Mushroom Hunting: Tools of the “Trade”

By , October 2, 2009

In autumn when I leave the house, I always carry a mesh net bag. It’s mushroom season in Southeast Alaska; it’s not wise to enter the woods unprepared!

Opinions differ on the proper container for mushrooms, but most agree on certain features.

Some prefer a basket or cardboard box to protect the fragile fungi from breakage. I carry enough when I go out that I favor stowable gear, so I prefer a bag that can be pocketed.

Bags and baskets with open weave allow air circulation, and allow spores to shake loose onto the ground as you go, increasing the likelihood of finding more mushrooms next time.

Do not use plastic bags! Mushrooms are extremely delicate, quick to spoil. Carrying any food in a plastic bag is generally not a good idea. The bag restricts airflow and traps moisture, creating ideal conditions for bacterial growth, leading to spoilage and poisons.

In my bag, I carry a small dental mirror. This device, readily available at your local pharmacy, keeps me from picking every mushroom I see. Using it to look under the cap, I can see if a mushroom is gilled, toothed or porous, and also check for advanced age, mold, and undesirable inhabitants.

It’s possible to contaminate “good” mushrooms with the spores of “bad” ones through handling. A mirror allows hands-off inspection, offering added safety.

Some dental mirrors include a small flashlight that shines on the mirror. This would be an extra benefit in low-light hunts.

These mirrors are widely available. When I suggested the idea to Michelle, she offered a choice of several that were already in our home.

In mushroom season I carry two knives: my regular pocketknife, and a second knife designated specifically for food. This keeps regular lubricants, tape adhesives, and other contaminants off my mushrooms as I pick and clean them.

I prefer the old-fashioned, rugged, reliable Opinel. These wonderful knives are elegant, high quality, and—with careful shopping—inexpensive. We use several sizes of Opinel around the cabin. They all have a single blade with a locking ring. All are for food use only. When I clean and sharpen them, I oil them with vegetable oil rather than gun oil.

There are mushroom knives, many of which feature a brush on the handle. This would be handy for cleaning, but how long the will the bristles remain useful? Besides, I already own the Opinels.

With these three items in my pockets, I can go about my business. If I see no mushrooms, the gear’s no burden. If I do see mushrooms, I’ve got the tools on hand to make the most of them.

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