Out and About: Round Lake Nature Notes August 2011
By Diane Shapiro
My husband, Dan, has been a mushroom hunter for almost thirty years. Most likely, Tom and Linda Peterson will remember his early attempts at mushroom identification. We were all spending a weekend at the Petersons’ Adirondack camp. Dan thought he had discovered morel mushrooms growing in the woods by the cabin. He told us how morels are considered prize mushrooms, with a nutty flavor when cooked. We picked them, brought them back to camp, and got out the cast iron frying pan. Dan did a review of the mushrooms using his new identification guide. There was a skull and crossbones next to what looked like the mushroom’s picture, saying it was a false morel. (As you might imagine, a skull and crossbones label is not good.) We tossed the mushrooms out of the cabin, washed our hands, and came up with another dinner plan. Today, Dan is still not sure whether they were false morels. I think he’d like to find the ones we tossed and do a further identification. He hates missing a meal.
In any event, we will never know and I think that’s a good thing! Years later, Dan has gotten much better at identifying mushrooms, especially the local ones. Many mushrooms are poisonous. If eaten they can make you sick and some may even kill you. But many of the edible ones, when cooked, are absolutely delicious.
Tropical Storm Irene set up perfect conditions for mushroom growth. Ninety-five to a hundred percent humidity and fifty to seventy-five percent ground saturation, which the storm provided, enables mushrooms to thrive. The week following the storm, mushrooms popped up all over the village, in the woods, and especially at Shenentaha Park. Dan had a field day finding puffballs the size of baby heads and gem-studded puffballs, the size of thumbs. He discovered amanita mushrooms in red and yellow and an indigo milk mushroom that he had never seen before. The indigo mushroom stained his skin blue. It was edible – firm but not particularly mushroomy.
As much as Dan likes to find and identify mushrooms, he likes to cook them even more. He has made puffball parmesan, lobster-infused polenta with wild and domestic mushrooms and mushroom risotto. If you are interested in mushroom hunting, grab Dan along with his many identification guides and go foraging. Make sure your life insurance policy is paid up.