Friday, April 15, 2022

Edible Mushrooms of Spring, southern New England



Morels and garlic mustard

Spring mushrooming in Connecticut and southern New England in general can be a little slow. Soil and air temperatures fluctuate seasonally, and rain can be sporadic. The "season" can begin as early as April, and generally runs through mid-June. While there are many small bumps on logs and dried polypores to examine, there are relatively few species of edibles (at least compared to the species in summer and autumn) to be found in the spring. It should also be noted that there is a scale of edibility to recognize: choice or great edibles, edible (I prefer to think of them as simply non-toxic at this level; cook them up with butter and salt, and all you will taste will be butter and salt. An "edible" designated mushroom has no real interesting flavor or texture that sets it apart from a basic white button grocery store mushroom), and non edible (whether due to toxins or texture).

Mica caps

Deer mushroom

Platterfull mushroom

Three spring mushrooms I consider "edible" but won't bother collecting due to lack of flavor and poor texture are mica caps (Coprinellus micaceus), deer mushroom (Pleutues cervinus), and the platter-full mushroom (Megacollybia rodmani). Mica caps can be plentiful, but often full of dirt, and as one of the inky mushrooms, will deliquesce if not cooked quickly. Deer mushrooms are quite flavorless and cook up rather floppy, and platterfull mushrooms are nearly all gills. Without extensive and involved prep using skills and techniques that the average home cook does not posses, these three mushrooms *in my opinion* are not good edibles in spring.

And why bother with less-than-desirable mushrooms when there are a number of very good to choice mushrooms to be found?

Morels (Morchella sp.) are the spring edible that many seek, but is not nearly as plentiful here as it is in the mid-west, Appalachian region, and on the west coast after burns. They have a pitted cap, a lighter colored stem, and are hollow. Depending on species, the cap can be attached or attached at the mid-pint, or attached at the top of the inside of the cap. Depending on species, they can be delicate and small 1-2" or chunkier and taller at 3"-5". There is still ongoing DNA studies being done on identifying morels, so their binomials are changing.

Morchella dimunutiva


Morchella americana

Morchella punctipes


Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) can be found in spring; indeed all winter if it has been mild enough. The spring oysters tend to have light brown caps, and the yellow oysters (Pleurotus citrinopileatus) will soon be invading our geographic area after spreading throughout the mid-west. Oysters are gilled and grow from dead or nearly-dead hardwood, and can be cultivated at home. They offer very good flavor and texture when sauteed, grilled, or roasted. Wine caps (Stropharia rugosoannulata) are another gilled, saprobic mushroom, but are found growing in wood chips of the cooler spring and autumn months, and can also be cultivated at home. The caps can be burgundy but that color can fade; there is also a lighter variety that has a yellowish cap to begin with. There is often a large cog-wheel like ring on the stem, and the gills start off pale grey maturing to dark purplish grey. Wine caps are meaty mushrooms and have a stronger flavor that works well stuffed and baked, grilled, or cooked into risotto.

Oyster mushroom

Wine caps

Two polypores that can be collected while still young and tender are the dryad's saddle (Cerioporus squamosus) and the chicken (Laetiporus sulphureus). Both are saprobic, growing from wood, and will become tough and inedible with age. Dryad's saddle has an excellent crisp texture and a stronger flavor than most mushrooms; making it ideal for pickling or using in strongly flavored dishes. There are fine tufts of hairs on the caps and the pore surface smells like watermelon rind or cucumber. Chicken mushrooms don't taste exactly like chicken; it is more the texture of a prime specimen will strongly mimic the texture of chicken when cooked well. They can take on any cooking method and any flavors--poaching, frying, sauteing, baking, mincing or grinding, simple bread crumb coating, BBQ spices and sauce, poultry seasoning, ginger and garlic aromatics, and any marinade. Chicken mushroom is a wonderful meat substitute for a vegetarian meal.

Dryad's saddle

Chicken mushroom

 Finally, another spring mushroom worth hunting is the wood ear mushroom (Auricularia "americana" group). True wood ears are in binomial flux, and the name will change. Wood ears grow on wood, are gelatinous in texture, and have a fine coating of fuzzy hairs on one side. Not all brown jellies are "wood ears," many are from the genus Exidia but are still equally edible. Wood ears themselves don't have a lot of flavor, but provide an interesting textural contrast when added to soups and stir fries. They dehydrate and reconstitute well in water.

Wood ears

NOT woods ears, but Exidia crenulata brown jelly



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