Springtime may be all about wildflowers and clover and, well, see that last post — but one of the things I look forward to the most when the weather warms is a bit less greeting-card-perfect and a little more… strange: the Spring mushroom season! Unlike the showy blossoms and greenery, mushrooms are subtle and secretive; they won’t jump out at you with a riot of skyward-reaching stalks and stems, with Technicolor hues on a grand scale. You have to look for them.They’re tiny, experts at camouflage. You could walk in the woods every day without the faintest inkling of the tremendous variety of fungi surrounding you.
I’ve been hunting for mushrooms for only a couple years, and I’m continually amazed by the diversity of species we see even right here on our little farm. Even more fascinating is the way a mushroom can look totally unremarkable at a glance, but then be so intricate and beautiful if you take the time to study it up close. I have to thank my friend Thea, mycology-expert and forest-sprite extraordinaire, for introducing me to the mushroom world, and to David Arora’s fantastic field guides (a must if you want to know just what it is you’re looking at). Here are a few of the many fungi that show up in our area — see if you can spot them next time you’re out wandering!
Left: A member of the Lactarius family is easily identified by the “milk” that exudes from its flesh when scratched or broken. (Which particular Lactarius it is, however, is a little more challenging to discern!)
Right: One of my favorite little mushrooms, Hygrophorus chrysodon. The name chrysodon comes from the Greek for “golden-tooth” — a wonderfully poetic description for the bright-yellow flecks that dust its cap and stalk.
The wonderful thing about mushroom-hunting is that you’ll be taking a perfectly civilised walk in the woods, and then next thing you know, you’re lying on the ground in the mud, not entirely sure of how you got there, nose-to-nose with this:
Such is the weirdly charismatic nature of fungi. This little guy is absolutely electric! I suspect it’s some kind of Hygrocybe, but I couldn’t bring myself to pluck it for a more detailed inspection. That parrot-green hue, by the way, is quite true to life!
Left: The convoluted, velvet-black cap of Helvella lacunosa, the Fluted Black Elfin Saddle. They’re quite common around here in springtime. Spotting them among the leaves is good practice for finding their delectable relative the Morel!
Right: another common one in our area, Laccaria laccata, known as the Lackluster Laccaria, which I suppose it is when compared to its violet cousin L. amethystina. Both have long, tough stalks, jaunty domed caps, and white spores.
Some mushrooms are wildly flamboyant, like these turkey tails; others are nondescript little dots in the leaves…
I love this particular copse of manzanitas. The bees are crazy about them, too — you can stand under the arching branches and listen to the most incredible buzzzzzzzzz overhead. When we open the hives this time of year, there is often a distinct manzanita-blossom fragrance that drifts out — nectar from the blossoms the bees have been so busily visiting.
Another devotee of the manzanita grove: the cheekily-named Cowboy’s Handkerchief! The moniker is an apt description of their slimy, snow-white caps. Hygrophorus eburnius is a more respectable name for these guys, but not quite as, ah, colourful…
My mushroom-hunting route follows a deer trail through a particularly damp, shady north slope of the woods: a perfect environment for fungi, as well as for lush mosses and lichens. Ferns, too. Oh, to have a good guidebook for each — but then I’d be lost in the woods all day, identifying everything in sight….
But, as much fun as it is to spot and study all these fascinating denizens of the forest floor, the best mushroom hunts are the ones that end with a basket of edibles! What a delight to stumble across this trove of blewits: Clitocybe nuda, a fabulously-hued and absolutely delicious wild mushroom that grows like a weed in the woods around here. I wasn’t expecting to find many this late in the season, so for once I didn’t bring a basket — maybe the Russian saying is true: Carry a large basket with you, and the mushrooms will see it and hide!
There are a few other purple wild mushrooms around here that could be mistaken for a blewit, but none have the distinct orange-juice aroma that these do. It’s funny — after a a while, you start to smell mushrooms in the woods. Or you develop a mysterious mushroom radar, telling you to look over there. And then, following your feet and nose and instinct, you’ll find a beautiful Amanita, or a prized Matsutake, or a whole basketful of these beauties…
And one of the mushrooms went immediately into this frittata for lunch!
Phyllis’s Wild Mushroom and Potato Frittata
Peel a large potato, cut in half lenghthwise, and slice into thin half-moons. Fry potato slices in 2 Tb olive oil in a 9-inch frying pan, gently turning the potatoes until they are just tender.
Add one sliced green onion, some chopped parsley, and about 1 cup sliced wild mushrooms (one large blewit mushroom). Sautee until everything is tender; season with salt and pepper.
In a bowl, beat 7 eggs with 1 Tb water, a dash of hot sauce or sriracha, and some salt and pepper.
Add eggs to pan; lift the potato-mushroom mixture around the edges with a spatula to allow the eggs to run underneath. Stir everything around a bit (being careful not to break up the potatoes) and smooth out the top.
When the eggs start to set, turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook for about 5 minutes. Then uncover the pan and slide it in the oven under the broiler — watch carefully and cook just until the top is set and lightly browned.
Slide the frittata onto a plate, grate some good cheese over the top, and serve!
If you’re interested in hunting for edible mushrooms, find someone with knowledge and experience to go with you — don’t try it alone at first, even with a field guide in hand, as mushrooms are subtle things and their defining characteristics can be deceptive to the untrained eye. As mentioned above, there are other purple mushrooms that could be confused with the blewit; make sure you know exactly what you are looking for and how to tell it apart from look-alikes! That being said, blewits are a great “first mushroom” to collect because they are so distinctive, and absolutely delicious as well…. happy hunting!