How to Pick Wild Mushrooms
Wild mushrooms have fascinated mankind for ages, and the revered fungi are now making a big splash at the lake. In fact, mushroom picking is threatening to bump the beloved blueberry off the top of the family foraging list.
How to find and pick wild mushrooms
OK, that might be a bit of a stretch, but there are definitely new mushroom picking fans out there looking to add some excitement to their traditional cabin meals.
Culinary history of wild mushrooms
Mushrooming might be the hot trend in cottage country, but the practice dates back to the ancient Egyptians, who reserved the consumption of mushrooms exclusively for the pharaohs.
Greeks and Romans also considered mushrooms as food for the gods, and it is believed that Julius Caesar even passed a law that detailed who was allowed to eat them. Maybe that’s the real reason he was killed.
In China, a walking stick crowned with a mushroom ornament is often identified with Shoulau, the Chinese god of longevity.
For us common folk, the cultivation of edible mushrooms began in France in the 1600s, and anyone who has visited the UK knows that mushrooms are a part of every proper English breakfast.
Health benefits are likely behind the most recent surge in popularity. Mushrooms contain a wide variety of minerals and vitamins, very little carbohydrates, a solid dose of protein, and no sugars.
Certain varieties are also considered valuable for lowering cholesterol, preventing cancer, stimulating the immune system, and neutralizing toxic residues in the body connected to the consumption of animal protein.
Maybe we should all have a healthy helping of wild mushrooms with our juicy cottage steak!
It’s easy to see why cottagers are getting into the mycological spirit. Foraged mushrooms have a flavour that is vastly superior to that of commercially grown ones, and a certain pride comes with eating something we have collected ourselves – even more so when we survive the event long enough to brag about it to our friends.
There is also a financial benefit. Some of the popular varieties, such as morels, can fetch as much as $25 per kilogram.
Got you interest peaked? Perfect!
Here is some useful information to help you start mushrooming at the cabin.
Mushroom picking essentials
Field guide – pocket-sized is ideal for identifying any mushroom encountered in the bush.
Basket or special pouch – mushrooms are best collected in a basket and lightly wrapped or covered. Putting them in a plastic bag will cause the mushrooms to rot.
Knife – useful for removing mushrooms that grow on wood, as well as cutting off the dirty bits and picking out maggots. (mmmm!)
Small brush – helpful for cleaning off dirt, grass, pine needles etc. from the mushrooms before placing them in the basket.
Magnifying glass – important for subtle points of identification, although if you get to this stage when trying to decide if the mushroom is edible or not, you might want to take a pass.
GPS- it is easy to get turned around in the bush, even when we are in familiar territory. You can also mark spots where you found your best mushrooms.
How to find and pick wild mushrooms
Spending time with a seasoned forager is highly advisable at the beginning, and you might even consider contacting the local mycological society or foraging group near your home as a way to begin.
Stick to the most common and easily identified species (of mushrooms not foragers).
When you find an interesting mushroom, use the field guide to determine if it is safe. If you have any specimens that you are not 100% sure about, either leave them, or keep them in a separate basket.
Mushrooms normally grow in groups. If you find one that is a keeper, the surrounding area is likely to contain more.
Cleaning wild mushrooms
Once you have your stash, head back to the cottage and sort out your mushrooms. It is a good idea to double-check the identity of each specimen, so serious pickers always keep a second identification book on hand at the cabin.
Always discard the mushrooms you are not completely sure are safe.
Remove any damaged parts and discard mushrooms that show bruising or discoloration. Most varieties will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.
Before using the mushrooms, wipe off any remaining dust with a damp paper towel, rather than washing them. Cut off the woody stem bases.
Wild mushroom seasons
Late summer and early fall are prime mushroom times but some species, including the coveted morel, are available as early as spring. Mushrooms wait for ideal conditions and seem to appear magically overnight, so it is important to be constantly on the lookout.
Cooking wild mushrooms
Wild mushrooms are great in a pasta sauce, gravy, or simply fried with a bit of spices. Here is a popular book with tips on cooking mushrooms as well as a variety of other edible wild plants.
Written and photographed by: Andrew Walker