Mushroom Hunting in the Northeast

Anyone who is following my blog is probably wondering at this point what exactly I am doing here.  First we started off with internet marketing, then we moved to finish on salad bowls and now we are talking about wild mushrooms?!?  Yes, I am all over the place.  Actually, I figure that internet marketing relates directly to selling any kind of merchandise on the web.  I happen to be selling handmade wood items such as wood bowls, puzzles and other cool items.  Since I spend time in the woods, searching for wood to make these items, naturally there are other things in the woods, like wild mushrooms, hence, the mushroom post.  I am trying desperately to stay remotely related to the general topic, woodworking, but, other interesting topics do come up…

First, I will relay my story.  I like doing things for myself.  I think I came to an epiphany sometime in my 20’s that everything I use or want has to be made by someone, that’s when I started to learn how to make things for myself, typically from scratch.  Welding, carpentry, sewing, knitting, etc. they all allow you to make things and are all handy skills to have.  As part of the woodworking, I started scouring the woods for pieces of downed trees that could be used to make things (like bowls and boxes).  That began my foraging.

In 2011 I was at a friends house for a picnic.  This person is an avid hunter, fisherman and all around outdoorsman.  I personally don’t like the idea of shooting animals, but, certainly don’t begrudge someone else their right to do so.  I do overlap in some areas, however, and like the idea of spending time in the woods and searching for vegetation that might be of use.

As we were talking, he mentioned that he ‘hunted’ mushrooms.  That is the practice of walking through the woods trying to find specific edible mushrooms to pick.

I know what you are thinking, “What??!?  That is dangerous!”.  I don’t disagree.  I was always brought up to believe that you never go out and pick mushrooms, you just can’t tell which are poison and which aren’t.  You always hear these horror stories about families who go out and pick some bad fungi and end up all dying.  I suppose that is like any media story.  The obscure and rare stories make it to the press and the hundreds of thousands of people who pick mushrooms, eat them, and don’t get sick are never covered.

In any event, as we continued talking, my friend and a few others at the party regaled me  with their tales of mushroom hunting.  The types of mushrooms they sought and some of their greatest conquests.  After a while, they took out several mushroom field guides and started teaching me about the various mushrooms, where to find them, and how to differentiate them from other poisonous mushrooms.

Now, mind you, we are not talking about $1.99 mushrooms you might find in the super market.  The mushrooms that a true hunter seeks are the rare, expensive and highly sought after ones, Morels, Chantrelles, Hen of the Woods, etc.  They are very specific mushrooms.  You don’t go out looking for mushrooms and try to decide if they are poison or not, you go out looking for a specific mushroom or two and when you find something that looks like it, you decide if you have what you are looking for.  I think that was the biggest difference between what I expected mushroom hunting to be and what it was.

I was hooked.  This was great.  I now had an excuse to spend time in the woods.

I purchased my first field guide and set out to scour the forests for mushrooms.  Of course, the guide specifically said that Morel mushrooms came out in late April and early May.  I couldn’t wait.  I was out in early April looking around.  Needless to say, my initial hunting was not very successful.  It was not until a chance encounter on a local bike path that I found my first mushrooms.  Picture of the black topped mushrooms below.

I was riding with another friend on the bike path when lo and behold, I saw a patch of black morel mushrooms speed by me on the side of the path.  I couldn’t believe it, here I am searching the woods high and low when all along they were right next to a path where dozens of people walk every day.  I quickly went back and picked the patch, stuffing them in a baseball cap until we got back to the car.  After confirmation with my mushroom mentor, I snacked on some black morel mushrooms.  It was like Christmas!

That was the only score of black morels (which come out a little earlier in the season).  I did find some yellow morels (photo of white topped mushroom above) in my back yard, and once I realized that they really loved dying elm and ash trees, I was able to ferret out a couple of more under such trees.

Unfortunately, I was not in the northeast during the summer months and therefore could not continue to hunt other species of mushroom.  I am getting my hiking boots ready this year, though, morel season is about to begin and I have a full summer of time.