Mycophagy Challenge: Ten Edibles to find this Year (by Douglas Smith)

Mushroom of the Month: November, 2019

Editor’s note: This list pays homage to Douglas’ top ten favorites and serves as inspiration for collecting in the coming season.  It was published in the "Duff", our FFSC newsletter in October of 2008 and has been brought back for old time members to enjoy again and for our new members who may just now be exploring the world of edible mushrooms.  It is not a field guide. And the best way to learn new species, edible and not, is at local and long-distance forays. When a lot of people collect a lot of mushrooms, and you can see them all and ask questions, you learn a great deal! You can “pick up” a few new species each year almost effortlessly. I know it helped me tremendously.  Before eating wild mushrooms, it is imperative to have their identity confirmed by a knowledgeable source. Come to a foray, bring your mushrooms to our monthly meeting.

Some of the yummiest stuff around, in fact, helping to transform many a meal.  As a beginner you often stick to just a few species, reluctant to branch out for fear of getting stuck in the bathroom for the weekend (or worse). Knowing what to look for first, in terms of getting the most bang for your time, and least risk, can be difficult. In the end, each person will come to their own mind as to which species are going to be worth it. To help those who are still searching for which species are the most esculent, or edible, and as a slight challenge to others to try a few more this season, here is a top ten list of favorite edibles. These are roughly in order of quality for the table, combined with low risk of stomach upset and ease of finding them in the wild. (Although with all mushrooms, including those purchased in a store, there is always some risk of individual sensitivity to a species, so try a little first with any new species.)
As each has their own mind about the issue, I will assume that no one will completely agree with this list. I hope to add to the discussion so new collectors can listen in and get more ideas of what to look for this season. These species were also chosen because there is little risk of ending up in the hospital due to error. Good edibles that might be similar to dangerous ones might be covered at another time. Also, this list consists of species that I will find and eat almost every season; others just won’t make my list, so sorry if I forgot your favorite!

1. Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius/subalbidus/ formosus/"californicus") Cantarellus Californicus photographed by Allan Rockefeller
Golden on the outside, and white on the inside, and around here usually large, firm and meaty, this is a clear favorite. Combined with the fact that there isn't anything that really looks like a chanterelle, these are a good beginner species. The only thing
close is the western Jack-o-Lantern (Omphalotus olivascens); look up some photos of each, and you might agree they don't really look the same. Around here look under live oak, and stick to stuff that is in the ground, not on wood (or buried wood), and
stock up on lots of butter, you'll be fine.

2. Boletes/Porcini/Cepes (Boletus edulis/aereus) Boletus Edulus photographed by Ken Stavropaulos
The King and Queen Boletes are also a clear favorite. Most beginners get pretty far with just boletes and chanterelles. They’re fat, meaty, with pores instead of gills, and no blue staining or red pores. Taste a pinch on the tip of your tongue to
be sure it’s not a bitter bolete. You can't get sick here, so these are good beginner species. One problem compared to chanterelles is that the bugs like them as much
as we do; you need to check for maggot holes before you toss them in the pan. Look under pines for these. These also dry well, where chanterelles don't, so they can be a year-round treat.


Morchellla Elata photographed by Debbie Viess 3. Morels (Morchella elata/esculenta)

Yellow and black morels are many people's favorites. With a characteristic pitted shape, hollow interior, and no gills or pores, they are easy to identify. The only problem with these is that they’re rare and random for most of the year, but in the spring following mountain wildfires (and if there was rain), they can be copious. A Sierran camping trip in late May is the bet to find them. Make sure you cook these well: raw they have (rarely) put people in the hospital, and well-cooked they claim high prices at the best restaurants.

4. Oysters (Pleurotus ostreatus) Pleurotos ostreatus photographed by David Rust
On wood, grey, white to grey gills, and rubbery with an off center stipe, these can be easy enough to ID. Not everyone’s favorite, but in the wild they can be very flavorful. They are cultivated readily and sold in many markets, although they are only good when very fresh. Also these come up with rain at any time of year, so you can find them over and over as the year goes on.

Coprinus comatus photographed by Ryane Snow
5. Shaggy Manes (Coprinus comatus)

Tall white columns with shaggy fibrous scales, and a cap that never opens, these are easy to ID, and when it starts to rain, easy enough to find on the edges of grassy areas and landscaping. No need to go to the woods with these. A problem with these is that they only last for a day or so; you need to eat them the same day you pick them. Also they are very fragile, and won’t stand up to a stir-fry. I like them by themselves in olive oil and salt, cooked until brown.

6. Black Trumpets/Black Chanterelles/Horns of Plenty  Craterellus cornucopoides photographed by Ron Lawrence
(Craterellus cornucopiodes)
Black, rubbery vase-shaped mushrooms with no gills or pores; it’s hard to confuse these with anything else. With a good deep rich flavor, a few can go a long way in adding to a dish. I have to say these aren't the easiest to find, and I usually get them each year borrowing (stealing) some from others. Most common on the coast in the fall, and someone at Albion each year comes in with a grocery bag full.


7. Candy Caps (Lactarius rubidus)  Lactarius rubidus photographed by Christian Schwarz
These are little brown jobs, and as such perhaps shouldn't get listed here. They can be differentiated fairly well from other little brown jobs in that the gills bleed when cut, and bleed a white to whey-like fluid that does not turn yellow. This also has to be combined
with a slight velvety cap, not a sticky cap (might be hard to tell in the rain), although this detail seems to not get you sick, just include tasteless 'shrooms in the mix. After pointing this all out, why is it worth it? Just smell the dried caps when added to a dish, and the sharp maple-on-caramel flavor, and you'll know why. The only mushroom that people use for cookies, ice cream and other deserts, they are unique enough to give them a try.

8. Matsutake (Tricholoma magnivelare Tricholoma magnivelare photographed by Allan Rockefeller
The king of mushrooms for Japan, and sold for ridiculous prices some seasons. Opening up other regions to the world market on these seems to have depressed the prices, and you can find them in the field once again. All white, white gills, firm flesh, with a wooly veil that points up to the cap margin,
not hanging down from the stipe, will get you close to these. The unique feature though, is the spicy cinnamon odor. No other mushroom smells like these. It can be strong enough to put you off, and it does put off many. Those who like them and learn to cook them well are rewarded. Found under pines on the coast. (Special note - Death cap mushrooms also have white gills, but differ in all other ways, noted here because this is the only one on this list to share any features with the Death Cap [Amanita phalloides]. As with any of these mushrooms, use a good guidebook and get expert confirmation before eating.)

9. Meadow mushrooms (Agaricus campestris) Agaricus campestris photographed by D. DeShazer
Off white, grey to tan caps, with deep chocolate brown gills free from the
stipe can get to the Agaricus species pretty quickly, but being confident of a
species beyond that can get hard. These aren't so bad, with no yellow or red stains, and no chemical odor, only a fresh light mushroom smell, and a stipe that narrows towards the base can get you here pretty well. Found in grassy fields and edges of forests, these are many people's favorite. These
are actually the first mushroom species named by Linnaeus in his study of mushroom taxonomy, so itcould be said that love of this mushroom started it all.

10. Hedgehogs (Hydnum repandum/umbilicatum) Hydnum unbilica photographed by Oluna Ceska
Light orange to off-white, and with teeth instead of gills, these are an easy ID, and a very good edible for beginners. Many don't find this to be one of the best, and it can be fairly mild in flavor, so it ends up anchoring the bottom of the top ten here. I find that if you get them good and brown in butter, and add enough cream with some salt, it really brings out the flavor. It’s common in the winter in the northern coast under conifers, not that common around here.