very difficult. I can’t tell you how many times a trusty walking stick has saved me from a serious fall in my usual foraging spots.

  • Using a walking stick to discretely poke around underbrush, leaves, and even mushrooms is an even more important reason to keep one with you. Having stumbled upon several Copperheads and Rattlesnakes (both types of snakes are common to my area), I can say that a walking stick has also saved me from a few snake bites and other hazards. You never know what can be lying below the leaves or even the next mushroom cap.

  • They simply look cool. Who doesn’t want to think of themselves as the sagely mycologist as he scours the land for prize finds? . . . Ok maybe I’m the only one who thinks like that . . . ;p

MH walking sticks can come in many different makes, shapes, and sizes. I’ve seen and used everything from sticks I’ve found in the woods to four foot long metal poles (nicknamed the rocking stick) and everything in between. Some MHs I know have taken great care in carving and personalizing their walking stick. The stick becomes very symbolic, just like a MH’s basket. Exactly what you choose to help your hunting – if you use anything at all – is completely up to you.