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Fine Fungus: Cooking with Wild Mushrooms

There's no better way to enhance a wild-game meal than with freshly foraged wild mushrooms.

Fine Fungus: Cooking with Wild Mushrooms

The morel is among the most delicious wild mushrooms in the East, though many others are equally tasty and even more prevalent. (Shutterstock image)

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The only red meat that my wife Elaine and I eat comes from the deer I kill, and most of the other meat comes from the chickens we raise and the turkeys I harvest in Virginia and West Virginia. As gatherers, we also regularly add wild mushrooms to the venison and fowl dishes my wife prepares, and the East has no shortage of delectable fungi.

EARLY RISERS

“Everybody knows about morels, but some might not be aware that there are three species of morels in our region: yellow, black and tulip, which some people call ‘half caps,’” says Mitchell Dech, a wild food enthusiast from Fayette County, W.V. “Look for morels around elm, poplar, apple and wild cherry trees. I’ve also found them around hawthorns and sarvis, also known as shadbush.”

Morels are reputed to appear when the soil temperature reaches 55 to 57 degrees, especially after a seasonably warm, rainy period.

“Morels are notoriously fickle about where, when and if they come up from year to year,” Dech says. “Although they don’t taste as good as morels, dryad’s saddles, also known as pheasant’s backs, are much more likely to pop up every spring. They appear a week earlier than morels and stay two weeks longer.”

Dryad’s saddle (Cerioporus squamosus), a polypore, typically grows on dead or dying hardwoods, and its cap can grow to 18 inches wide, though most of the ones I’ve encountered have been about 5 inches wide. A dryad’s top can appear white, tan or yellowish brown with dark-brown scales.

PERSONAL FAVORITES

Elaine’s and my favorite mushroom to pair with wild game is the chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), and Dech rates this polypore just behind the morel as a taste sensation.

“I’ve found chicken of the woods as early as late May and as late as October,” he says. “Most of the times I’ve found chickens, they were growing on various oak family members.”

Chicken of the woods are known as “shelf mushrooms,” as they look like someone has jammed a large yellow-and-white plate into a hardwood.

While the morel and chicken of the woods rate high on Dech’s list of most flavorful mushrooms, neither takes top billing for him.




“As much as I like morels and chicken of the woods, the best-tasting wild mushroom is the lion’s mane, which appears in late summer and on into fall,” he says. “I see them mostly on dead maples, beeches or poplars.”

Lion’s manes (Hericium erinaceu) are white with spine-like appendages. I think a lion’s mane’s flavor is reminiscent of seafood. Other favorites of Dech’s include the smooth chanterelle and golden and black trumpets. The smooth chanterelle is probably the most common of these in the East, and its yellow color makes it easy to spot. The funnel-shaped cap and white flesh help with identification.

When harvesting wild mushrooms, be sure to bring a small knife so that you can slice a mushroom off at its base. Many gatherers believe this increases the chance it will regenerate later. I temporarily store fungi in a paper bag that I keep in my daypack, then transfer them to a cooler when I return to my truck.

Recommended


Elaine stir-fries mushrooms for several minutes before using or freezing them. Wild mushrooms can cause gastrointestinal problems if this isn’t done. Also, never consume a wild mushroom you are unfamiliar with unless an expert has examined it beforehand. Even choice edible mushrooms can cause stomach issues in some people, so it’s wise to dine on small quantities at first.

WHERE TO GO

One of Dech’s favorite places to gather mushrooms is the Monongahela National Forest, but many Eastern public lands where sportsmen enjoy hunting and fishing can also be superb destinations for gathering mushrooms. City dwellers can experience productive gathering in their local parks, as well. Generally, look for mature forests with little undergrowth—the type of place you’d set up for a gobbler.

Water nearby is also a plus, as are standing and fallen dead trees, which is where many mushrooms appear. Mark hotspots with a mapping app or GPS, just as you would when hunting. The past two years, on seven different occasions, I’ve gathered chicken of the woods from the same ash stump.

Add to your pleasure while turkey hunting or fishing this spring by searching for delicious wild mushrooms to add to your wild game and fish meals.

MUSHROOM FIELD GUIDES

Bruce Ingram, Wild Mushrooms Guide
Appalachian Mushrooms: A Field Guide by Walter E. Sturgeon

My favorite mushroom book for the East region is Appalachian Mushrooms: A Field Guide by Walter E. Sturgeon. The work does an excellent job of describing edible, non-edible and poisonous mushrooms, and the photos are top-rate.

Another handy guide is the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms. The color pictures are very helpful, and the format (description, edibility, season, habitat, range and comments) is easy to read and comprehend.

Additionally, my wife and I are authors of Living the Locavore Lifestyle, a book about hunting, fishing and gathering for food that includes many favorite recipes. For more information, email bruceingramoutdoors@gmail.com.

WILD TURKEY BREAST ALFREDO WITH WILD MUSHROOMS

After a successful trip to the spring turkey woods, my wife Elaine often prepares this delectable dish, which features fresh turkey breast and whatever wild mushrooms we were able to collect during the outing.

Bruce Ingram, Wild Mushroom dish
This recipe combines two of the spring woods’ finest delicacies.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 cup diced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 cups precooked wild turkey breast, shredded
  • 1 cup wild mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen spinach, thawed
  • 2 cups dry pasta of your choice

Directions

  • 1. Heat water for pasta; let pasta cook while preparing alfredo sauce.
  • 2. Heat olive oil over medium heat in large pot. Add onion and sauté gently until almost tender, about 6 minutes.
  • 3. Add garlic to onion and sauté another 2 minutes.
  • 4. Sprinkle onion mixture with flour, salt and pepper. Stir to make a paste. Cook over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes to remove raw taste from flour.
  • 5. With heat still on low, stir in yogurt. Mix well. Begin gradually stirring in milk a spoonful at a time. Add chicken broth.
  • 6. Stir in turkey meat, mushrooms and spinach. Heat thoroughly.
  • 7. Drain pasta and add to turkey alfredo mixture. Add more salt and pepper as desired.
  • 8. Serve in bowls. Top with additional parmesan cheese if desired.

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