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.