Our Philosophy

Festina lente
-make haste...slowly

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Y'all All Look Alike To Me - Mushroom Mayhem

Two-year-old Oliver leads us on a little myco-exploration this week, after two weeks of regular rain in North Georgia.  Daddy, don't we need to get this bolete, too?

First day we picked up a few unusual beauties for lunch - on the left is a pair of shaggy-stalked boletes, top right is the dark and wild bolete Strobilomyces confusus, which won't be confusing us any longer!  In the middle is a random Boletus pallidus, and at the bottom a few teaser chanterelles that never really showed up this time around.  Of all the nerve...

Jess was thrilled by her first find and identification - Lactarius indigo - which is edible and somewhat fruity, if you can get past the squid ink released by the gills of this odd little blue fungus!

My goodness!  Look what I found while you were playing pat-a-cake with your little indigo;)  There are actually about 7 more species of boletes under the burlap, which honestly, overwhelmed my diagnostic desires for the day.  But the big deal here is the pile of Amanita rubescens on the left.  I've always steered clear of Amanitas because the genus is loaded with heavyweight killers like Destroying Angels, muscarias, and death caps, but I was 100% positive on the ID of "The Blusher."  Somehow, though, that didn't diminish the feeling of eating blowfish when I popped in that first bite!  But, as you can see, I am still alive and well to tell the tale of dining on Amanitas!  Yum!

A little bolete village.  For anyone who doesn't know, boletes are the group of mushrooms with the classical toadstool shape, but instead of gills under the cap they have pores.  Sort of like a sponge underneath.  There are loads of boletes out there, and many of them are edible and even choice, like Boletus edulis, the porcini.  If I can get good at ID-ing this group of 'shrooms, I could just about live off of them; they are everywhere around us in the mountains!

This...is a real bummer.  They look like chanterelles, and in fact ARE chanterelles, but they just happen to be Cantherellus ignicolor, the only chanterelle you shouldn't eat.  They are smaller, flimsier, and more vivid orange than the edible species.

This is a bright little jewel in our forest, taught to me just this past Sunday by my buddy Chris, from Crack In The Sidewalk Farmlet in Atlanta.  It's the American Caesar's Amanita, edible and somtimes rated choice, just emerging from its "egg," which is of course a universal veil more than an egg per se.  Chris had a load of them, all bigger than this one, that he found in Grant Park at the market.

This, I'm pretty sure, is a parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota spp.) emerging in the forest.  I haven't ID'd it positively yet, so it's still there, but I intend to do that soon.  Parasols are rated as choice edibles, but Wikipedia issues a "not recommended" warning as they are similar in appearance to some pretty dangerous customers.  Identified appropriately they are highly prized, not only for their taste, but also for their size.  Specimens up to one meter tall and broad have been reported in Europe! 

I'm hoping this a black-staining polypore (Meripilus sumstinei) emerging at the base of this oak tree.  Taken and eaten young, they are very firm but meaty, the taste reminding me of a sirloin steak.  Last time I had them I just chewed on them until I had extracted the delicious meaty flavor fully, then spit out the fibrous mushroom matrix.

Mushrooms aren't the only characters driven into my house by the rain.  After a day or so cooped up inside the kids were in rare form, presenting puppet shows, skits, and dances bizarre enough to bring in the touristas.  Even the neighbor's dog took refuge in our big tent for a couple of days.
I don't intend for Small Batch Garden to become a mushroom blog, but I am trying to show that, with a little patience and some good reference books, some really high quality calories can be pulled from the woods around us free of charge.  Don't eat any mushrooms that you aren't 100% sure about.  Take spore prints; key the features completely.  Angular and round pores are not the same thing, even if every other morphological trait fits a given description.  A myco-mistake can be a serious one, BUT mushrooms also offer delightful fragrances and tastes, and obviously they can be quite striking physically as well.  The nutrient profiles beg consideration for dietary inclusion, especially as meat may become more difficult to acquire in a lower energy future.  When you get involved with mushrooms you quickly realize that they don't all look alike.  Some of them are quite distinct actually, even attractive.  I see them everywhere now, and I'm curious about all of them.  Does it taste good?  Is it good medicine?  How much will the surplus fetch at the market?

Paul Stamets, author of "Mycelium Running," talks about mushrooms being vanguard species, colonizing and remediating compromised ecologies first, drawing in insects to eat their spore load, birds to eat the insects, seeds from bird manure sprouting in the mushroom-improved soil, ecosystems being reborn from the mire.  He speaks of spawn bunkers placed to intercept livestock run-off, scrubbing E. coli and other manure-related microbes out of the effluent, radically improving downstream water quality.  He talks about improving veggie crop vigor and yields with mushroom symbionts like Glomus endo- and ecto-mycorrhizae, and Stropharia in the corn patch.  It's an amazing and fascinating dark underground world that humans rarely venture into, but one that will play a starring role in a future centered around topsoil and watershed repair.  There are what, six kingdoms of life on Earth?  How much more enriched is the human existence that invites another 17% of the living world into its calculus? 

When life moves toward simplification, whether by hook or by crook, the time formerly spent on high energy frivolity tends to give way to something else.  That new-found time can be spent killing brain cells, or it can be spent relearning the knowledge that helped us thrive before coal and oil.  For those of mycophobic British descent, like me, a love of mushrooms is probably a brand new thing, one of the useful products of globalization, inherited from mycophilic cultures like the Italians, Germans, or Russians.  And for that I can be thankful, filed away in my bag of new tricks, as I make my way toward the hyper-local recombinant culture of a lower energy future.


  1. Excellent "findings"!
    I must ask: Is the greyish-brown color of your native leaf litter truly representative, or is it just a result of the digital camera collecting enough light that gives the photo replica a false color reading? (Our leaf litter is distinctly brown and browner, with greys shading to blacks only found in areas of vernal pools.)

    I is a'skeert of mushroom eating, although locals tell me there are MANY fine edibles to be had. ...If'n we get some rain, that is. I'll look into books by those authors. (I expanded your photos by right-clicking and selecting "open photo in new window".)

    1. Howdy, O3! Sorry it took me so long to get out of the dark woods and answer your comment. I would imagine our forest litter is a little grayer than yours; the photos are pretty representative. Although it does get grayer and blacker in wet areas, like you said.

      I was a mycophobe like you just a few years ago, but I started buying fresh wild mushrooms from someone who seemed to know what he was talking about, then started growing a few choice edibles, then got a little more confident on the ID of those cultivatable species in the wild, then...then...you get it. Happens organically, like anything else. Great vittles, too!

      The best mushroom key in the photos is the "Mushrooms of the Southeastern United States," [Bessette et al] and it has a twin called "Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States," that might be a bit more appropriate for you. I will probably get it one of these days, because the MSE doesn't cover everything. Pricey though. You definitely have to want to do it.

      If you were able to expand the last photo of this post to the point where you can read the titles on the bookshelf, the highest visible shelf is my permaculture shelf, and I would probably recommend anything on that shelf pretty highly!

      Peace, brother.

  2. Tripp; This post led me to get three books on mushroom identification. Morels are great, but that is only a couple weeks in the spring. I already own the two Sam Thayer books on wild food foraging- If you don't already have, I highly recommend.

  3. I would say not to much light I had mine under alot of light and nothing . Also you must put something in the bottom to keep it humid perlite or some hydroponic rocks will work and keep it moist water on the walls at all times
    magic mushroom kits