Fungus Among Us

 Edible or not?  NOT!!!

Edible or not?  NOT!!!

I know this is an unusual blog topic, but it was brought to mind by the unseasonably warm, humid weather in Massachusetts which has prompted the sprouting of clusters of mushrooms on my sister’s front lawn. I was impressed recently with our friends, the Zapfs, who have been collecting wild mushrooms in New Hampshire. Burger, a native of Germany, collected wild mushrooms as a child with his mom. He’s familiar with chantrelles and morels and many more varieties I've never heard of. Nancy knows how to prepare them. I’m a mushroom fan and I wondered if maybe Lin's front yard would render a delectable autumn harvest.

I figured, however, that a little research in advance might be prudent since death from ‘shrooms was not advisable. A quick guide to poisonous mushrooms included these three warnings and proper advisories …

1. Avoid mushrooms with white gills, a skirt or ring on the stem and a bulbous or sack like base.

2. Avoid mushrooms with red on the cap or stem.

3. Finally don't consume any mushrooms unless you are 100% sure of what they are.

I really have to wonder who originally sampled the local mushrooms, survived and lived to tell about them and those who never had the chance to tell their tale.

I checked out mushrooms specifically growing in Massachusetts. I loved some of the names … witches’ butter, turkey tail, eyelash cup, plums and custard. Then I spent some time checking out the edible varieties. Now that I had some rules, I went out to investigate.

 Lobster mushrooms, maybe? 

Lobster mushrooms, maybe? 

The most disgusting ones on Lin's front lawn were growing under a rhododendron bush. Perhaps they were “lobster mushrooms”? I certainly didn’t know for sure and they were definitely too ugly to eat.

 Rule #1 - No white gills

Rule #1 - No white gills

The most appealing were the lovely white ones with a yellow tint to their caps. I knocked one over … white gills. Easy to identify, it was a a common yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) “This may be our most easy to spot local species. It is toxic! Death from ingestion is rare for humans, but nearly certain for house pets.”

I read further that the uncommon red fly was also toxic. I didn’t spot any here, but remembered seeing some scarlet flycaps in New Zealand and the Chatham Islands that caught our attention because of their Alice-in-Wonderland-type quality. It went without saying that red mushrooms with polka-dots should definitely be suspect.

 Scarlet flycaps ... uh-uh

Scarlet flycaps ... uh-uh

I found another gill-less, brown-capped variety on the side lawn. It might have been a peppery bolete, an edible variety. Here’s what I read …

 Peppery bolete? Taste test required ... be my guest ... you got first!

Peppery bolete? Taste test required ... be my guest ... you got first!

“One method for testing the edibility of a boletus species is the taste test. You can break off a tiny piece of the cap and put it in your mouth. It is still strongly recommend that you identify all boletus mushrooms as close to the exact species as possible before trying them. This technique is not recommend for testing the edibility of any other group of species.” So, this one might have been edible. I wasn’t sure and I was chicken to sample it. There was no one to taste-test it for me. I gave it a pass.

Over the years, we’ve seen lots of unusual mushrooms in our travels, but the display at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens was probably the most comprehensive.

 The Adelaide Botanic Garden mushroom display ... WOW

The Adelaide Botanic Garden mushroom display ... WOW

Despite my lack of success in wild foraging, I was in a 'shroom mood, so I prepared caprese-style mushrooms with a balsamic reduction for Lin’s homecoming dinner. And while her front lawn ‘shrooms have remained pretty much untouched, the portabella inventory at Trader Joe’s has been somewhat diminished.