Mushroom hunting has become a popular hobby all over the U.S., especially in states in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest. Festivals, such as Oregon’s Mushroom Festival in Eugene are sprouting up across the country, exciting mushroom vendors and consumers alike. The 2015-2016 hunt is well under way, and people from all different regions of the U.S. are celebrating successful seasons already, thanks to favorable weather and an increase in forest fires nationwide. The mushroom industry is growing rapidly each year, so it’s no wonder people across the country are joining the hunt.
Every region has their favorites when it comes to mushrooms. The Midwest and states around the Great Lakes are the best place to find yellow morels, a genus of mushrooms known for their honeycomb-like ridges and texture, though black and gray morels can spring up virtually anywhere in the ashes of forest fires. In the Pacific Northwest, morels are also common, and chicken-of-the-woods and matsutake mushrooms are popular finds, as well. The Northeast specializes in mushrooms like the maitake (also called hen-of-the-woods), and lion’s mane is most abundant in the Southeast. Puffball mushrooms and slippery jacks are commonly found in the Rocky Mountain region. However, many mushrooms, particularly oysters, morels, lobsters, chanterelles, turkey tails, and king boletes, a favorite of many hunters, can be found in nearly every region, and most favorites are not exclusive.
Though the 2015 season is coming to a close in a couple months, there’s still time to hunt for maturing fall mushrooms, and it’s never too early to start preparing for the 2016 spring season. Chanterelles tend to be found in the fall, during which other mushrooms’ seasons like chicken-of-the-woods, August through October, and hen-of-the-woods, puffball, matsutake, and lion’s mane mushrooms, September through November, are underway. King boletes are typically found in the fall, and slippery jacks are usually found during the warm, summer months. And though most morels mature in spring, some do appear in northern states during fall. The 2015 mushroom season is projected to be one of the best yet, particularly for morels because the increase in forest fires in the past few years provide optimal conditions for growth. Not only is mushroom hunting growing, but the cultivated industry has grown significantly in the past 3 years in terms of number of growers, volume of sales, and value of sales, as well. Hunters, if you haven’t already, grab your baskets because it’s about to get wild!
Generally, wild mushrooms are found around the bases of trees, the type and location depending on the hunted mushroom and region. Lion’s mane typically grows on dead or dying broad-leaf trees, such as maple, sycamore, and oak, while oyster mushrooms tend to grow on beech and aspen trees. Matsutake mushrooms grow under brush, leaves, and branches on the forest floor, and turkey tail is usually found on dead stumps and branches. Yellow morels are commonly found under deciduous trees, and black and gray morels are usually found under coniferous trees and in burned areas. King boletes and lobster mushrooms are also usually found under coniferous trees, such as hemlock and spruce. The most important part of mushroom hunting, however, is knowing which mushrooms are edible. Bring a book with pictures and descriptions and if there is even the slightest doubt, don’t risk it. Also, remember not to pick every mushroom in a patch to ensure the mushrooms can repopulate for years to come.
Mushrooms are high in fiber and protein, packed with vitamins and minerals, and come in a multitude of interesting flavors. Chanterelles are typically sweet-smelling, fruity, and are great in mild soups and pasta. Morels, on the other hand, bring an earthy and nutty flavor and are best served sauteed, in pan sauces, or over bread. Try this Morel Sauce from Fine Cooking for a creamy and oh so delicious sauce to serve over chicken. King boletes also have a nutty flavor and are good sauteed or dried to take out any bitterness. Matsutakes offer a sweet and spicy flavor and give off a cinnamon-like aroma, good when steamed with butter, soy sauce, and sherry. Or, if you need a vegetarian substitute, try lion’s mane mushrooms, which are said to have a seafood, lobster-like taste. More commonly known mushrooms are also a nice addition to any meal. Portabella mushrooms are perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner; just chop, saute, and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. Or try this creamy mushroom soup for an enchanting bowl filled with white button mushrooms, perfect for a rainy day.
Visit a local mushroom festival (Eugene’s festival is set for October 25th) to see which wild and fresh mushrooms vendors are selling in your region!