Almost a year ago, I took a class from the Mushroom Maestros, Patty and Ray, in which we learned all about cultivating edible mushrooms at home. The class focused on simple to grow everyday edibles including oyster mushrooms and king stropharia. It was actually the third time I had taken a workshop from them because they proved to include new info each time and I always got to go home with a kit to grow something. This workshop focused on not just the growing of the mushrooms themselves, but also on the propagation of mycelia and production of inoculation spawn.
The first two times, my kits proved prolific, often producing three or four full flushes of fruit before petering out. The third class took a different focus, so instead of coming home with a straw-based kit for fruiting out on (like the one pictured above), I headed home with several jars of fresh mycelial spawn and rye pucks for propagating mycelium on my own time.
I few weeks later, when my spawn had fully grown out, it happened to rain, soaking the strawbale we were supposed to use as chicken bedding. Without much thought, I used a pick-axe to gouge a couple holes in the bale and stuffed it with oyster mushroom spawn. It being the late fall, I had assumed it would rain again, giving the mycelium the moisture it needed to run, but to my chagrin, we saw instead the driest winter California has had in over 150 years. Nothing ever came of that inoculated bale and being well into the summer I just assumed it had dried out too much for the mycelium and that other more drought tolerant molds had outcompeted it.
So, of course it was to my delighted surprise that I was greeted by a big flush of fresh oysters growing out around my corn and kale when I went to water the bed the other day! I had used the bale to create a small hugelkultur bed by digging a bale shaped hole, dropping it in, and covering it with the native clay soil and a few bags of freecycled chicken manure compost.
I’m an enthusiast, but certainly no mycology expert so I’m only guessing here, but I think the boost of nutrients from the manure must have given the mycelium what it needed to finally fruit out. I know that many mushrooms, including oyster mushrooms like to grow off manure, but generally oysters prefer wood. One of the flushes came out around a stake that had been supporting bird netting, and I made sure to leave the moldering wood in the ground when I cut out the mushrooms. One of the others encapsulated a robust little kale plant while the some appeared to fruit simply from exposed straw.
Suffice to say I’m thrilled to have such a bounty come from what I thought was a dead end project repurposed for veggies. I’m hoping to add some wood chips or logs to this bed in the fall in order to encourage the continuation of mycelial growth in my garden.
I know its been a long time since my last update but that doesnt mean I’ve been idle! Quite the opposite in fact. I’ve been keeping busy with all manner of projects. My favorite as always is foraging. Two trips in the Oakland hills had me come home with quite a handful of Candy Caps and several pounds of Fly Agaric.
Candy Caps are pretty self explanatory. Delicious ruddy little mushrooms that smell like butterscotch and maple and caramel and dark brown sugar. Dried, they can add a sweet nutty flavor to butter cookies, ice cream, and are amazing mixed into chevre and left to sit overnight.
The Fly Agaric, also known as Amanita Muscaria is renowned the world round as a poisonous mushroom. It is unmistakable with its brilliant red cap, and white speckles and stem. There is nothing quite as striking as this toadstool.
“But it’s poisonous!” you say. “Why would you collect it?” you say. Because while it is poisonous, it is also very tasty. The toxins in this particular Amanita are water soluble and can be removed through a simple, but time consuming process. Before I explain, let me say that this is NOT TRUE of any other poisonous Amanita, and I do not recommend taking this sort of risk lightly(and no matter how careful you are, wild forage always comes with risks… like getting your sparkly hat muddy).
Following directions from this blog by Hank Shaw, I processed my Amanitas. I started by trimming all the muddy bits off and rinsing them very well in cool water.
Next, the caps and stems get sliced into 1/4 inch pieces and tossed into a big pot of water. I used a 3 gallon stock pot filled most of the way up. It seems the key to making these babies safe is to be generous with the amount of water you boil them in. I added 1/2 cup kosher salt and a few tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the water and brought the whole witchy concoction up to a gentle boil. I let the pot roll for about 10-15 minutes then dumped the water. At this point the water was dark yellow and the caps had begun to lose their distinctive color. They also lost more than half their size: 6 cups down to just over 2.
The soggy slices went back into the pot with a round of fresh water(no salt or vinegar this time) for another 15 minute boil. By this time the mushrooms have lost all but a faded caramel color and the stems go slightly grey. Unappealing as is, but fried slowly in butter they get remarkably crunchy as I have never known mushrooms to get. They have a delightful nutty flavor almost like hazelnuts and unfortunately for you, I munched them all down before taking a good photo! I did freeze and dry some to see how these mushrooms are best stored and will get back to you on that when I decide to test them.
If you decide to try this yourself, do the research, and proceed with caution. Amanita Muscaria are widely recognized as a poisonous mushroom and while I had a positive experience preparing them, be aware that this may not be the case for everyone. Consuming wild mushrooms is as much about the preparation as it is about the person. Everyone reacts differently, so be careful, and eat small amounts the first time to be sure you don’t react poorly.
Salt Point State Park is known all around California as one of the best mushroom hunting spots in the state. Its damp coastal climate and rich soft soil create the perfect breeding ground for numerous fungi both fascinating and fit for the table. The Boy and I spent all day meandering up the coast making various stops along the way to admire the locales, but eventually found our way to Salt Point. We’d only just arrived, and were paying our day-use fee when I had already spotted the first handful of woodland delectables.
After having lunch and watching a pair of ravens snack on the crumbs left by other visitors, we gathered or shrooming gear and water bottles and headed up the trail to try our luck. On the way up the hill, we ran into a generous hiker who pointed us towards some hunting grounds he’d noticed. After that bolstering chat we were all revved up and marched double time up the hill while scanning the woods along the trail. The Boy made our first score: Black Trumpets!
This choice edible grows in clusters on the ground and prefers heavy pine and oak duff over sandy soil. As a result of the conical shape and its habitat, this is often a messy mushroom and cleaning is necessary. In order to remove any sand and dirt, I cut open the trumpet lengthwise and used the tip of my paring knife to carefully scrape out all the grit, then rinsed gently under cool water. These mushrooms have an incredible flavor when fresh, but it improves when it is dried (some say it resembles that of black truffles), so they all went into the dehydrator at home. I’m looking forward to several risottos and pasta sauces with these delectable finds!
Another great find was the plentitude of hedgehog mushrooms I collected by scrambling through brambles and bushes. They seem to prefer the duff under huckleberry bushes above all and I got pretty scraped up, but the haul was well worth it.
We saw many other beautiful shroomies. Check out the gallery to take a peak at what we saw.
I’ve mentioned before that mushrooming can be tricky business. Knowing what you’re picking and the key differences between look-alikes can spare you a lot of grief and sometimes even save your life. A little while ago I went mushrooming and found both Chanterelles and Jack O’ Lanterns, a frequently mistaken look-alike.
One differentiator between Chanterelle and Jack O’ Lantern is the color. Jacks have an olive-y tinge to the cap and more so on the gills. It isn’t always as obvious as it is here, especially when you’re only holding one of the other, not both. However, when cut, Chanterelle flesh is always white, while Jack O’ Lantern flesh is never white and usually a brown or grey tone though very fresh specimens sometimes lean towards golden brown flesh.
Though at first glance the gills on both kinds of mushrooms don’t appear to be a great distinguishing characteristic, second inspection shows that Chanterelles (left) have dull, shallow gills which sometimes crisscross or end short. On the other hand, Jack O’ Lanterns have blade-like gills which run deep and while they do branch, they don’t cross.
Another difference between these two mushrooms is that Chanterelles grow in duff while Jacks grow on dead wood. This is not to be relied upon as a key difference however, since dead wood can often be buried and may not be visible despite still being the host for the Jack O’ Lantern’s mycelium.
I am not a mushroom expert and I don’t pretend to be, but these two indicators of a look-alike can go a long way to save you several days of serious misery when it comes to hunting for and consuming wild Chanterelles. Both sets of mushrooms pictured here were collected on the same day on Mount Tamalpais. They grow in very similar areas, and both smell sweet and mushroomy, but they are distinguishable with practice and careful attention.
*Please note that I am not an expert at mushroom foraging. Please refer to the links in the text along with the book Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora for more comprehensive information on mushroom identification and collection. Thank you.