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How do I pick wild mushrooms?

2011 February 25

When I’m going for mushroom hunting and picking, I get up early – as soon as the sun rises. I prepare tea and some sandwiches to take with me for lunch. Mushroom hunting is a time consuming process and several hours of outdoor activity on a fresh air give me a good hunger :) I grab my equipment (more details in “The equipment I use for mushroom hunting”) prepared from the previous evening and go. To avoid wasting precious morning time I take my breakfast with me and eat it on the road.

It is very wise to start mushroom hunting as early as possible because fresh morning light helps you to find edible mushrooms and fresh air helps you to sense (smell) them. Other mushroom pickers will not disturb you and by lunch time you will be done leaving the whole afternoon for cleaning and preparing mushrooms.

So, I get to the chosen forest (more details in “Where do I find wild edible mushrooms?”) and I look at the trees. I head towards pine and spruce trees looking at the ground which is covered by pine and spruce needles. Occasionally, here and there I see green moss. I check these places with moss first as there is more moisture. I look for the convex (outwardly rounded) shaped mushroom cap (most of wild edible pore fungi have convex cap shape). It can be colored in any tone of brown from light yellow-brownish till dark-brown.

Among pine trees are more common wild mushrooms with dark brown convex cap as shown on the photo below.

Wild Edible Mushroom found among pine trees Wild Edible Mushroom found among pine trees

Then I move towards oak trees where I look for convex mushroom cap shape of the colors as described above. That is somewhat more difficult task because in the forest with larch trees there are a lot of leaves on the ground and mushroom heads have masked themselves by taking colors of those leaves. So, I should look closely to the ground, turn the leaves around if I suspect hidden mushroom there :)

Among oak trees are more common wild mushrooms with light or dark brown heads as shown on the photo below.

Edible wild mushroom found among oak trees Edible wild mushroom found among oak trees Edible wild mushroom found among oak trees

And after that I come closer to birch trees, where the pore fungi have more light brown or reddish cap as on photos below:

Edible wild mushroom found among birch trees Edible wild mushroom found among birch trees

These types of wild mushrooms on photos above are from Boletus family which I will describe later in my posts. They all are edible and delicious (Boletus edulis on the last 2 photos above are the tastiest ones). That is why they are so precious to any wild mushrooms hunter!

Once I find wild edible mushroom (more detail in “How do I identify wild edible mushrooms?”) I cut it with my pocket knife (it should be cut in order to avoid destruction of the spawn left behind). I cut it as close to the ground as possible so that I do not miss the precious mushroom flesh and also to expose the mushroom root as less as possible in order to preserve the spores for the future.

My husband cutting the precious Boletus badius (synonymous with Xerocomus badius) known as Bay Bolete.

My husband cutting the precious Boletus badius (synonymous with Xerocomus badius) known as Bay Bolete.

There are several rules I always follow when hunting for wild mushrooms:

  • When I pick wild mushrooms I make sure that I do not collect all edible mushrooms from the area where I have found them. I leave (do not even touch!) about 10% of edible mushrooms to grow further so that those species are preserved in the nature.
  • I collect young edible mushrooms (let’s say 7-9 cm in height). Old mushrooms are not as firm and tight as they should be for transportation; they are not as tasty as young and do not suit for preservation.
  • I smell all mushrooms that I pick. It’s possible to say by its smell whether picked wild mushroom is edible. However, it’s difficult to describe the smell. Recognition of the edible mushroom smell comes with experience – the more I smell, the more I memorize it.
  • If I see that cut mushroom is eaten by warms and there is nothing I could use for cooking, I spread mushroom cap pieces in the area around so that spores distribute on a larger area (“Fungi reproduce via spores, which are often produced on specialized structures or in fruiting bodies, such as the head of a mushroom.”)
  • I do not pick mushrooms close to roads and industrial districts as wild mushrooms absorb metals from the environment very well and may become toxic.
  • I do not collect wild mushrooms which I do not know or cannot 100% identify. Whenever I have a doubt I take only one mushroom of unknown type and identify it at home using various sources.
  • I do not collect wild mushrooms when it’s raining. Full of water mushrooms (they absorb water very well) are not suitable for transportation and preparation. They are too watery.
  • I do not taste any raw wild mushroom (even if it’s edible). I prefer eat cooked mushrooms – it’s tastier this way ;)
  • I do not collect overgrown mushroom which has old-age pore surface. There is no cooking quality in such mushrooms and they do not contain as mush vitamins and minerals as normally well developed edible mushrooms.

When I get home I take care of cleaning, cooking and preservation of mushrooms on the same day. It usually takes a lot of time but it must be done as picked mushrooms cannot stay overnight (even in cold water in the fridge). That is one more reason why I get up early for mushroom hunting.

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