Better late than never!
---- Wild mushroom bounty in the Pontiac
There are many different species of mushrooms to be found in the MRC Pontiac, and they have been plentiful recently due to significant rainfall, unlike the beginning of the summer that was too dry to produce many mushrooms, said Chris Seifried, an amateur mycologist who detailed this year’s wild mushroom harvest. He cautioned that wild mushrooms can be difficult to digest, in particular for older people and very young children, so those groups should be careful.
Seifried has about 65 years of experience identifying, picking and eating wild mushrooms. “My family is of Polish origin, and Poles are mushroom fanatics! From early childhood, I would often be out in the woods with my mother, grandmother or aunts picking mushrooms in Alberta on the family farm where I was raised,” he told the Journal.
In the Pontiac, chanterelles, oyster mushrooms and black morelles are easy to find and edible. Seifried said chanterelles are easy to recognize, fairly easy to pick, and quite tasty. The only similar non-edible mushroom is the Jack-O’-Lantern mushroom, which is toxic if eaten. However, he advised that “it’s easy to distinguish from chanterelles because it has distinct gills underneath the cap; chanterelles have ridges.”
According to folklore, “If you see a mushroom, pick it!”, which Seifried said is because they have a very short lifespan and are only ripe for picking for one to two days. His mother used to insist they go out every second day during mushroom season.
Seifried has a few favourite spots to forage for edible fungi. He has accompanied others to share knowledge, but says some mushroom hunters can be secretive of their favourite places to avoid over picking. He advised that the forest is the best place to locate mushrooms, and has noticed mixed wood forests to be the best locations (e.g. combination pine and hardwoods), rather than monoculture forests (one type of tree).
How can other amateurs know if mushrooms they find are safe to eat? The best way to learn is to accompany a knowledgeable mushroom enthusiast out in the field, or join a provincial mycology group that offers workshops and excursions into the forest.
Alternatively, Seifried recommended resources for identification purposes because of the excellent photos and accompanying descriptions: his “Bible”, the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms by Gary Lincoff; An Illustrated Guide to Mushrooms and Fungi of North America by Geoffrey Kibby; and The Ultimate Mushroom Book: The Complete Guide To Mushrooms by Peter Jordan and Steven Wheeler. He highlighted the importance of doing your research, adding that “even though I have been picking mushrooms for 65 years, I still depend on the books a lot.”
For the tech-savvy mushroom forager, there are apps for that. For example, the Audubon society’s app, or Google photos’ feature that links your photo roll to the “entire universe of images” on the internet.
Seifried stressed the need to be certain a mushroom is edible, as they are not all easy to identify. A technique called spore printing will address any doubts. Cut off the cap of the mushroom and lay it on a piece of white paper. Cover it with a bowl overnight and the next day, the spores will have fallen off the mushroom onto the paper, showing distinct colours and shapes that can safely and definitively identify the mushroom.
If you venture out and are successful at picking mushrooms, only cook and eat one type at a time, and try just a small amount, recommended Seifried. If it is toxic, you will only be slightly sick and by isolating mushrooms, you will know which ones to avoid. Seifried says he has never gotten sick, but he only eats ones he is absolutely sure are safe (less than 10% of the mushrooms he sees), either because he is not familiar with the others or knows they are poisonous.
In conclusion, the ‘amateur’ mycologist said, “Personally, I find foraging for mushrooms, learning about them, cooking them and eating them very satisfying and I encourage anyone interested to try it.”