"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Shaggy Mane Pirate
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

As the sun heads south, the questions on fall mushrooms tend to mount -- chiefly about the shaggy mane (a k a Coprinus comatus), which I consider the most easily found and tastiest of all wild mushrooms.

The shaggy mane, thusly dubbed because of the tan scaly “shingles” on the white cap, may be found almost anywhere, but my favorite haunts for this mushroom are grassy plots. I used to further that by thinking spots that were four or five years old were best, but now I search all grassy plots.

This, of course, means that I spy more shags from my car seat than walking. I just drive (I cover more ground than on foot) and keep a watchful eye (when traffic is light) on the lawns. That explains my pseudonym, “Shaggy Mane Pirate.” I simply drive fast enough to avoid being a traffic hazard (often with hazard lights winking) and search likely spots, at slack traffic times.

The angel-white caps and stems of shags seem to telegraph their presence.

The cap of the shag is more or less like an elongated egg, attached to the hollow stem at both ends. When they are attached to the stem at both ends is an ideal time to harvest them. When the cap breaks away from the stem it is okay, but soon thereafter the cap (still attached to the stem at the center of the parasol top) it will start turning an inky black, and will no longer be edible. This inky black, jelly-like substance that infiltrates the cap, starts at the outer perimeter of the cap at the point where it is attached at the bottom of the cap and proceeds upward. No matter how high the black goes, if it is cut away, the remaining white tissue still is edible. Stems, of course, are very tough and discarded.

For that reason, when making a shag edible (no matter how small), I place it lengthwise on a cutting board and trim the shag crosswise to remove the stem at the top and bottom. With the stem severed at both ends, I push the middle part of the stem out of the cap section which is ready to be dipped into egg-milk (50-50) and then dredged in a mix of finely rolled cracker meal (I use Club crackers, rolled fine and mixed 50-50 with flour and cornmeal) and fried to a golden brown on both sides. While they are frying (in olive oil or butter), I flatten each mushroom slightly to make sure it is exposed to the cooking agent. This is a must procedure.

To roll the crackers fine, I place a dozen or so in a plastic bag that can be closed at the top. Then grind them up with a rolling pin. Mix the cracker meal with flour, cornmeal, or both. You may want to dust the mix with garlic powder. Mix one or two eggs with an equal amount of milk (or less) for first dipping the mushrooms, then dredging them with cracker meal mix.

It is good to fry shags soon after they are cleaned (at least same day). Over the years, however, I have learned that exposure to air brings about the transition to the black jelly substance. By cutting away the outer perimeter of the cap, I eliminate the place where the black transition starts. By keeping them immersed in water and refrigerated, I eliminate exposure to air. I have kept shags fresh and edible in this manner for a week or more. But the longer shags are immersed in water, the more they become saturated and soft.

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

trim.jpg (44063 bytes) The shag cap is trimmed at both ends to thwart development of the black inky glob, and to eliminate the tough stem. Spot where stem hooks into the top of the cap is tough too.

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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