Monday, July 18, 2005

Novice Mycophagist #1

I’m calling this series of articles “Novice Mycophagist” because first, I’m a novice at all things to do with mushrooms. Second, one of the reasons I am so interested in mushrooms is to eat them. However, as I’ve become more familiar with mushrooms, I’ve developed an interest in finding them, photographing them, and generally learning more about them, even when they are not edible.

There may be few things more dangerous than a novice mycophagist. After all, there are plenty of poisonous mushrooms out there, and you typically don’t want a novice sorting the good from the bad. But, everyone must start somewhere. I’ve been seeking out and identifying mushrooms for a couple of years. I’ve joined the Colorado Mycological Society and try to attend their meetings. I’ve got a half dozen reliable books for identifying mushrooms. And, I’ve actually been confident enough to eat a few mushrooms I’ve found. Still, I think the classification of “novice” fits—and may fit for the rest of my life. (No joke intended.)

We spent 10 days at our mountain cabin the week of July 4, 2005. We own 74 acres at about 8500 feet in Northern Colorado near the Wyoming border south of Laramie. The land is quite varied with high sagebrush prairie, groves of dense Aspens, conifers, a Spring creek (Bart’s Creek) along which there are high grasses and willow, a beaver pond, and so forth. It is our exclusive hunting ground for mushrooms.

We have built a path on our land which provides a great way of walking our hoard of Bernese Mountain Dogs. The path leaves the cabin, goes north along the west side of the valley (that contains Bart’s Creek) to the beaver pond. Then, after crossing the pond, the path goes south along the east side of the valley to a road that bisects our land. The road leads back to the cabin. Altogether it is probably 3/4 of a mile. It makes a great mushroom walk because of the varied landscape, generally wet conditions, and it is convenient.

On Wednesday morning during our walk Lynne cried out, “Rick. Look. A mushroom.” I went back to inspect. Sure enough, growing out of an old wound on a standing dead Aspen was a white blob that was obviously a mushroom.

Rick and Lynne Robinson, Fort Collins, Colorado

We quickly identified it as a type oyster mushroom, although it was still quite young. And, we figured it was probably an “Angel Wings” mushroom. We based this on an experience last year where we found a shelf of Angel Wings (Pleurocybella porrigens) growing on a dead Aspen near a landmark we call Picnic Rock. We harvested them and had them with scallops and a cream sauce—and, they were delicious. Everytime we walk by Picnic Rock I check on that dead Aspen, but so far nothing this year.

Lynne’s find was very exciting. Whether, as the mushroom grew, it turned out to be an Oyster (Pleutotus pulmonarius or populinus) or Angel Wings, we were very confident it was edible and we could hardly wait to harvest it. However, we thought it best to let it continue to grow. After all, we were going to be at the cabin another 4 or 5 days.

So, each day for the next few days we checked on it’s progress. And, sure enough, it grew a little every day. And, we became more and more sure that it was an edible Pleurocybella porrigens.

On Saturday, we were fully prepared to harvest the mushroom, even though it was still pretty small, and include it in our Sunday morning breakfast. But, it was gone! It had clearly been broken off and was nowhere to be seen. The grass around the dead Aspen was disturbed. Some large animal had been through the area and taken our mushroom!

It could have been a bear. We’ve had bear tear down our bird feeders before. But, that was back in 2003 during the height of the drought. We had not seen bear or bear sign since then. It could have been an elk or deer. We have them around at certain times of the year. Maybe it was a coyote or a bobcat, although they are not big enough to have disturbed the ground so much. Maybe it was a moose. We have lots of moose. Our valley is home to several families of moose and they are, of course, quite large. But, do moose eat mushrooms?

Now, when we walk the property, we can’t help scanning dead Aspen trees for blobs of white or yellow. Searching for another possible delicacy growing there, and hoping to get to it before the mushroom thief.

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Posted under: Mushroom Articles • by Rick on 07/18/2005 at 08:12 AM
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