Foraging Fungi with Jeremy Umansky

Summer is in full swing and here in Northeast Ohio that means wild mushrooms! Most people I talk to think that fall is the time to find wild mushrooms but I beg to differ. The summer season offers one of the widest arrays of wild fungi. It’s my favorite time of year to hunt for, harvest, and eat wild fungi.

Read on for a few tips for finding wild fungi including a few of my favorite to learn how we use them at Trentina.

I’m often asked how I find so many mushrooms. Here’s what I think about when I go looking for them:

  • Fungi are everywhere. They are an amazing life form that have been evolving on our planet for eons. Virtually anywhere on this planet that you go you can find them.
  • Fungi love moisture. Go look after it rains.
  • Fungi have seasons just as fruits and veggies do. Chanterelles are in season during the summer months. Morels in the early spring. And maitake take over in the fall. Learn what fungi grows when.
  • Fungi have preferred hosts. This changes with location. For example, in this region the Cantherellus (chanterelle) family likes to grow with Beech. Get a guidebook for your specific location or contact your state agricultural school for a listing of species in your area.
  • Some species fruit in the same spots year after year. Learn which ones do this and you have a yearly supply.
  • We have rules that we think mushrooms should follow, but fungus like to rebel. Mushroom guides will tell you one thing and you might witness the exact opposite. This doesn’t mean that guides aren’t to be trusted, just that fungus can be unpredictable.
  • Finally, remember to always be 100% certain in your identification before you eat any wild fungi. This can’t be overstated.

 

My rundown of 10 summer fungi you can forage

in our neck of the woods:

 

Gyroporus castaneusGyroporus castaneus aka Chestnut Bolete.

Willy Wonka said it best… Scrumdiddlyumptious. This fungus is so fantabulous, so heavenly delicious that no other word can describe it. It is earthy, buttery, mushroomy, and loaded with ocean like umami (think Cape Cod oyster). I love this fungus and feel that it is the most underrated and underused wild mushrooms.<

Chestnut boletes have been classified as a mycorrhizal (lives symbiotically with a host) fungi for years but some mycologists have recently theorized that it is actually saprobic. Saprobes eat decaying organic matter. One of the great things about this fungus is that I never find just one. Most of the time I find 3-5 and if I’m lucky a few dozen.

In Cleveland I find them growing near beech, hickory, and oak. Chestnut Boletes are small, especially when compared to other boletes. The cap diameter rarely exceeds two inches and will be various shades of chestnut, hence this fungi’s name. Like most boletes it has tubes instead of gills under the cap. As the mushroom ages the tubes go from stark white to a straw yellow color.

The most discerning feature of this fungus is its hollow stipe (stem) often filled with cottony web-like tissue. The spore (spores are a mushrooms ‘seeds’) print is pale yellow. As with all fungi what you see is but a very small percentage of a much larger organism. Feel free to take all that you see being careful not to disturb the mycelia (roots) or the surrounding habitat.

We love these little bites of joy at Trentina. The flavor of this fungus is stupendous! We use them up as soon as they come in the door.

Armillaria tabescensArmillaria tabescens aka Ringless Honey Mushroom.

Here in Northeast Ohio, you’ll see this fungus appear suddenly out of thin air in mid to late  EVERYWHERE! I really enjoy eating this fungus and love that I can step onto my lawn and harvest fresh mushrooms. But, there is a downside. A. tabescens is a ferocious parasite that will kill every tree it finds. It is also saprobic and will decompose the tree it killed. This fungus will seem to be growing in the grass, sometimes quite far from its host tree. Be assured that it is growing off the tree roots.

Look for a cap that ranges in color from straw-yellow to tan to maroon-brown and is covered with tiny scales. The scales tend to flake off with age leaving a slightly pitted bumpy texture. The gills are close to distant, will run a short ways down the stem, and be white or pinkish with age. The gills will slowly bruise brown when damaged and will leave a pure white spore deposit. The stems of this fungus will taper and seemingly fuse together at their base. This is one fungus that you should definitely harvest without any reservation seeing that it is a death sentence for any tree it encounters.

At Trentina we grill this fungus over high heat and use it as the star of a dish or use it in duxelles. Be sure to thoroughly cook Ringless Honey Mushrooms to reduce any possibility of gastric upset.

Hydnum repandumHydnum repandum aka Hedgehog Mushroom.

This fungus is a real treat! Many foragers stumble on this fungus while looking for chanterelles. From afar I often think they are. Hedgehog mushrooms are mychorrizal with hardwoods & conifers. Mychorrizal fungi grow symbiotically with their host tree. Near my home in Cleveland I find them growing near oak trees.

Hedgehogs have a corncob colored cap that is slightly convex but most often flat(ish). The edge of the cap will curve under itself and will bruise a shade of orange when handled or damaged. The stipe (stem) will be smooth, and various shades of white to pale golden yellow. The most striking and prominent feature is the spore bearing surface. This fungi doesn’t have gills, tubes, or pores. It has spikes! Don’t fret, they’re not sharp. In fact they’re quite fragile and fall off very easily. I always scrape off the spikes before putting them in my basket. If you don’t, then they will fall off, making a mess on everything in your basket.

Hedgehog mushrooms don’t fruit in large numbers like their relatives the chanterelles. If I find five, I consider that a huge amount. Feel free to harvest all that you see being careful not to disturb the mycelia (‘roots’) or habitat in which the fungus is growing.

We love these little gals at Trentina. Hedgehogs are a choice fungus with a rich umami flavor that reminds some people of oysters. They’re fantastic sautéed in olive oil and paired with clams or oysters. As with all fungi what you see is but a small portion of a much, much larger organism.

Stropharia rugosoannulataStropharia rugosoannulata aka Winecap Mushrooms.

With a cap colored like a fine Burgundy wine and a flavor profile just as complex there are few fungi that can best this one. Winecaps are saprobic (saprobes are decomposers) and will often be found growing on wood chips typically after it rains. This fungi takes hold of a substrate (a substrate is what a fungus grows on) so easily and readily that there are companies that sell pre-seeded substrates that you can grow in your garden or even your living room.

You can even cultivate this fungi yourself. Take the very end of the stem of this fungi, wrap it in wet newsprint, bury it in some wood chips in your yard, and perform a rain dance. With some good luck you’ll have your very own crop. I’ve innoculated the landscaped areas around Trentina with this fungi.

Fungi with gills and veils can be intimidating to even the most experienced forager but fear not! The great thing about this fungus is that it’s key features are so pronounced there’s no mistaking it for anything else. Look for a smooth cap that ranges in texture from matte to shiny. The gills are close to one another and range from a whitish-gray color when young to a purplish-black color when mature. The veil (the membrane that covers and protects the young immature gills of some species. As the mushroom grows the veil breaks away from the edge of the cap and can stay on the stem making the fungus look like it’s wearing a skirt) has very fine lines on its topside which are impressions left by the gills. On the bottom edge of the veil you’ll notice a cogwheel like pattern similar to the gears of a watch. The stipe (stem) will be an off white color above the veil and a burnt red-cream color below the veil.

One last defining feature is the white rhizomorphs running from the base of the stipe. Let me geek out for a moment to elaborate; Rhizomorphs are dense strings of mycelia that grow thru the substrate. Mycelia are the roots of a fungi. It actually makes up the majority of the organism, up to 98% in some species. When the mycelia reaches a certain density and wants to reproduce it produces a mushroom.

Lactarius hygrophoroidesLactarius hygrophoroides aka Hygrophorus Milkcap.

This choice fungus is superbly delicious. It’s meaty flesh and savory umami flavor is virtually unparalleled culinarily. This species of Lactarius can be used interchangeably with L. volumes aka Volumous Milkcap in the kitchen. It can be braised, roasted, grilled, or sautéed.

This fungi is mycorrhizal (it grows symbiotically within the root system of its host) with oak trees and can be found in large numbers in mid to late summer. Look for a convex, when young, or concave, when older, slightly velvety cap that is burnt orange in color and has a slightly unrolled margin (the edge of the cap), especially when young. The gills are attached (to the stem), white to cream in color and very widely spaced. The stem will have the same color and texture as the cap.

Being a member of the Lactarius family you can count on a milky white sap flowing from this fungi, especially the gills, when damaged. Unlike L. volumes the sap doesn’t smell or hardly changes color if at all (it may dry a pale yellow color but won’t stain brown like L. volumes). After a considerable (a few hours) amount of time the damaged areas might turn brown or even lavender. We love using this fungus at Trentina! It’s really, really delicious!

Boletus bicolorBoletus bicolor aka Bicolored Bolete.

This choice fungus is a real stunner. Look for a raspberry red cap and red & yellow stipe (stem). The tubes (virtually all bolete mushrooms have tiny tubes under the cap, not gills) of this bolete are bright yellow and the inner flesh is a shade or two lighter. All parts of this fungi, and it’s close relatives, slowly bruise blue. B. bicolor is mycorrhizal (it grows symbiotically with the roots of trees) with hardwoods, typically oak.

I personally feel that this fungus rivals porcini (don’t hate, it just an opinion). As with all fungi what you see is but a small part of a larger organism. Feel free to take what is there being careful not to damage the subterranean mycelium (‘roots’). At Trentina we love grilling this mushroom whole. It pairs incredibly well with fresh sweet corn and a nice thick cut pork chop.

Fistulina hepaticaFistulina hepatica aka Beefsteak Fungus.

This unusual fungus is always a joy to find and eat. Look for a shelf like red fungus that exudes a translucent red sap when fresh. This saprobic (saprobes eat decaying organic matter) fungi is a polypore but upon closer examination you will see that the pores are not pores at all, they’re individual tubes. The flesh of F. hepatica is, well, fleshy; hence the name Beefsteak.

You’ll find this fungi growing, usually alone but occasionally in twos or threes, on oak stumps or at the base of unfortunate oak (it’s parasitic on live trees) trees. As with all wild fungi what you see is but a small part of the organism. Feel free to harvest all that you see being careful to not damage the parts you can’t see.

The flavor is not mushroomy at all. In fact, it’s remarkably tart and acidic. This is one of a very small number of wild mushrooms that I’ve seen people eat raw. it’s often paired with fresh mozzarella instead of tomatoes in a caprese salad. This is by no means an endorsement for eating raw wild mushrooms merely an observation.

Lactarius volemusLactarius volemus aka Voluminous Milkcap.

This choice fungi is a special summer delight. It is mycorrhizal (it grows symbiotically within the root system of its host tree) with oaks and other hardwoods. Look for burnt orange to light brown flat to funnel shaped caps, close attached or decurrent (running down the stem) gills that bruise brown, and large amounts of white milky sap that dries brown and smells strongly of fish; it reminds me of herring or mackerel. Don’t worry about the fishy smell that the ‘milk’ produces, it completely disappears with cooking.

Voluminous Milkcap is incredibly delicious and versatile, it can be sautéed or braised. It has an intense meaty mushroomy flavor that punches your tongue with its umami badassness. This fungus can be overwhelming abundant in the summertime near the Great Lakes and in the North East. Don’t be surprised if you harvest 10 pounds in an hour! As with all fungi what you see is but a small part of the organism; feel free to responsibly harvest all that you see.

Craterellus sppCraterellus spp. or Black Trumpet.

There are three main species known as Black Trumpet: Craterellus cornucopioides, C. fallax, and C. foetidus. All of these mushrooms are choice and quite possibly some of the best mushrooms on the planet. It’s no stretch of the imagination when you see them as to why they are called Black Trumpets, they are shaped like upright miniature black trumpets.

It was once thought that these fungi were mycorrhizal due to their relation to Cantharellus (the family of mushrooms that chanterelles belong to) species but as Michael Kuo at MushroomExpert.com points out this is an outdated assumption. You’ll most likely find this fungi in patches of moss, if you can see them. It usually takes me several minutes searching on my hands and knees to find some. These mushrooms are incredibly fruity smelling. I often smell them before I actually see them.

As with all wild mushrooms what you see is but a very small part of a much larger organism; You do no harm in taking what you see. Extreme care should be exercised when harvesting species that grow in mosses or lichens. Mosses and lichens take years, sometimes centuries, to grow so be careful not to disturb them while you forage.

This mushroom, along with morels, are one of the fungi that I feel are better to cook with after they’ve been dried. At Trentina we use them in everything from risotto to simple syrup.

Russula aeruginea R. crustosa R. parvovirescensRussula aeruginea, R. crustosa & R. parvovirescens aka Green Brittle-gill, Tacky Green Brittle-gill and Quilted Green Brittle-gill.

The Russulales family of fungi is ginormous! It includes both The Russulas and Lactarius plus a couple other genus. I’ve chosen to group these three fungi together due to two of their many similar qualities; All three are choice edibles and have green or greenish caps.

Russulas are one of the most difficult and confusing species of mushroom to identify. When I first started foraging the advice I was given was twofold; All green capped Russulas are edible and it’s definitely a Russula if it passes the shatter test.

WTF! What’s a shatter test and what shade of green is green?

The shatter test goes like this: toss the mushroom against a hard surface. If it shatters into many small pieces then it’s a Russula. That sounds like a great test and all, but what then? The mushroom I was trying to identify and possibly eat is spread on the forest floor in pieces.

My approach was anything but scientific. I would perform the shatter test on every mushroom that I thought was a Russula until I learned what a Russula really looked like. And what does a Russula look like? Well, Michael Kuo at MushroomExpert.com states that the species are so highly variable from one mushroom to the next that it’s nearly impossible to create generalized rules for Russulas. I now hope you are as confused as I was when I first started studying this fungus.

 

Jeremy Umansky is the resident Forager & Larder Master for Trentina and The Greenhouse Tavern. You might also see him in the Cuyahoga Valley, collecting species of wild plants and fungi for use in the restaurants. Outside of the restaurants, Jeremy cooks at home for his wife and baby daughter, experiments with fermentation, and writes about culinary preservation, foraging and the natural environment.

Photos provided by Jeremy Umansky.