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Archive for Wednesday, April 29, 1998

MARVEL MUSHROOMS

April 29, 1998

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Mushroom hunters spend hours finding and identifying wild fungi; sometimes they even get a meal.

Ron Meyers searches the hills and dales for mushrooms. He identifies their species. And he eats them.

Meyers, a member of the Kaw Valley Mycological Society, said that the club's purpose is to find and identify all mushrooms. But, he said, that doesn't mean he doesn't like edible ones.

A dead tree stands in his backyard, 10 feet of stump. Oyster mushrooms grow on it. It isn't much to look at, he said, but it is not visible from the street.

``As long as it keeps producing mushrooms, it'll stay there,'' Meyers said.

Searching for mushrooms

Meyers' search for fungi began when he was a teen-ager. He said his grandfather taught him to find a few kinds of edible mushrooms. When he moved to Lawrence, many of the mushrooms he found were unfamiliar to him. To learn to identify them, he joined the society.

Finding mushrooms is a matter of looking in the right places, he said.

``You just go out into the woods, walk around and try not to get shot by a turkey hunter,'' Meyers said. He said he's never actually seen a turkey hunter while on a mushroom foray, but some of the seasons do coincide.

Meyers said that he finds at least four kinds of edible mushrooms in the area: morel, meadow, chanterelle and oyster mushrooms.

Morels (Morchella esculenta) are in season now and are the most commonly sought, he said. Morels can be found in wooded areas, near cottonwood trees and in old apple orchards. He said many are found under dying elm trees.

``They're one thing you don't mistake for anything else,'' Meyers said. ``That's why an awful lot of people hunt them.''

Meadow mushrooms (Agaricus campestris), which look a lot like store-bought mushrooms, grow in pastures and grasslands. They are in season all summer. Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), which are a yellow color, grow in wooded areas from June to September. Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus), which are shelf-like, grow during the summer into the fall. They are saprophytic; they grow on death trees -- particularly cottonwood, elm and box elder.

``It's a matter of doing a lot of walking and a lot of looking -- slow, patient looking,'' Meyers said.

Identifying mushrooms

Finding mushrooms is only half the job. They must be identified.

Unless someone knows what they are looking for, Meyers said, they should be very careful about eating wild mushrooms.

``You could mistake any of those others for something either inedible or poisonous,'' he said. ``You have to know what you are looking for.''

Some mushrooms can destroy your liver and kill you, he said; eating others will make you wish you were dead.

The inexperienced can run into trouble because there are many mushrooms either poisonous or inedible that look like edible ones. Jack-o'-lantern mushrooms look much like chanterelles, for instance. Several species resemble the meadow mushroom.

``Know what you're eating. If you're a novice, get yourself a good book and join a club,'' he said. ``There are not very many poisonous mushrooms but there's an awful lot of inedible ones.''

Identification of many mushrooms can be made in the field by macro characteristics, he said. The color of the gills and the shape of the cap can help a hunter determine what has been found.

But some need to be identified by micro characteristics, such as spore color, he said.

``You can't always identify all the mushrooms,'' he said. If you can't identify it, don't eat it, he said.

Cooking

Meyers said to be safe cooking mushrooms as well.

``You should use a fair amount of care,'' he said. ``I've read even commercial mushrooms shouldn't be eaten raw. Cook all of them. There's no two ways about it.''

When he brings home fresh mushrooms, whatever isn't eaten gets dried and stored for later. Meyers suggests freezing dried mushrooms to be sure no insects survive. Mushrooms can be reconstituted by soaking them in warm water for 20 minutes.

The best way to taste fresh mushrooms, he said, is just to saute them in butter.

``Most mushrooms have a slightly different taste or texture,'' Meyers said. ``Some mushrooms work better for some recipes.''

With most mushroom recipes, he said, store-bought mushrooms can be substituted for wild.

For more information about the Kaw Valley Mycological Society, call Ron Myers at 842-9331 or Richard Kay at 842-1245. Meyers said members are happy to help identify mushroom species.

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is fhaynes

4 tablespoons unsalted butter ( mushrooms as well.

``You should use a fair amount of care,'' he said. ``I've read even commercial mushrooms shouldn't be eaten raw. Cook all of them. There's no two ways about it.''

When he brings home fresh mushrooms, whatever isn't eaten gets dried and stored for later. Meyers suggests freezing dried mushrooms to bare the Bechamel by melting butter in a separate saucepan, adding the flour and cooking it gently in the butter for 3 minutes, being careful not to let it brown. Then turn off the heat and add the hot milk all at once, whisking vigorously until the sauce is perfectly smooth. Add the cream and whisk the sauce over low heat until it has thickened.

Add Bechamel to the soup, stirring until it has blended thoroughly, then add salt and white pepper to taste. Simmer gently a few minutes more. Serves six.

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