Who are you and can I eat you

Can I eat it? Ah yes, one of the most asked questions amongst mushroom hunters of all experience levels when an unknown mushroom species is encountered. We typically dismiss the small mushrooms as being inconsequential and of little culinary value. Besides, what would be left of them after sautéing these little fragile morsels and then immersing them in a soup or recipe filled with so many other ingredients? Instead we simply admire these petite little wonders and continue looking for other mushrooms with greater substance.

All the while filtering out those that we look disapprovingly upon, which usually fall into the category of being unattractive, slimy, or scary. Sometimes we may know a mushroom is edible, but have heard or read about the flavor or texture being difficult to work with or just downright awful tasting. Can you imagine having to struggle with a collection of Gomphidius \ oregonensis mushrooms. Even the drool of a bulldog or your largest backyard slug is no match for this mushroom. Commonly called the “blackening slime spike” it is listed in Noah Siegel’s book as being “nontoxic, but rather gooey and often downright unattractive”.  Now that’s a real double whammy, two thumbs down and a fast rejection for this forest dwelling character.

Otherwise, when you come upon a mushroom that meets your visual criteria and you want to try and identify it, you can consult your favorite mushroom book to key it out. Once identified you might think the only thing left to do if it is nontoxic is to start looking up recipes. Not so fast, or as the French would say, Au Contraire. Just solving the “who are you” mystery is not always as straight forward as it may seem. Quite a number of woodland mushrooms are listed as edible “with caution”. Don’t confuse the term “edible with caution” with “edible with au jus”.

One is a warning the other is just some kind of uppity gravy thing. For example, Agaricus subrutilescens is listed as being edible and very good with the caution that some people have gotten gastrointestinal distress (aka; puked big time). How could such a lovely mushroom related to the store bought portabella do this to someone? How the hell would I know? I don’t really know; however, you are now faced with the choice of do I try it or just move on to some other mushroom? If you do decide to give it a try, remember the rules of only trying a small amount, never drink alcohol or use any other mind altering substance with it, only try the one mushroom species at a time, wait at least a day to see if you have a reaction, and always save an identifiable piece of the mushroom you are eating just in case you have a really bad reaction. This is not to scare anyone since an allergic reaction to a mushroom or any food for that matter can occur. It’s all about safety first.

The last and more mind provoking issue that arises with some mushrooms is not about them but more about the company they keep. Unlike Agaricus subrutilescens whose genus contains mushroom species that are quite likely to make you sick, others like the edible Amanita calyptroderma has genetic relatives that are deadly. When you see a comment section listed under an edible mushroom that states “do not confuse this mushroom with” it should make you hit the pause button.

The correct identification of this mushroom is critical enough that Noah Siegel’s book contains a comparative checklist for Acalyptroderma versus Aphalloides, aka; the Death Cap. Although Sandy and I have eaten Acalyptroderma on a few occasions, the psychological effect that can follow might outweigh any pleasure you might gain from eating this mushroom. You start second guessing yourself as to whether you really should have eaten it and although it has been expertly identified, what if? It was not until we went out foraging with Lee Yamada earlier this year and came upon a large grouping of Acalyptroderma that we took one home, sautéed it and actually enjoyed it. For the first time we had completely bypassed our previous held psychological inhibitions and allowed ourselves to feel fully confident that what we were eating was the real McCoy.

No matter what criteria you use to select and try mushrooms listed in reference books as edible, just remember your safety always comes first. We always check for mushroom edibility using multiple book sources, do online searches, and check with experienced CMS members. The edibility status of various mushrooms have changed over time and it is important never to rely on gossip, hearsay, and innuendo when it comes to mushroom edibility. Information obtained through these questionable means should be limited to the “fish that got away” and “man parts”.

Happy Mushrooming, stay safe and eat wisely.

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