October, the perfect 10 in my book, probably is best known to most Hoosier
outdoor folks for its varied hunting/fishing opportunities. That's all
right with me.
But when Mr. Frost steps into the picture and Mother Nature tilts her
cornucopias, the alarm sounds for fall fungi to awaken and that makes for
a most interesting and fruitful time of the year.
Aside from the fact that such well-known edibles as the Shaggymane
(Coprinus comatus), Hen-of-the-Woods
(Grifola frondosa), and the Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus,
a.k.a. Hickory Jack) grace Hoosierland at this time of year, there are
literally dozens--perhaps hundreds--of other fungal species to view (caution
on the eating).
And the greatest aspect of this explosion of nature lies in the fact
that you may see them all just about anyplace and at any time.
Take, for example, an experience I ran into last week. I had just returned
to the old homestead on White River’s West Fork (west of Fishers) and had
parked my car after failing to find the Shags which I know soon will be
with us (if we continue to get some rain).
So there I am--sans mushrooms--walking across the lawn to the front
door, when my eyes focus on, of all things, an Earth
Star (Geastrum rufescens).
If this sounds a little “ho-humish" on first bounce, allow me to interject
here that I have been looking for this strange fungus almost as long as
I have pursued morels (and that has been a spell). I have seen many pictures
of Earth Star family members and read about them in books, but I never
had seen one with my own eyes.
So feel as you may about the excitement quotient of the Earth Star.
But to me, seeing it was like one of those rare Fourths of July when I
did not have a red or yellow firecracker explode in my hand, or pick up
a “burned-out” sparkler that set me afire.
Two or three days earlier, I had found (near my mail box) what I believed
to be a member of the Agaricus tribe, and perhaps a candidate for
my old iron skillet. But when I pulled them up by their stems (hoping to
see some nice pink, or light brown, gills), I found pure white gills on
the under side of their caps and a bulbous base at the bottom of the stem.
“Death Angel,” they seemed to say. Perhaps I had found one of many
species, some of which are said to be the deadliest of fungi. Still, after
washing my hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water, I was glad I had encountered
this beautiful product of nature and had recorded it with camera. And though
it could have been of several other species of fungi, it was not something
I wanted to eat. Enjoying its beauty was enough for me.
My idea of a successful mushroom hunt in the fall entails finding any
of the three aforementioned species, but there are others that will tickle
the palate if one views them with caution. Many of my mushroom-hunting
friends swear by the Puffball (Calvatia gigantea), and I find the
Meadow Mushroom (Agaricus campestris) superior to the Button Mushroom
(Agaricus bisporus) found in the veggie bins of big groceries.
Gastronomically, I consider it risky to go beyond those, but there are
many other edibles. And they all--even the poisonous--in my book rate a
good look, if for no reason other than an appreciation of their beauty.
“So,” says a friend, “where should I go to find these mushroom you prize
so highly as food . . . and how should I handle and cook them?”
The answer to that first question is simple: “Just look around . . .
wherever you happen to be.”
Answers to the other questions are a bit more complicated, but here,
generally, are some insights I have gleaned over the years.
By species, among my favorite three:
SHAGGYMANE--This is primarily a
grassland species. For many years I thought a new lawn in its fifth year
or a little older is prime habitat, but in recent years I have found shags
(a.k.a. inky caps) in grasslands much older and younger. In short, it seems
that shags are much like bass and other wild critters; they are where you
Identifying shags is pretty easy, especially if some of mushrooms are
aging. Shags start turning black at the outer edges of their caps soon
after the caps break free of the stems. Before many hours have passed,
the caps will be a mass of inky goo on top of the long stems (stems, incidentally
are hollow, somewhat like a thick-walled soda straw).
In cold, running water, break caps free from stems which are discarded.
Cut black areas away from quartered caps and keep the white pieces refrigerated
in water to keep air away. This retards the development of black in the
caps. Dip pieces in 50-50 mix of egg/milk, roll them in mixture of finely-rolled
crackers and flour, and fry in butter until browned on both sides. This
requires constant attention.
Shags do not freeze well, but they can be dried and stored in air-tight
will be found most often at the base, or under, oak trees. It may be variously
colored from gray to brown--even blackish--and it makes me think of the
fall flower, cushion chrysanthemum.
It is made up of a white or cream-colored mass (somewhat like the breast
of a turkey) with many fronds protruding from it. The structure of this
mushroom makes it a haven for insects, but the meat and the fronds are
tasty when simply sautéed in olive oil or butter. I slice it one-eighth
The Hen also may be frozen or dried for use later. In addition to being
a great companion for a breakfast of bacon-n-eggs, it can be used in soups,
stews, gravies, and sauces.
HICKORY JACK--When sizzling in my
skillet, strips of this mushroom seem to resemble lizards, but my taste
buds tell me to forget it. Jacks tend to grow best on dead trees (especially
willows on water), logs or stumps in wooded settings. Here again, they
are where you find them.
The true Hickory Jack, in the shape of a fan, grows directly (no stem)
from wood, and may be variously colored from cream or gray to brown. White
gills will run from the outer perimeter of the cap to the point where the
mushoom meets the tree. They may occur singularly or in groups of shelves
I wash them thoroughly in cold, running water, wring them out like squeezing
a sponge, cut them in strips and fry them as I would fry shags.
I have dried Jacks with success, but have never tried to freeze them.
However, I occasionally harvest Jacks that are frozen while hunting in
the winter months and find them just as good and tasty as they are in the
fall or early winter. I also tend to believe that a warm-up accompanied
by rain in winter will produce fresh growths of Jacks.
Fungi Photo Gallery
are captions to some of my fall fungi photos. Click on the individual links
to view them.
The Hen-of-the-Woods mushroom
as it appears in the wild
The Hen-of-the-Woods mushroom
is cut in half to illustrate what the main body looks like, and how
the frons also are great food when well washed in cold tap water . . .
Star, a distant cousin of the puffball, offers no eating qualities,
but can be the highlight of a mushroom hunt in the fall.
shag is just starting to break away from stem, but is starting to turn
over-the-hill shag cap illustrates
how the caps turn ino a black inky gob
cap split illustrates how the black goo moves in from outer perimeter
. . .Cut away the discolored part and the white part still is edible .
. . But the black moves fast . . .