Foraging has become a super popular activity. Knowing which mushrooms are safe to hunt and eat is vital, as poisonous mushrooms are abundant and can often resemble safe and edible mushrooms. In the mushroom world, there are four mushrooms, known as the foolproof four, which are easily identifiable and abundant in nature. In this article, we’re going to explore the foolproof four; where to find them and how to use them.
Chicken Of The Woods
Laetiporus Sulphureus, also known as chicken of the woods, is a great intro mushroom for first time foragers due to its impressive look. It has a bold yellow and orange fruiting body and can grow up to 100lbs if undisturbed. These fungi stick out like a sore thumb in the wild, making them easy to spot. Due to the lack of look-alikes, this mushroom is an easy target for new foragers.
There are many different subspecies of chicken of the woods. The kind you're most likely to find depends on where you live in the world. If you’re looking in California, you’re likely to stumble upon the Laetiporus gilbertsonii. In the western parts of North America on the coast, Laetiporus conifericola will be the most common. If you reside in the eastern parts of the US and Canada, you’ll likely forage the subspecies Laetiporus sulphureus. Interestingly enough, there are still new species being discovered, even as recent as 2014. The truth is, no matter where you live and which subspecies of chicken of the woods that you forage, you’ll end up with a delicious and nutritious fungi snack!
Chicken of the woods likes to grow on dying or dead hardwood trees, but most commonly they are found growing on oak trees. However, Laetiporus’ are found on all types of trees in the months of August through October. Some say that the type of tree that chicken of the woods grows on can negatively affect the taste, so most hunters stick to fungi growing off of decaying hardwoods. Also, as a rule of thumb, stick to foraging and eating mushrooms that look healthy. Never try eating a mushroom that looks rotten or smells strange!
Chicken of the woods has a wonderful sweet smell when picked fresh. When cooked, Laetiporus has a hearty, meaty texture with a slight lemony tinge. Some describe the flavor to be close to chicken (surprise, surprise) while others claim the flavor is more reminiscent of crab or lobster. Adding these mushrooms to a cream sauce or even creating vegan “chicken” sandwiches are great applications.
Porcini mushrooms, scientifically named Boletus Edulis, are relatively large fungi with hearty stems and thick caps. They are in the Boletaceae mushroom family and are often referred to as the king bolete mushroom. These intelligent species are called mycorrhizal fungi, because they form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of living trees that they grow on. While the porcini mushroom uses the tree’s natural sugars to grow, the tree absorbs the nutrients and water from the mushrooms. This delicate relationship is what makes porcini especially hard to cultivate and why they are so loved by mushroom foragers.
Porcini translates to “piglets” in Italian, and can be traced back to the Romans, where they curated specialty dishes with it and even fed it to their pigs. Pigs enjoyed porcini mushrooms so much that they nicknamed it the “hog mushroom”.
Boletus are native to the Northern Hemisphere, specifically in North American, European and Asian forests, however, in recent years has been introduced to countries all over the world. Between September and November, porcini can be found on the outskirts of woodlands, where the forest gives way to an open landscape. You can find them growing out of the soil around the trunks of hemlock, birch, pine, beech, chestnut, and spruce trees.
However, when hunting for porcini's, avoid gathering the extremely large ones, as pests often get to them before you do. As for look-alikes, the only mushroom that comes even close to resembling porcini are a species called Tylopilus felleus. If you end up foraging for this one instead of the Boletus Edulis, don’t stress it -- the only negative outcome of this honest mistake is an unpleasant bitter taste.
Because of the sheer size of these mushrooms, they are perfect for slicing and cooking. When cut open, the scent is yeasty, some even claiming it's reminiscent of sourdough bread. When cooked, porcinis have an undeniably delicious taste. They are earthy, nutty, tender and almost creamy, making them a perfect addition to a number of Italian dishes, such as risotto or ragù. When dried, porcinis have an extremely rich, umami flavor which is a great way to deepen the flavor of your meals.
Morchella, commonly known as morel mushrooms, are super popular with foragers and foodies alike. When the weather starts warming up, you can find these interesting looking fungi across the entire country. The caps of these mushrooms look like the pit of an apricot and come in a variety of shades between yellow, cream, and brown, depending on which species you harvest. Although there are a couple toxic look-alikes, the morel is easily distinguishable because of their interior is hollow.
Morels are thought to be a relatively recent forming fungi. Scientists agree that they can be traced back to a single-celled yeast during the last ice age. Although the Romans were the first to collect and cook them, they are often associated with French cooking. Morels have been a fundamental part of Appalachian mountain culture and cuisine for hundreds of years. They are mainly found in the Northern Hemisphere, in North America, Central America, Europe and Asia.
Aside from their delicious flavor, what makes these mushrooms so desirable is the fact that they are extremely difficult to cultivate, therefore they are mostly consumed foragers. In nature, morels love growing on the edges of wooded areas, in the soil around a number of tree species, specifically elm, ash, oak and aspen trees. They enjoy fruiting around the base of dying trees or on distrubed soil, such as a walking trail or an area that's recently experienced a forest fire. Try looking for morels after a couple rainy, semi-cool, but not cold, nights. If the weather dips below 50 degrees, you’ll have a harder time finding hearty specimens.
Morels are often thought of as one of the most delicious mushrooms. Known for their deep woody and earthy flavor, these mushrooms can be enjoyed fresh or dried. Simply sauteeing them in butter can prove to be a truly unique and delicious snack. Their intense flavor makes for a stand out ingredient in an array of recipes, such as mushroom soup, creamy pasta or as an addition to avocado toast.
Chanterelle is the common name for a number of different edible species of mushrooms in the Cantharellus family. Called Cantharellus scientifically, these mushrooms are abundant in nature. Like the porcini mushroom, chanterelles are also mycorrhizal fungi, which is why cultivating them is extremely difficult. Spotting these mushrooms in the wild can be a different experience depending on where you live. They come in a variety of shades between white and deep yellow. Their caps are smooth and delicate, with irregular edges. The best way to identify them in nature is by spotting their veiny gills, which extend from the outer underside edges of the cap, all the way down to the bottom of their stems.
Considered a delicacy in many different cultures, chanterelles can be found throughout history across the world. Many agree that Chinese and African cultures were the first to document and use these special fungi, but many cultures have since claimed to use them for hundreds of years. However, their claim to fame is French cooking, when the mushroom was revered by royalty and used in palace kitchens.
The size of these mushrooms can vary greatly. In Europe, chanterelles in the wild are often found to be the size of a thumb, while across North America they can grow to be as big as two fists. They can be found across the world, but thrive in both deciduous and coniferous forests, such as areas of North and Central America and Africa. To spot them in the wild, look for shaded areas along hillsides or near waterways. The sheer number of places you can find chanterelles explains why there are so many different species of them. And remember, when you find one, you’re likely to find a bunch as they grow in clusters.
When cracked open, chanterelles have the slight smell of stone fruit. When cooked, they have a nutty and earthy flavor, with hints of wood and pepper. Chanterelles are perfect in a number of dishes, including scrambled eggs and creamy tagliatelle.
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