"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Fall/Winter Mushroom Season Is Here
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Scifres

Opening of the upland game season last Friday jiggled my cork a bit, but the thing that really flipped me was the cold rain that blanketed the state last Thursday and Friday and the ensuing emergence of fall mushrooms.

My first big find on Thursday was a huge patch of pear-shaped puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme) on some decaying blocks of bitternut hickory that had been in my front-yard jungle for several years. The pear-like shape of this smallish fungi and the angel-white, thread-like roots shouted its identity, a first encounter, if memory serves me well.

And though I didn’t have a chance to try its potential as food, this strange member of the puffball family created quite a stir in my jungle. It was interesting to note and taste (raw) the white, pithy interior meat and the slate-gray exterior, and to watch its development as the white interior changed to a ripe-olive colored mass of spore, and the gray cover turned light brown.

Frankly, failing to test this fungal growth in the skillet probably can be traced to my long-standing notion that you eat puffballs only if you have no other wild mushroom to put in the skillet.

Weather conditions seemed to tell me I would have other wild mushrooms to put in the skillet, so when a series of chores sent me out, I planned a motor route that would take me past plots of grass that had hosted shaggymane (Coprinus comatus) in good numbers in previous years.

True to my findings of shaggymane characteristics of the past, the spots where I had made good finds of shags in previous years were not producing. But I kept my eyes open as the roadside grass whizzed by and soon spotted a patch of shags that appeared only mediocre through my windshield, but ballooned into a bonanza as I approached on foot.

That patch gave up enough mushrooms for a small skillet of fried shags, and for two panels in my little food drier.

I may not have written this previously--some things you reveal only to your mother or your best friend--but I have been experimenting with shaggymanes, more precisely their propensity for turning into a black, ink-like mass of non-edible jelly. For those who have not harvested and eaten shags, I should point out here that the egg-shaped cap of the shaggymane starts this unsightly transition soon after the outer (bottom) perimeter of the cap breaks away from the tough stem. In a matter of hours--perhaps less--the entire cap can be a glob of ink sitting on top of the white stem.

I have tried many things to prevent--or at least delay--this natural change, and at last I can share my findings with the hope of helping others enjoy this tasty mushroom.

My experiments were based more on common sense than scientific procedures. I believed this change in the flesh of the shaggymane cap is triggered by exposure to air. Furthermore, I concluded that the change was first apparent when the lower part of the cap broke away from the stem and hung like a loose sack over the stem. The discoloration seemed to start developing at this lower (outer) perimeter of the cap and proceeded upward toward the point where the cap was seated on the top of the stem.

My efforts were channeled at picking shags before they broke away from the stem and immersing them in cold tap water to prevent their exposure to air. Presto! It worked. I could prevent this change for hours . . . even days . . . if I kept them at refrigerator temperature (about 40 degrees).

Further efforts determined that I could keep shaggymane caps for several weeks, but the water would eventually saturate the caps and render them mushy--still a nice white color, but not at all edible.

Eventually, my experiments and “research” would lead me to believe that since the discoloration of the caps starts at he lower (outer) perimeter of the cap, if this part of the cap were cut away and discarded, there would be no place for the discoloration to start. This seems to work, too.

That is where my experimentation with shaggymanes stands now, but fieldwork with this fungal species has led me to believe that the size of the shag has much to do with the texture of the cap. I have learned that the size of the mushroom is determined to a great extent by the amount of moisture in the earth and air temperatures. When the earth is well saturated and air temperatures are low (but still well above freezing), shaggymanes tend to be large, often with caps of five inches or greater. But when the rain has passed and wind and sun have dried the earth, many shags pop up to thimble size and growth is arrested.

These little fellows (I call them “thimble shags”) are firmer than their larger brethren, and consequently, can be kept longer.

In the meantime, I am seeing other species of fall mushrooms, and messages from others around the state, and the Midwest, indicate the fall/winter mushroom season is here.

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

Cap of the "thimble shag" (right) is about one inch long. Cap of the larger shag (left) is about four inches long.

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: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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