Although most of the fall mushrooms are not yet
appearing hereabouts, the questions keep rolling in, mostly about those
we eat, and some on preparation, especially about cooking and identification.
Incidentally, in Indiana, the origin point for
this column, the giant puffballs are starting to show now, which means
that the shaggymanes,
hickory jacks, honey and other edibles are not far in the offing, especially
if we get some good rains.
As I pointed out last week in this space, the
shaggymane comes normally in the wake of the first cold rain of October
and keeps coming on (intermittently) with the rains and chilly days that
stretch into the first part of November. The shags may dry with dryer days,
but they’ll be back with the good rains so long as it doesn’t freeze. As
a matter of fact, I have picked shags in the past with big flakes of wet
snow on my back.
Before the shags come on the weather usually is
right for the honey mushroom, the field mushroom, chanterelles, and puffballs,
the latter a rather bland-eater. Still, sliced half an inch thick (or slightly
less) and fried, the giant puffball
is edible so long as the insides remain white. I eat puffballs if I have
no other mushrooms. The softball size seems better--more solid--than volleyball
size or larger. But they are all edible if white inside
After the shags are gone--or even while they are
fruiting--the hickory jacks will be found on dead trees, stumps and logs
into winter, especially during warm streaks.
Last year I discovered the honey mushroom (Armillariella
milla), and a close relative of the hen-of-the-woods
(Bondarzewia berkeleyi). The hen relative has the propensity for
being much larger or the two (gargantuan is a good word to describe it),
and is somewhat whiter on the fronds. But it reminds me of the hen though
it seems a trifle bitter raw. Bitterness leaves when it is cooked.
One of the questions we get most often on mushrooms
deals often with keeping shaggymanes in good shape long enough to use them
for food. I experimented with this problem for several years, and finally
realized that having shags exposed to oxygen is the force turning them
black and making them inedible.
It is rather common knowledge that shag caps start
turning black at the outer perimeter of the caps soon after they break
away from the stems near the earth. Thus, I started picking only shags
that were still attached to the stem at tops and bottoms of the caps, or
in very good shape.
Furthermore, I covered them in cool water and
weighted them down to keep them below the surface of the water. Refrigeration
solved the problem. Since my original experiments, I have learned to keep
shags in good shape for extended periods. But if kept them too long, they
become soft and saturated.