The art above is Mushroom Picking, painted in 1860 by Polish painter Franciszek Kostrzewski.
1. I love to eat mushrooms!
This is a pretty common reason why people get started hunting mushrooms, and I am no different. I had little love for mushrooms as I was growing up in suburbia. The choice was Button Mushrooms or Button Mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus), and I thought they were bland and slimy. However, after many years of traveling around the world, and being exposed to a wide variety of traditional, cultural foods, I not only grew to appreciate the mushroom as a food, but I became intrigued with the heritage and culture of foraging for this sometimes elusive prey. There are so many mushrooms with amazing flavors and textures that cannot be cultivated; they can only be foraged from the wild and only in the right season when all the conditions are perfect for a particular species to form the fruiting body (aka the “mushroom”). This has taken me on an exciting culinary journey: Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius) in the Pacific Northwest; Boletes/Porcini/Steinpilz (Boletus edulis) in Spain (with wild harvested snails) and Germany (with wild boar in a cream sauce); Morels (Morchella) in Minnesota; Shaggy Manes (Coprinus comatus) in the Azores; and most recently, Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea), Crown-Tipped Coral Fungus (Artomyces pyxidatus or Clavicorona pyxidata), and a Bauernhof Bolete** (Xanthoconium purpureum) on our farm in East Tennessee.
2. I love to be outside!
Any reason to keep me outside is a good thing. It is healthier for humans to be outside than to be indoors, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. I hope to write more about this in the future, but there is a lot of modern research that supports what many people have been saying for centuries.
3. I love to be in the forest!
This is a bit of an extension of “I love to be outside!”, but is is different. There is a drastic difference when I am working with my animals in the pasture versus when I am meandering through the forest. Both are outside, but there is an almost magical feeling for me when I am walking under the canopy of large trees. There is shade. The temperature is cooler. The air is moister. The noises are different. The colors are simultaneously muted but more intense. There is a rich scent that can only be found in the woods. This is where most mushrooms reside and hide.
4. I love to observe nature!
Hunting for mushrooms is not a fast chase. It is a slow, thoughtful stroll in the woods. Walk too fast, and I will miss the mushrooms. When I slow down to a mushroom-hunting pace, I notice more things. I come across new plants and insects. I see a tree I didn’t know was here. Birds settle down more and care less about my presence. Only a week ago, on the day I found the Bauernhof Bolete** on my farm, a Red Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) flew into the hollow I was traversing. It landed in a tree just a few dozen yards from me and began to cry its classic kee-eeeee-arr! About ten minutes later, I noticed a flash of reddish-brown and white and saw an Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) hunting for food amongst the shrubs on the forest edge. Only two minutes after than, a vivid blue Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyane) landed on the branch of a pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) I was excited to see was fruiting. These experiences are not what I get when I am hustling through from one point to another with only the destination in mind.
Identifying mushrooms also requires identifying the plants surrounding the mushroom. Was the mushroom fruiting on a conifer or hardwood tree? What species produced these dead logs and branches? Was the mushroom growing in the soil or on a log or on a log buried in the soil? These observations may make a big difference on whether I can identify a mushroom or not.
5. I love to learn new things!
Thankfully, there is a never ending wealth of information and observations in the natural world. Mycology, while not a young science, is a rapidly growing field. I will not run out of new material when it comes to mushrooms!
**I came across the above bolete mushroom in our forest, and I was excited. Okay, I was pretty ecstatic! I absolutely love mushrooms, and a decent argument could be made for calling boletes the king of culinary mushrooms. But I had a heck of a time identifying this species. I am 99% sure that this is Xanthoconium purpureum. Also known as Boletus purpureofuscus, this summer bolete is common in the oak-hickory forests of the eastern United States, which is exactly where my farm is located. The cap (pileus) is velvety when young and can come in a range of colors from purplish-red to maroon to brown. I was surprised that this mushroom has no common name.
This species can contain a fair amount of bitterness, especially in the cap, but the stalk is quite good.
In celebration of finding this delicious mushroom growing in our forest, and the fact that this mushroom has no common name, I decided to call it the Bauernhof Bolete (after our farm, the Bauernhof Kitsteiner). Scientific names are a lot more difficult to create, but not a common name. That’s as easy as, well, just proposing it… like I just did!
(For full disclosure, there is a chance this mushroom is Xanthoconium affine, but I don’t think so. I will verify it with some chemical testing when I find some more samples!)
6. I love to be adventurous!
There is a bit of adventure and a bit of daring when it comes to finding a new mushroom, identifying it, determining its edibility, then preparing it, cooking it, and eating it. It is not the same as hunting a wild animal, but it is not entirely unlike it either. Proper identification can make the difference between a fantastic meal or a night spent with intestinal misery (rarely death, but that is also possible if an egregious error is made). There are many, many people who think I am a bit, well, unconventional to eat mushrooms I collect from the wild. As mycologist David Arora, writes…
Bring home what looks like a wild onion for dinner, and no one gives it a second thought – despite the fact it might be a Death Camas you have, especially if you didn’t bother to smell it. But bring home a wild mushroom for dinner, and watch the faces of your friends crawl with various combinations of fear, anxiety, loathing, and distrust!
7. I love to teach!
Taking my kids into the woods and showing them the science, art, and craft of foraging wild foods is one of my favorite things to do. This activity combines most of my favorite things in life: nature, forests, science, foraging, food, and family. Life just doesn’t get much better!
If you liked this article, you may like…
Wild Mushroom Identification (and a project for kids!)
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- All photos of mushrooms are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them.