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Archive for Sunday, April 4, 2010

Wild about mushrooms: Local mushroom hunters anticipate their favorite time of year

Morel (Morchella)

Morel (Morchella)

April 4, 2010

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Past Event
Kaw Valley Mycological Society foray

Past Event
Kaw Valley Mycological Society meeting

  • When: Wednesday, April 14, 2010, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St., Lawrence
  • Cost: Free
  • More on this event....
Stan Schneck (right) with Bob Bruce, each holding a Hen of the Woods found in October, 2008.

Stan Schneck (right) with Bob Bruce, each holding a Hen of the Woods found in October, 2008.

Finally.

The winter weather is gone, and for Stan Schneck and other mycologically minded souls, that can mean only one thing: mushroom time.

In a few days, the season's first wild 'shrooms will appear around here, and from then until fall, Schneck will spend hours a week - often hours a day - looking for them. Same as he has for 45 years now.

"I'm one of the more prolific mushroom hunters around. When the season is right, I'm out in the woods looking as much as I possibly can," Schneck says.

"I've gotten good enough now that there are 10 mushrooms that I really like to eat," he says. "I usually find several hundred pounds of each variety every year."

At that rate, he's eating mushrooms with just about every meal.

"I'm always cooking with mushrooms. I make all kinds of dishes. Even like spaghetti - you go out to the store to buy mushrooms, I go out to the woods to get 'em," he laughs.

Morel mania

Of course, the first fungi of the season is the coveted morel. It's the only edible mushroom out there until June or so, it's easily recognizable, and people everywhere swear by its taste. Sites like morelhunters.com track the progression of morel sightings north as the weather warms.

When Schneck - or Señor Stan, as he's known, thanks to the salsa he makes - heads out on the river or other common public hunting grounds, it's not uncommon to see a dozen people out looking for morels.

No big deal, he says. "There's a LOT of mushrooms out there that are just as edible and some that are even better," Schneck says.

The problem for the casual mushroom hunter is learning to identify all those others, lest they turn out to be one of the toxic varieties.

Schneck's never gotten sick from mushrooms, but even after 45 years of hunting, he's still very careful.

"If I'm not sure, I don't mess with it. When I do have questions, I usually run to Sherry - help me, Sherry! What is this? Can I eat it?"

Sherry Kay is the Kaw Valley Mycological Society's co-founder and current president.

In a town without a professional mycologist, she's pretty much the resident expert whom people consult with mystery mushrooms.

"People leave paper bags with their telephone numbers on my doorstep all the time," she says of her home at 601 Miss. St. "I'll call back if I can identify it."

Sherry and Richard Kay of the Kaw Valley Mycological Society.

Sherry and Richard Kay of the Kaw Valley Mycological Society.

Mushroom society

Kay, her husband, Richard, and a few others started the KVMS 25 years ago.

"When I came to grad school at KU, I didn't have any money," Kay laughs. "So in order to eat I did a variety of things - fished in the Wakarusa and hunted mushrooms."

Her culinary needs led to a broader interest in fungi, and after taking a mycology class at KU, she and some friends formed the society to pool their resources.

"We started out with 80 members," Kay says. "People thought we were going to show them where to find morels. Well, morels are where you find them. And I'm not very good at finding them."

These days, the society is half that size, with 15 longer-term regular members. One of those is George Sayers, who writes the KVMS newsletter.

The 34-year-old has always hunted mushrooms, but his current passion for it didn't start until 2004. He'd just moved to a new farm south of Lawrence, and voila - mega jackpot morel spot.

"That's really what reinvigorated my interest in hunting mushrooms," Sayers says. He picked up "A Guide to Kansas Mushrooms" (a book that Richard Kay co-authored) and set about learning to identify mushrooms he found by their Latin names.

George Sayers.

George Sayers.

The true morel (left) is distinguishable from false morels (right) by its hollow core. False morels have cottony or other weblike structures inside their stem and cap.

The true morel (left) is distinguishable from false morels (right) by its hollow core. False morels have cottony or other weblike structures inside their stem and cap.

"Mushrooms are extraordinarily difficult to identify, even for people who are very experienced," Sayers says. That's where the KVMS can be a sort of support group.

"If you come to a Mycological Society meeting, you'll see we're all kind of lost," he laughs. "But it is easy to learn the dangerous mushrooms that you need to avoid."

"A lot of people are eating wild mushrooms that their families may have consumed for generations, and they represent species of mushrooms that have never been described by science. There are just so many of them out there," he says.

The current tally for unique species identified in Kansas is over 1,000 and counting. But like Schneck, Sayers is primarily interested in relatively few - the edible ones.

"It's a way to have gourmet caliber ingredients in meals," he says.

"I love modern cooking, and I like having access to gourmet quality ingredients in the food I give my family. A lot of people are satisfied with eating iceberg lettuce and Cheetos, but that's not something I enjoy."

Morel (Morchella)

Morel (Morchella)

COMMON EDIBLE KANSAS MUSHROOMS

MOREL (Morchella)

Distinguishing characteristic: Deeply pitted (not merely wrinkled) surface. When cut open, they will always be hollow; false morels have connective or cotton-like tissue inside.

Where to look for them: Near dead or dying trees, particularly elm, and along river and creek beds.

When to find them: Mid-April to mid-May.

Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)

Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)

CHANTERELLE (Cantharellus cibarius)

Distinguishing characteristic: Blunt ridgelike feature on the surface without gills underneath as expected with familiar mushrooms. Fruity apricot-like fragrance.

Where to look for them: Forests dominated by mature oak trees.

When to find them: Mid-June through early October.

Indigo Milkcap (Lactarius indigo)

Indigo Milkcap (Lactarius indigo)

INDIGO MILKCAP (Lactarius indigo)

Distinguishing characteristic: Dark blue colored mushrooms exude bluish-green latex when damaged or cut.

Where to look for them: Oak forests with thick leaf litter.

When to find them: Summer through early autumn.

Black Trumpet (Craterellus cornucopioides

Black Trumpet (Craterellus cornucopioides

BLACK TRUMPET (Craterellus cornucopioides)

Distinguishing characteristic: Vase-like shape, smooth to slightly uneven surface, black to grayish overall color. Sweetly fragrant odor.

Where to look for them: Hardwood forests, usually growing in thick blankets of moss.

When to find them: Summer through early autumn.

Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa)

Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa)

HEN OF THE WOODS or MAITAKE (Grifola frondosa)

Distinguishing characteristic: Compact, overlapping, spatula-shaped fronds, that are brownish on top and white below.

Where to look for them: At the base of oak trees.

When to find them: Late-August through October.

Blewit (Lepista nuda)

Blewit (Lepista nuda)

BLEWIT (Lepista nuda)

Distinguishing characteristic: When young, overall color is violet, later becoming pale brown. Fragrant odor often described as possessing a subtle sweetness. Light pink to cream colored spore print (potentially dangerous lookalikes leave a rusty brown spore print).

Where to look for them: A common inhabitant of compost piles and woodland hummus.

When to find them: Most frequent in autumn.

Oysters (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Oysters (Pleurotus ostreatus)

OYSTERS (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Distinguishing characteristic: White to gray color. Grow only on wood. Odor similar to oysters or fish. White spore print.

Where to look for them: Growing on elm or willow trees.

When to find them: Late October - November.

- Mushroom photos and info courtesy of George Sayers, Kaw Valley Mycological Society.

Comments

number3of5 4 years, 6 months ago

I don't see my favorite mushroom pictured here. It is a puffball. They are a solid fleshed white ball shaped mushroom. They contain no dirt as is common in a morel and no bugs either.

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50YearResident 4 years, 6 months ago

Look in wooded areas have a slope facing the south or west and get plenty of sunshine and are protected from the wind. Start in about 1 week and continue for 3 weeks.

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rtwngr 4 years, 6 months ago

I picked some in the pasture yesterday. I ate them with some spaghetti. A little while later I smoked a pipe with large blue caterpillar and then sang songs about finglepickets that live in the woods. After that sornurble blemtish phhht.

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Yawnmower 4 years, 6 months ago

Sornuble blemtish ffffffffffffffffffffffft . Deviled eggs with mushroom garnish make me gassy.

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riverdrifter 4 years, 6 months ago

50year: You're on to something. I just got in from a 90 minute hunt and found nine. No, wait -make that nein.

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Christine Anderson 4 years, 6 months ago

Mr. Schneck, by any chance are you the son of Lucy Schneck, and the grandson of Bessie Buck?

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astory78 3 years, 10 months ago

He is the grandson of lucy schneck.

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georgeM 4 years, 6 months ago

George Sayers from the article here.

@3of5, edible puffballs are pretty common in Kansas, I see them quite frequently. There are several species that fall under the heading of puffball, some of which are mildly toxic. The larger puffballs seem to be more common a few counties to the south of Douglas... but that is based solely on my observations -- mushrooms tend to ignore our notions of range, they certainly ignore mine lol.

@Pywacket: Oysters can be found year-round if conditions are right. I've found them while hunting morels as well; however, I consistently find higher quality oysters in late autumn. It's nice to hit them after a hard frost as beetle infestation becomes less problematic as temperature decrease.

@Smitty: I know people eat beefsteaks et al., but I personally avoid these mushrooms and advise people I care about to avoid them as well. Sometimes problems arise with common names, you mentioned "elephant ears", I know people that use that name to describe a terrestrial mushrooms, but it sounds like you are describing a completely different species.

Happy shroomin'

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Bill Lee 4 years, 6 months ago

Many years ago I found a giant edible puffball about the size of a human brain on a farm in Jefferson County. A friend and I sliced it, fried it and and enjoyed mushroom sandwiches for lunch. It's been many years since I've gone looking for mushrooms, however. I need to do it again.

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smerdyakov 4 years, 6 months ago

Tom, No doubt none of what rtwngr wrote is serious. I've been looking and no sign at all yet. The only siting in our temp zone here http://morelhunters.com/ doesn't have a dated photo. There's always a race to be the first one around here to post a dated photo, so I'd watch for that as the heads up to /really/ start looking hard.

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5thgeneration 4 years, 6 months ago

Just went and looked at my favorite morel spot. Nothing yet. 4/5/10.

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Jaylee 4 years, 6 months ago

my original comment wasnt posted. bummer.

i can tell you that most any puffball is edible if you slice it open and it is completely white and solid. if it starts powderizing inside and turning colors (depending of the species it could be anything, black, green, purple...) its too late. look for more in that area though.

hows everyone doing on the morels now though? ive had two good days of over 40 and a couple days of 10 or less. strugglin though!

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