Gourmet Delicacies for Free: Foraging for Mushrooms

By , September 21, 2009

If you think of the hunter/gatherer lifestyle as one of quiet desperation—of primitive, nomadic people roaming from place to place, tasting anything they can lay hands to, hoping that it might provide enough meager nourishment to sustain them through one more day, you’d be wrong. In fact, some of the foods we gather for free from our surroundings are considered gourmet delicacies that can generally be obtained only at very high prices. I’m talking mushrooms here!

Southeast Alaska is blessed with a wide variety of mushrooms, most of which are edible, many of which are delicious. Since moving to the homestead, we’ve taken pains to educate ourselves in mycology or “mushroomology,” and the payoff has been tremendous. Especially at this time of year, we stuff ourselves for free with varieties of mushroom that sell in dried form for $70 an ounce!

Many of our local mushroom varieties are the most sought after in the world: porcinis (boletes), chanterelles, and morels. The morels appear in the spring; the rest, and most of the other varieties, may begin to appear as early as July, and usually last through October.

Since we’re relatively new to mushroom hunting, we mostly stick to easily recognized mushrooms that are safe to eat. These include the boletes and chanterelles mentioned above, as well as sulfur shelf or chicken of the woods, and shaggy manes.  Since toothed mushrooms are all safe, as a rule, we enjoy hedgehogs and hawk wings, both of which appear in the autumn in our woods. This year, A local expert has introduced me to the gypsy, a gilled mushroom that is usually very common in our area. We see them everywhere now, and intend to sample them soon.

With autumn, then, comes our prime mushroom season. Soon I’ll be ruminating on the following topics related to mushrooms:

I’m not an expert mycologist. I’m a happy amateur who likes to collect free food. I only recently worked up the courage to hunt mushrooms. Previously, I, like many Americans, was cowed by the stringent warnings against collecting mushrooms unless extravagant measures were taken. I have since learned more about wild mushrooms, and now follow strategies that have not only kept me safe and healthy, but have opened up the possibility of adding new, exotic, and—outside of foraging—costly delicacies to my family’s meals. I’ll outline these methods in future posts.

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