Category Archives: edible wild mushrooms

A fabulous find

A giant puffball, deep in the woods, ripe for picking.

When leafing through field guides to edible wild mushrooms, I have always stopped to stare a moment at the pages devoted to the giant puffball.  Easy to identify, and extravagantly sized, I’ve always wanted to find one.

I did find a small, grapefruit sized specimen last year.  And it was delicious.  In fact, I’ve concluded that the puffball is close to perfect – easy to find, identify and clean, and delicious to eat.

This last weekend, my friends Christy and Mark arrived on my doorstep, with an absolutely monstrous puffball in tow, and a smaller specimen as well.  Sadly, the larger specimen was just a couple days too old to eat- spores had started to form within.  The smaller mushroom, however, was fresh and lovely.

Puffballs, courtesy of my friends Christy and Mark. Yes, those are full-size bananas.

Excited by their finds, I marched out into the woods early the next morning.  Tramping around, I saw little evidence of fungal growth of any type.  It’s been dry, but I pressed on.

Entering my least favorite part of the woods, a hilly spot riddled with downed trees and lots of prickly undergrowth, my pace slowed as I picked my way carefully through, around, under and over the fallen trees and branches.

And then I saw it.

There, glowing eerily from the forest floor was an immense, white, alien orb.  A smaller one sat nearby.  Praying under my breath that it was still fresh and sound I made my way over to the immense puffball.  Its surface was smooth and sound, and I had to give it a sharp tug and twist to release it from the ground. It was heavy and firm.  Good signs, for sure.

Yes. The puffball was about twice the size of my noggin.

Before carrying it off, I took a very cheesy and terrifically unflattering self portrait, with puffball.  Then I slid it into a nylon bag, and cradling it gently, started to pick my way out of the wood, gingerly carrying my prize in front of me.

I finally made it out of the woods, and ventured home, drawing some strange looks from passing motorists as I made my way back up the road to my house.   Once home, I reverently laid my treasure on a cutting board, and took a few more pictures, just to document my good fortune.

My monster mushroom, with a can of tomatoes for scale.

Holding my breath, I sliced into the puffball.  Would it be snowy white inside? Unspoiled and ready to eat?  Or would it have started to age, sprouting spores, and rendering it inedible?

Using a sharp serrated knife, I gently cut the mushroom in half.  It was snowy white! Perfect!

I invited Christy and Mark to dinner to celebrate, and made puffball strudel and  puffball & sausage penne.  Both were delicious, and the recipes will be posted soon.   The remaining puffball was sliced and turned into puffball parmesan, and the last bits will be used in another batch of penne this weekend.  Finding monster puffballs does result in a total embarrassment of riches, but I’m up to the challenge.

Just wow.

A truly monster morel

This season was largely a bust for me.  The good news is that I’m feeling pretty good about next year.  I have a few good habitats staked out for morel hunting in 2012.

I found enough morels to make a couple omelettes but too few for anything more extravagant.  And I spent a lot of time looking in the wrong places.

I found some of the right places last night.  I dumped some spent dirt from one of last year’s plant pots behind the woodpile, and spotted a nice cluster of expired yellows.

It was a nice evening, so I decided to have a tramp through a nearby wood.  Upon leaving, I  roamed around the area I normally walk right by as I enter the forest.  Yup, you guessed it.  Another nice morel patch, with some large, past-due specimens.

I went home empty handed, but full plans for next May.

[2012] It’s Morel Season in the Northern Chicago Suburbs!

The first morel I spotted, near an elm stump.

I took a walk through the wood behind my house tonight, and was thrilled to spot some morels.  I left several, including the one pictured, in the woods to grow for another day or so.  But I know where they are.  I’ll be revisiting the area soon.

And I might sneak out to the woods after work tomorrow. Mostly, I’m just happy that I’ve not forgotten what these look like.

The morels I spotted tonight were on the periphery of the wood, near an elm stump on which some pheasant backs were growing.

Notes:  Temperatures have been hovering in the low 50’s for the last several days, and we’ve had quite a bit of rain.   These mushrooms were found on Wednesday, May 4.  Monday and Tuesday were quite cool, following more moderate temperatures on the weekend.  Today it hit 58 and the morels are just starting to appear.

Other species:

Jack in the Pulpits are up, but small, and only about 8″ high.  This picture was taken on May 1.

Trillium shoots have appeared as well, and are starting to leaf out.

Pheasant backs are everywhere, and I spotted budding fruits almost two weeks ago.

It’s not time. Not yet.

Reports of morel harvests in southern Illinois have started to roll in, inflaming the imaginations of shroomers in northern climes.

Mayapples. Immature, baby mayapples - weeks away from blooming.

But it’s not time yet.  Not up north.  A good rule of thumb, people say, are mayapple blooms. I spotted these babies last weekend – and we’re weeks away from blooms.

Up here, morels happen in May.

It’s not time.  Not yet.

The first find.

hen of the woods miatake

I keep my beloved retired horse at a farm that’s ringed with oak forests.  One summer day, as I was paying my steed a visit, I looked off into the woods, and thought “mushrooms.”

The summer before, a friend of mine had found a good size hen of the woods.  She showed it to me, and I convinced her to let me make a wild mushroom lasagna with it.  The dish was a hit.   I tried to remember exactly when that had transpired, but I wasn’t able to recall when she found that mushroom.  I did remember that it was cool, however.

At home, I consulted Google, and ordered “Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois” from Amazon.  Happily, I learned that the season for Hens wasn’t yet upon us.    I had a few weeks to wait.

The following weekend, when I went to check in on my horse, I took a walk through the woods.  I noted dead and dying trees.  My pulse quickened.  I also saw a lot of nettles, burrs and poison ivy.  Ugh.

The next few weeks were dry, and hot.  Not a single fungus was to be seen, aside from a lichen here and there.  I continued sallying forth, teaching my eyes to distinguish patterns on the forest floor, and to pick out lichens.

And then it rained.

I eagerly headed out, and found a gorgeous reward – a big, beautiful Hen of the Woods (also called maitake, or by its Latin name, Grifola Frodosa.) Reverently, I kneeled down, felt underneath it, and pulled it free.  I strutted out of the wood with my prize, and went home to make a mushroom lasagne. (Cheesy, no tomato, just some spinach and ricotta filling, napped with bechamel and Parmesan.)

And that was just the beginning.