Sunday, July 25, 2010

Three Edible Summer Mushrooms: Berkeley Polypore, Black-staining Polypore, and Chanterelles


I have a confession. Mushrooms scare me. I am even a little anxious about touching them. My mycophagically inclined friends assure me that there are only a few poisonous species and that, for the most part, they are readily identified. Their assurances do little to calm my racing heart when I take a wild mushroom and put it in my mouth. I think that my fear arises from my ignorance. Learning about plants was like learning a whole new language. Alternate, opposite, simple, compound, entire margins, toothed, pinnate, palmate, spike, raceme, head, sepal, pistil, stamen . . . Over the years, I have become fluent in this vocabulary. I've drawn a map of the plant kingdom in my head. I can see patterns that extend across different plant families that make even strange plants somewhat familiar. There are times when I see a new plant that I've never encountered before and know exactly what it is because I've seen its picture in my trusty guides so many times. I have none of this background in mushrooms. I come across a new one, and I don't even know if its the same species as the one across the street.

It gives me a little empathy for those that are trepidatious about trying some of our wild delicacies. Our guests nervously asks, "Are you sure this isn't poisonous," when I offer sumac lemonade or purslane salad. I do not scoff at this hesitation. It is the hesitation of people who live long. Mushrooms remind me of that.

A phone call from our friend Arena is always good news. She is gently introducing us to the world of the edible fungus. She called us this week and offered to show us some of her mushroom discoveries. Friday was pouring rain. Ooga and Baby Yub-Yub, who hadn't taken a nap, had to bail out of our trip. In some ways, the rain is great. The hot, dry summer had made for a frustrating season for the mushroom harvester. But the rain did make for a soggy trip.

Arena gifted us with three precious chanterelles. We drove around our town in my big pickup truck as Arena helped me cut a Berkeley polypore mushroom, showed my the access trails to some good foraging grounds, introduced me to a corner where black cherries are hanging low right across the street from an escaped mulberry, and took me to another site where we cut the tender tips from a black-staining polypore mushroom. Arena, we are so grateful for your help. You are the first inductee to the Foraging Family Hall of Fame.

That night we celebrated a sedar meal with our friends Ben and Rebecca who share our interests in wild food and plants. Rebecca is an herbalist extrodinaire (Visit her website at .) and Ben and I share a common background in nature study, tracking, and wilderness survival. Their evening blessing was made over an elderflower mead (so cool) that they made based on a recipe from a book about folk wines that we had rescued from a recycle bin and given them years ago. (We'll write more about that later.) We contributed our portion of the day's mushroom harvest.

Arena had suggested a longer, slower heat for cooking the wild mushrooms, so we set butter in three different pans, covered, and fried them lightly. I didn't check them often enough and overcooked the chaterelles a little. They were still excellent. I can only guess how good they must be when prepared well. The Berkeley polypore produced a lot of liquid. Was it rainwater that it absorbed? Was it an oil from the mushroom itself? The black-staining polypore smelled strongly and left a odor on my hands. Everyone agreed that it tasted like meat. (Later, Arena called and said that she didn't like the flavor and hadn't eaten it. Not knowing what to expect, we'd eaten it to no ill effect.) The Berkeley polypore smelled awesome and Ooga and I agreed that its flavor improved after it cooled a little. (Mushrooms are so weird.)

That evening we talked about mysterious plants, living off the land, work, and traditions. Wild food . . . best served with good friends.
However, after we left, my mushroom neurosis kicked in. Was I feeling OK? What if we'd made a mistake? Some mushrooms shouldn't be consumed with alcohol, right? We'd had that elderflower mead. I was up late that night researching mushrooms in my guides and online. Then something cool happened. I realized that I was creating a map in my head of the mushroom world just the way I had done with plants. I was putting things into groups and learning new vocabulary. I saw myself starting on the journey to mushroom awareness. Oh, the adventures to come.


  1. The longer slower cooking advice is only for tough mushrooms. Perhaps, the black-staining mushroom would have been more palatable to me if I’d followed my own advice.

    I think that fear is a natural and healthy response to trying any new food, especially a mushroom. I can not tell you how many times I have panicked after consuming a wild mushroom. Perhaps, panic is the initiation passage rite to deeper mushroom knowledge.

    You can also see how I panic and feel overly responsible for every mushroom I give away. (And I give away LOTS of mushrooms.) The only mishaps my friends or I have experienced are upset stomachs from over enthusiastic consumption of too many great tasting mushrooms. I tend to overly communicate the risks.

    It takes a long time to become intimate with any mushroom or wild food. Even though I was 100% positive of my identification, I haven’t eaten the Black-Staining Polypore enough to really know it. And then even when a food becomes really familiar, there’s still more to learn. The other day I got sick from consuming too much of an overgrown zucchini that I had undercooked. It was a humble reminder that even a zucchini can be dangerous.

  2. Neat blog! I've been trying to educate myself on the local wild edible mushrooms and plants for about 8-9 years now. It's been a fantastic way for me to grow much more in tune with my surroundings, and has truly made me passionate about hiking and taking pictures of the wild mushrooms and plants I am learning to identify. It's the best hobby I've picked up since learning acoustic guitar! Anyhow, I enjoyed this post and will be checking out the rest of your blog!


    (that's my newly started wild mushroom blog!)

    btw - I found your blog because I just found 2 monster sized black staining polypores on a hike yesterday, and was curious if people who had eaten them posted their reactions to it. So, I was glad to find this post. :) Thanks for sharing!