‘Twas a sunny Sunday morning, and I led a group into a dark, dank coniferous forest. From the moment we entered the woods, we all knew we had hit peak fall foraging conditions.
Almost immediately, I spotted a thread of dainty yellow foot chanterelles woven into the mossy ground. I knelt down and plucked a few mature specimens of this exquisite, cold hardy chanterelle relation. Before I could stand back up, I had spotted several pristine hedgehogs, and someone else was marveling at a regal chrome-footed bolete (Tylopilus chromapes).
The group could barely stay together, overwhelmed by the abundance. Our forager’s eyes were on, and there was no ignoring their primal call. I tried to reel the hunters in, but one participant had already shimmied up a steep, craggy hillside. Even from afar, I spotted the bright orange flash of a lobster mushroom coddled in his hand. Like a mountain goat, he jumped from rock to rock, gathering lobsters lurking among peppery, white Lactarius piperatus host fungi.
After the foray, Jenna cooked up each species separately. The hedgehog quickly emerged as a crowd pleaser with its sweet, piney flavor and firm texture. The gem-studded puffball, “tastes like dirt, but I like that flavor,” a participant noted. The chrome-footed bolete, a member of the often bitter Tylopilus genus, emerged as the unexpected group favorite with its nutty, meaty flesh.
We found one mushroom on the foray that is better kept a safe distance away from the frying pan – the deadly destroying angel (Amanita bisporigera). This ubiquitous Amanita is so white it almost glows (see photo!), and with its resemblance to the common button mushroom it almost begs to be eaten. It is the first mushroom we teach beginners, since it is responsible for the majority of mushroom-related fatalities every year in the United States. One Cornell student was lucky enough to survive a destroying angel poisoning in 2006 – read his story by clicking here. Once you take note of its volva – the swollen base that remains from the universal veil – it is easy to recognize and steer clear of this blindingly white fungus. Know your Amanita anatomy!
In our Central Vermont pastures, we are already waking up to frost hovering on the blades of grass. Soon the Amanitas, along with the last golden chanterelles and lobsters, will disappear with the dimming days. Yet hardy fall favorites like yellow foots, maitake, lion’s mane, oysters, porcini, enokitake, matsutake, honey mushrooms, and aborted entolomas are only invigorated by the cool nights, and will likely continue flushing into early October. Seize the season!