Have you ever stepped outside, especially if you live near woodlands, and considered the variety of edible foods that may exist there? This is something we have tried to become more in-tune to since moving to Red Gate Farm. This year, we really became curious about the bounty of mushrooms we found everywhere we looked, it seemed. S is always fair game to experiment and sample things. Mushrooms, of course, can be dangerous if you go about it wrong, so we knew we had to be careful.
Did you know most edible mushrooms were determined to be so over the years by men brave enough to sample, wait a few days, and see how their bodies reacted? Now, of course, we have more elaborate tests available to determine toxins and such, but there is still a great deal of information that has just been taught to the next generation for many years. As it turns out, there really isn’t even one “best” reference book you can purchase to help you, as there are just too many mushrooms, and more importantly, too many “look-alike” mushrooms. The more experienced mushroom hunters will tell you to get several books so you can cross-reference and compare. So, that’s what we did. S, being the adventurous sort, was willing to taste the possible good ones, to help us learn, since many of the toxic ones have a spicy or bitter flavor (though certainly not all!)
Some mushrooms are widespread, while others are very regional. And they can grow almost anywhere! Lawns, forest floors, dead tree stumps, live trees, mud bogs, leaf litter, animal manure, you name it. Thankfully, those who have gone before us have taken many excellent notes and recorded their findings in the many books and resource science available.
We have had a great time this year learning about our mushrooms. We have oysters, hen of the woods, chicken of the woods, pheasant backs (which taste like watermelon!), truffles, and the much-sought-after and valuable morel mushroom, among others.
We are still in the early phase of learning about our mushrooms, but it is eye-opening, indeed, just how much food is available in nature. Mushrooms are barely the tip of the iceberg of the bounty we can find if we but look around.