"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Foraging For Fall Fungi
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

Late-summer and early-fall rains brought some of the best hen-of-the-woods (Grifola Frondosa) action in the memory of many foragers of wild foods. 

And while there still are a lot of hens sitting on the roots of oak trees, the time is nigh for both shaggymane (Coprinus comatus), and hickory jacks (a.k.a. oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus).

I have made good finds of shags through mid-November, and hickory jacks will be found even in the dead of winter, especially if a hard freeze is interrupted by above-freezing temperatures and rain.

Furthermore, I am certain that at times in winter I have harvested hickory jacks that fruited in the fall and were kept in edible condition by nature's own big outdoor freezer. I might add that they offered the same great taste of fresh mushrooms.

Rain and cooler air temperatures--even cold, miserable rain--seem to be keys to the fall shag explosion. Last fall was a poor year for shags because of the drought, but we still had a few days of good hunting when a cold, soaking rain hit.

However the great fall-winter mushroom scenario will play out, the place to look for shags now is in grassy plots that are four or five years old. Still, the sharp-eyed lover of shags picks his mushrooms where he finds them and remembers the locations for later-fruiting action, or even subsequent years.

Look for hickory jacks on the sides of dead trees, decaying logs and stumps. But don't be surprised if you find them on smaller dead limbs on the earth, or even shooting up through the forest floor.

Hickory jacks are shaped like a fan. The mushroom attaches itself directly to the host wood, without a stem. Some commercially-produced mushrooms sold as "oyster mushrooms" have stems and they are tasty. Growing in clusters, the hickory jack may show a top surface from gray or cream-colored to brown. Bottom surface is lacy, white gills that run from the outer perimeter of the mushroom to the point where it is attached to the host.

I process and cook shags and hickory jacks in the same manner that I use spring morels. I do not eat them raw.

Two other wild mushrooms available to foragers in the fall are the meadow mushroom (Agaricus campestris), and the common puffball (Calvatia gigantean).

The former, a tasty treat, will be found in grassy plots, often occurring in circular patterns. Top surface of the parasol-like mushroom is smooth white, but it may crack slightly as it ages. The puffball, which occurs from golf ball to basketball in size, is white and cracks with age. The puffball eventually turns into an olive-drab power, starting on the inside.
The shaggymane mushroom is easy to identify . . . Note the lower end of cap starting to turn black.  This close-up of cap and stem illustrates the change from white to black in the cap . . . cut away the black part of the cap and the white part remains a tasty treat . . . hollow stems are discarded because they are tough.
This photo illustrates how the cap of shaggymane turns black, starting at outer perimeter. The meadow mushroom is characterized by pink gills when fresh. Later they will be chocolate brown . . . but still tasty. 
Fresh hickory jacks may be any color from gray to brown . . . these are fresh in the fall. I have harvested hickory jacks that fruited in the fall and were kept in edible condition by nature's own big outdoor freezer.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Scifres Family, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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