Something Fishy

Something Fishy
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Sunday, April 14, 2013

More than 4,000 types of mushrooms can be found, but caution required in eating them

Large meadow mushrooms are tasty, but you must know for sure what you are eating.

Morel mushroom season is here. It usually lasts three or four weeks, then it is a matter of waiting another year for more of the tasty fungi. Anyway, that is the way it is for most hunters who limit their hunting and eating of wild mushrooms to morels.
My father showed me how to hunt morels -- where to look and more importantly how to identify them. We hunted black morels, which usually arrive first deeper in the woods, white morels, and yellow morels. 
The yellows usually are found last in the short season. We also picked what we called “horse necks.” They have a long stem and a small cap or button top. Dad also picked a reddish type with a solid stem, that many books identify as poison. We ate them without problem, but we didn’t eat large amounts, and I suspect they could be a problem for some people.
Many years ago, when I was editor of a small daily newspaper in Brazil, IN, I became friends with a bait and tackle shop operator, George “Bait Kind” Timko. George claimed he could find and pick edible mushroom 10 months out of the year. I never doubted him, but didn’t feel I had the knowledge and confidence to pick and eat mushrooms other than morels.
A couple weeks ago, I had a chance to talk with Leon Hampton of Cornell, IA. who now spends winters in Florida. Leon is a year-round “Shroomer” (mushroom hunter).
  “There are more than 4,000 varieties of mushrooms...I have found them all over, even in Canada. But generally speaking, I find them around town. I find them in parks, cemeteries, yards and even find them just outside my RV (recreational vehicle) in Florida.” explained Leon. “it’s just a matter of keeping your eyes open.”
“Sometimes, I drive around and I will see them in someone's yard. I will stop and ask the people if they pick them. Usually, they say they just mow them down. They often will let me pick them. I take them home and clean them, and then will take some back to the people where I picked them.”
Leon picks varieties from puff balls, which he says sometimes gets as large as a basketball, to “elephant ears” found on stumps, “toad stools”, to pasture mushrooms and many more.
Most of the mushrooms he finds are around decaying trees and bark. He says cemeteries often are a good place because there usually are a lot of trees.
He has a process and check list he uses to identify mushrooms and determine if they are poisonous. Most are not, but some are quite dangerous and require caution when determining if they are edible.
“A majority of the poisonous or mushrooms that make people sick are often from an interaction with alcohol,” says Leon, who by profession is a certified public accountant.
He finds enough mushrooms to keep a freezer well stocked with edible varieties.
Leon uses a check list from a book to determine the type and edibility of the mushrooms, if he is not familiar with them. He said when he returns to Iowa in a few weeks, he will send me more information to be shared about the check list. 
In part of the process, he places a mushroom upside down on two adjoining pieces of paper--one black and one white. After 20 minutes, he examines the spores that fall and their color helps in the determination.
And, he is adamant that bright red mushrooms usually are dangerous to eat.
I love mushrooms and would love to identify and eat more wild mushrooms than morels, but I need more training by an experienced “shroomer” before I try new varieties. 
And, I can’t recommend anyone proceed eating them on their own from what they read in a book. And, yes, I know Leon believes it can be done safely.

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