Yesterday, I was driving in a vehicle and I spotted what I thought were some shelf mushrooms on a tree. I was not driving, so I could not slam on the brakes and screetch to a halt, as I normally would have done, to go investigate. I did note the location. So later that day, I had a chance to take a second look. The first problem was that now I was making a specific trip to go find mushrooms based entirely on a fraction of a second, drive-by spotting. The second problem was that once I decided to make a specific trip, I now had the interest and expectations of my wife and parents (who are currently on the island with us). There was no real pressure in being wrong, that is, other than self-induced pride. After strapping my two youngest children into their carseats, my parents climbed in the van, and the five of us went on a mushroom hunt. Twenty minutes later, I was standing in a small stand of trees looking at a pile of bright orange roof tiles stacked up against the base of a tree. To be honest, they really did resemble Sulfur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus) mushrooms, but I had been defeated by a case of mistaken identity and wishful thinking. This is a common ailment in mushroomers.

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How quickly can you spot the mushroom?

We decided to turn around at the local golf course. As we were driving out, since I was driving, I slammed on the brakes and (almost) screetched to a halt. I had spotted another mushroom. This time I was certain. There was one group of golfers who seemed a bit curious about the bald, six-foot-three (190 cm) man, jogging across the green with a camera, but they just kept on playing; it seems like golfers are golfers no matter the country! I approached my target, and I dropped to a knee and smiled. It was a Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus)!

On a side note: I actually think all mushroomers experience uncontrollable smiling when they find a prized mushroom. But I also do the same thing when I identify a bird I have never seen in person before or when I see a plant I have only read about… the smile truly erupts from inside. It is a combination of happiness and adventure and wonder and contentment. I see it in children a lot. Sadly, I don’t see it in adults nearly as much.

My mother seemed a bit bewildered that I could spot a single, tiny mushroom in a wide open field. My wife says the same thing when I spot a bird or a lizard or a seedling. Part of me is proud of this skill, but I also know that it is a learned skill. I really think anyone can learn to do it if they have a desire. Talk to any experienced mushroomer or birder, and they will probably agree. It is just a matter of learning how to look. I will try to expand on this a bit more in another article soon, but rest assured, if you want to develop a “good eye”, you can.

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It’s really easy to see when you know what to look for.

I have recently mentioned in a previous article how the locals have told me there are no edible mushrooms in the Azores. But I had proven them wrong with finding a Puffball. However, I had yet to collect any mushroom and actually eat it. But that was about the change!

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Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus), a prime specimen… perfect for eating!

I was a little disappointed that there was only a single Shaggy Mane. Yes, there are a lot of highs and lows in mushrooming! But I now knew two things: First, I had found another edible mushroom on this island! Second, if there was one Shaggy Mane, there had to be more. I stood up and scanned the surrounding area… nothing. I slowly walked back to the van, scanning everywhere… still nothing. I started to drive away, straining to see any glimpse of white or ink black in the bright green grass. I was about to give up when in a small area near the entrance to the golf course I saw about a dozen more white cones protruding above the grass! I had found a Shaggy Mane patch!

Many of them were too mature to be edible still, but I did find five in good condition. I snapped a few more photos, carefully harvested my prize, and drove back home feeling rather satisfied with myself. Of course, I know most people think it is rather odd or entirely suicidal to collect wild mushrooms (see my article on Fighting Fungiphobia). I know others think it is a waste of time when one can so easily go to the grocery store. But there is an amazing diversity of flavors that await those who only eat what is on the shelves. And there is a joy in collecting wild food. It is something you need to experience to appreciate, and I hope to encourage you to give it a try.

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This one is just starting to “ink”. There is some edible parts remaining in the top of the cap, but the shelf-life is really a matter of hours now. The ink is not poisonous, but it does not have a good flavor.

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No longer edible, this Shaggy Mane cap has almost entirely deliquesced (liquified), dropping its spores in an inky mess… the origin of its other common name, the Shaggy Ink Cap.

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Here is my small harvest of Azorean Shaggy Mane mushrooms!

I brought back the mushrooms. I brushed off most of the dirt and grass then wiped them clean with a damp cloth. Shaggy Mane mushrooms do not have a long shelf life. This is why they will never be sold in a grocery store. Every once in a while, you may fine some at a Farmers Market, but they would have been collected within the previous 24 hours, probably less. In general, these mushrooms need to be eaten as soon as possible after harvesting. This means on the same day or the next day at most. But you risk them going bad. I have read one mycologist who stated that, “the butter should be melted in the pan before you pick them!” Now, they are not that sensitive, but Shaggy Manes are extremely hygroscopic… this means they love water… a lot! The caps pull water from the atmosphere and slowly dissolve into an inky mess. This will happen to all Shaggy Manes when stored for too long, so the fresher they are, the better they will be for eating.

I then split the mushrooms lengthwise and melted some butter with a splash of olive oil in a frying pan. The mushroom halves were cooked at a medium-high heat… enough to brown the mushrooms, but not enough to burn the butter. Shaggy Manes can give off a lot of water when they are cooked. This means they will shrink quite a bit when sauteed or fried. They can also be added to soups and other “wet” dishes, so that their water content fits with the meal. When I have a small batch of mushrooms, especially wild ones that are not common, I prefer to prepare them in a way that highlights their flavor, on their own.

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These are very good Shaggy Mane mushrooms. Note that they are all white with no gray or black on them… perfect for eating.

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Shaggy Manes are added to a pan of hot butter and olive oil.

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They are seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper and sauted until lightly browned.

The Shaggy Mane has a very good, delicate, “mushroomy” flavor. One writer states the mushroom reminds them of almonds… I don’t really agree, but there is a bit of a meaty, nutty flavor, but it is mild. If they are sauteed too long, I think the flavor starts to fade into the browned butter too much. The goal is for a light browing on the surface and too cook it long enough for the water to evaporate. Some people recommend pouring the water off, but I think you loose some of the flavor that way. The non-water components of the liquid will get pulled back into the mushrooms. Alternatively, you could pour off the water and use that in a stock for soup or a risotto.

There are a number of recipes available for Shaggy Mane mushrooms. I honestly want to try them all. My method is a simple, easy way that allows the mushrooms’ flavor to be highlighted. But if you have a bumper harvest, then experiment. Please let me know what works well for you!

For more information on Shaggy Mane mushrooms, see my other articles:

 

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Photo References: All photos in this article are mine. If you would like to use any of my photos, please let me know!