Accidental Mushroom Hunter


Last weekend my daughter and I went out for a hike along a lazy little stream called Minnehaha Creek that makes its way down to the Mississippi.  We went the back way down a well worn trail through the woods, joking about ghosts and monsters that might be lurking near the giant old weeping willow tree.  As we walked under the willow, fighting a magical battle with our stick swords, I spied two large clumps of mushrooms.  Lovely, pale silvery brown, some as large as my hand, the mushrooms fanned out in a layered array from the side of a downed ash tree.  Stick swords abandoned, we went to investigate.  Edible?  Oh please, say yes.

Thus began my first encounter with wild mushroom hunting in Minnesota.  Luckily, I know a few folks with some experience, including Kathy from Kathy’s Foray and my neighbor, Steve.  I tweeted Ms. Kathy and she thought they might be wild oyster mushrooms, but suggested I pick some to examine further.  Steve had never foraged oysters specifically, but had the Audubon mushroom field guide, as well as some black paper for a spore print.  

Here were the things we looked for:  Are they in season?  Yes, we do get them in the fall and the weather has been cool and overcast.  Do they grow on a tree?  Yes, they were growing out of the bark of a downed ash tree.  Are they growing in a layered shelf pattern?  Definitely.  Did the gills extend down the stem?  Yes, all the way down.  Did they smell slightly “oystery” in a mushroom-sort of way?  Yes, they smelled fantastic.  What color was the spore print?  We put a cap, gill side down, on a piece of black paper and let it sit over night.  The deposited spore print was a violet/gray color.  The color should be from white/cream to gray/violet.  We did everything except look at the spores under a microscope, because we couldn’t locate Steve’s teenage daughter’s glass slides.  But we were 99% sure these were oyster mushrooms, pleurotus ostreatus.*

The next morning I made myself the breakfast of champions:  Wild oyster mushrooms sautéed with shallots, green onions, butter, salt and pepper, then scrambled with eggs.  I think I died and went directly to heaven, but only because they tasted amazing, not from poisoning.  And it was only Tuesday.

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