Wild Mushrooms of Mid-fall – Wine Caps, Shaggy Manes and More
It may be bundle up time ( we’ve had temps in the mid-20’s on several nights at this point) but there are still delicious wild mushrooms to be found. Here’s the latest from our resident expert.
THE MUSHROOMS OF AUTUMN
After The Leaf fall
As the days shorten the trees shed their leaves, openings begin to appear in the canopy, and more light penetrates to the understory. Mild frosts will have singed the outer tips of the garden plants and the edges of the forest, but mushrooms such as Honeys can still be found poking through the thin cover of leaves under the thickest forest canopies.
By mid-Autumn, a month after equinox, It’s a different story. The days will have lost well over an hour of sunshine and on one clear night a flock of Juncos will fly in with a cold Canadian air mass heralding the first hard freeze of the season. The following morning a heavy layer of frost will cover the garden, the yard, and the forest.
With the first rays of sun and stirrings of a breeze, leaves will fall like rain pittering and pattering onto the ground. Under these conditions, rare is the mushroom that will have escaped frost and/or a blanket of leaves. In another few weeks, usually raked by another storm or two, the hardwood forests will be upside down, the leaves on the ground and the bare branches rooting starkly in the gray November skies.
Although heavy frosts will have damaged any mushrooms that have fruited, the ground itself will not be frozen and will be able to produce a new flush, particularly when a warm rain from the south sweeps into the area. Autumn in the Northeast can produce temperature swings of forty to fifty degrees, from the ‘teens to the upper sixties and low seventies in the course of a thirty-six hour time frame. Winter will eventually win, but the collision between the seasonal air masses will produce some spectacular weather changes in this transitional time of year.
If one wishes to continue the hunt for mushrooms, a change of venue is necessary. A good tactic is to leave the deciduous forests behind and look instead to evergreens, grassy areas, gardens and mulch piles..
Autumn Mushrooms under Evergreens
1. Pigs under Pines
Since evergreens keep most of their needles, the floor under them is often devoid of heavy debris. Mushrooms there are often easy to see.
From October through November, especially following tropical storms it is common to find several species of the genus Suillus under their host evergreens. Most collectors (Leslie and I included) rate these “Swine Mushrooms” well below other members of the Boletus group, but they are often collected in abundance, particularly by families who retain their ethnic heritage. Yours may be among them.
Jack Czarnecki, for example, who together with his father, Joe, ran their famous wild mushroom restaurant in Reading Pennsylvania, speaks fondly of Suillus luteus, the Slippery Jack which is particularly abundant late in the season. In “Joe’s Book of Mushroom Cookery”, he points out that it “grows in great quantity throughout the world and may be the largest-selling commercial mushroom in circulation”.
I recall seeing barrels of dried, ‘Porcini”, ‘Steinpilz’, and ‘Forest Mushrooms’ imported from Europe and offered for sale at mushroom farms in the Catskills. When I inspected the mushrooms closely they seemed to be mostly Suillus, yet the perfume rising from the barrels was inviting, meaty and complex; another reminder that drying usually improves the flavor of mushrooms quite remarkably. The clerks at the markets said that the sales were brisk with many repeat customers.
Many, if not most, Suilli are host-tree specific, a growth habit that will help you identify them. Use your field guides, consult on-line sources, and or team up with the experienced collectors you will meet when you join a local mycological association (find one here).
You may wish to remove the skin (pellicle) covering the caps of Suillus prior to cooking as it can often act as a mild laxative. And many cooks remove the layer of tubes under the cap as this often becomes mucilaginous, like Okra.
For more on this large, complex assemblage of mushrooms see Michael Kuo’s informative and entertaining page here.
2. Blewits again
It is also worth mentioning that at this time of year, after mild rains, I often find large quantities of Blewits (Lepista nuda) fruiting in the mossy groundcover under dense stands of Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). If you have not read the previous post on Blewits, you may wish to do so. They are among the most choice of wild mushrooms!
Autumn mushrooms in the grass, Inky Caps on the Green
In November after rains, or even wet snow, Coprinus comatus, the Shaggy Mane or Inky Cap can fruit in abundance. These will be easy to spot rising proudly in great troops across the closely cropped green grass of yards and parks. Shaggy Manes are saprophytic fungi and are most likely to fruit on disturbed soil, often recently seeded areas. You will want to look for them at new construction sites, particularly those where humus has been mixed into the soil and/or straw has been used to cover the newly seeded lawn. Common sense dictates to avoid those areas where contamination is likely, and you should probably not eat many collected from roadsides where automotive lead has collected from the years when it was used as a gasoline additive.
Since Ink Caps auto digest very quickly, one can usually disregard the rule that says: avoid collecting after frost. Unlike the case of the tougher Honey Mushrooms, with Shaggy Manes there is little danger of collecting mushrooms that have been killed by frost and subsequently contaminated by bacteria. They simply don’t last that long. In fact, most will begin to ‘deliquesce’ even before you can get them into the frying pan.
Those whose gills are completely white are very young and ‘prime’. Within a few hours of collecting the tips of the gills will begin to blush rose, and then turn black. These are still ‘choice’. Once the gills start to become ‘inky’ they are still edible but unless you are using them with a dish featuring octopus ink, they often give an unappetizing appearance to the dish.
How to delay the auto-digestion process in Shaggy Mane Mushrooms
Here is a tip worth remembering. If you place intact fresh young Shaggy Manes into a mason jar filled with water and keep it in the fridge, the mushrooms will keep for a few days without turning inky. I don’t know the mechanism responsible, but assume it has to do with interrupting an oxygen respiration cycle. Perhaps some biologist out there will post a comment!
Cooking Shaggy Manes
Many cooks like to combine this mushroom with cream as in creamed mushrooms over toast points. Shaggy Manes have a delicate flavor and texture and seem to take to dairy. I have also found them blending well with the salty, smoky pan drippings from ham, stirring them around in the pan for a few minutes after the ham has been cooked. And they are excellent with eggs at breakfast time.
A word of warning: You may find pounds and pecks of Shaggy Manes at a time. Since they do not keep you will be tempted to eat ’em all up as quickly as you can. Sometimes in the fall I have eaten Coprinus two or three times a day, but on the third or fourth day I almost invariable get a sick headache; too much of a good thing, I guess. Call it Gluttony’s revenge!
Leslie may want to post her favorite recipe for Shaggy Manes, and in the meantime you may wish to check out recipes from the Mycological Society of San Francisco.
Tippler’s Bane, a potentially toxic look-alike
For decades, following the advice of Clyde Christensen, Coprinus comatus has often been referred to as one of the ‘fool-proof four’, a mushroom so distinctive that it is immediately recognizable and safe even for beginners. I have found, however, that often my students confused it with another member of the genus, C. atramentarius. If you are going to collect Shaggy Manes you must be able to differentiate them from this cousin, the Tippler’s Bane, which contains a toxin that acts in concert with alcohol.
Coprinus atramentarius itself is edible but contains the toxin Coprine which acts much like Antabuse (disulfuram). Both compounds interrupt the metabolism of alcohol in the body midway in its cycle, just after the alcohol has been converted into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is the agent that causes the toxic reaction. The effect will persist for days after ingesting the mushroom, so any exposure to alcohol in the following week will trigger the toxic reaction. Unless you are a masochist, you don’t want to go there!
I usually find C. atramentarius in grassy areas, growing in clusters, apparently sprouting from buried wood such as decaying tree roots. For more on C. atramentarius click here.
Autumn mushrooms in mulch; Wine Caps in the Wood Chips
Stropharia rugusoannulata is an aggressive digester of wood chips. It has colonized many mulch beds in the Northeast, both accidentally and by design as gardeners will often inoculate their mulch piles and wood chip paths to cultivate this delicious fungus. Although the most robust fruitings are in May and June, a second flush often appears in the fall, and this year I have seen them in several mulched beds in my neighborhood.
This is a very robust mushroom, often six to eight inches in diameter. It has a slightly sweet flavor and, as Roger Phillips pronounces as only a Brit can, “It is delicious!” Leslie and I completely agree and can always find room for them in our basket, fridge, or daily menu. (There will be more about these next spring – the best planting time. LL) For help in identifying this mushroom, click here.
Late Hens under leaves.
A final word: Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosus) can still be found at the base of Oak trees under the leaves. I am currently watching two near our New York home. (The post with hunting tips is here. LL.)