J-W Staff Reports
Warm weather and heavy rains signal open season for mushroom hunters. These tasty treats can be gathered when conditions are right, but Spencer Tomb, associate professor of biology at Kansas State University, said beware of what you gather.
"We have a number of mushrooms in Kansas that you can use in cooking that are quite nice," Tomb said. "But we do have a number of them that will make you sick, and a few that will kill you. So, you want to go out with someone who is experienced or get an expert to identify what you've picked before you eat it. I wouldn't just get a mushroom field guide and go into the woods and start eating mushrooms -- that's a good way to get sick."
The morel mushroom is the most easily identifiable edible mushroom that grows in Kansas, Tomb said. These come up the day after a heavy rain when the nighttime temperature does not get below 50 degrees.
"Morels kind of look like a sponge on a stick with a hollow stalk below that," Tomb said. "They're often found in the sandy soils along our rivers, like the Kansas River. They are frequently found under elm trees. You can find them from early- to mid-April through the end of May."
Places that have morels one year are likely to have them the next year as well, Tomb added. One precautionary note before heading out for the hunt: You must get permission to pick mushrooms on private land, he said. It's also nice to offer the land owner a portion of what you pick, Tomb said.
Other edible mushrooms in Kansas are inky cap mushrooms and oyster mushrooms, which both appear on rotting wood. These mushrooms are harder to identify than the morel, and Tomb said he does not recommend that amateur hunters seek them out.
Mushrooms can be boiled or sauteed in butter and lemon and eaten plain, or one of Tomb's favorite preparation methods is sauteing them and adding them to omelets.
"Just be careful the first time you eat a wild mushroom," Tomb said. "Some people differ in their tolerance of them. Some people might be made ill by a mushroom that most people can eat and enjoy."