By Tom Nauman
There's a lot going on in the mushroom world. The biggest story for morel hunters is from the Northwest. Morels in that region and Canada tend to grow wherever the ground has been traumatized the previous year. Wildfires are one of the traumas that get the immediate attention of morel hunters. As of September 12, 2000 the total number of acres burned this year is 6,649,279. The average number of fires per year for the previous ten years was 3,647,597. It looks like there may be twice as many areas to find morels next spring. There will also probably be twice as many commercial pickers invading the area also which will undoubtedly earn the ire of the local pickers. So you may want to check with the local authorities before you start pickin'. You can get more information about the fires from National Interagency Fire Center at http://www.nifc.gov/
In our neck of the woods (Central Illinois) the rainfall for the year is 7 inches less than the average which doesn't do much for mushroom propagation. If your particular area has seen rain than you are in much better shape than we are. We've gotten reports from areas that have had rainfall of bumper crops of Hen-of-the-woods or Quarene (Grifola frondrosa) and the late beginning of the Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) season. In our area we've seen Sulphur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus), Dryad Saddle (Polyporus squamosus), Jack-o-Lantern (Omphalotus illudens), along with several members of the Russula and Bolete families.
I probably need to mention again that I'm not trying to impress anyone with the use of the Latin names. I use them in case anyone wants to look them up in a field guide they'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Regional names for mushrooms vary. For example, the name "beefsteak" is used to describe at least four different mushrooms. "Spongy" can describe both morels and boletes. Morels (morchella) have many different names. Johnny-Jump-Ups and "Landfish" both mean morels, depending on what part of the country you're in. The Latin names also help the mycologists when communicating with their counterparts from other countries.
Our mushroom travels this summer have taken us to Beaumont, TX and Kennett Square, PA. The trip to Texas in early June was to attend the North American Mycological Association annual foray and meeting. We personally didn't get a chance to actually hunt mushrooms, but those that did came back with hundreds of different varieties. http://namyco.org/
The trip to Pennsylvania in early September was to attend the National Mushroom Festival. http://www.mushroomfest.com/ This annual event celebrates one of the major industries in the area. Chester County which borders the top of the State of Delaware produces one-fourth of the world's supply of cultivated mushrooms. I realize that this is a journey to the other side of the mushroom world - growing them as opposed to finding them, but it's still interesting. The only thing that bothers me is that the cultivated people caution people in their literature to never, ever eat wild mushrooms because it is too dangerous and the ones they grow taste just as good. I agree that it can be dangerous - both the hunting and the eating. But I agree with Larry Lonik on the tasting when he says "Comparing button mushrooms to morels is like comparing cardboard to steak".
Two years ago during the festival, I toured the Yeatman Mushroom Farm near Avondale. http://www.organicmushrooms.com/ The young man that conducted the tour was a grandson or great-grandson of the founder. He was obviously as passionate about the cultivated mushrooms as I am about the wild ones. The Yeatman farm is a certified organic farm which means they have to watch what they introduce into the growing medium to the point that they make sure the horses that produce the manure aren't fed or injected with inorganic substances. And I shouldn't call it manure, by the time the medium is processed to the point that it is ready to grow mushrooms it isn't manure any longer.
He explained that growing portabellas isn't just a matter of letting the button mushrooms grow a few days longer. They also have to thin out the extra mushrooms in the growing trays so that the portabellas have room to grow. He also explained that the operation is a "closed loop". After the growing medium has produced a crop, it is sent back to the horse farm to be used as fertilizer on the hayfields which is then fed to the horses.
Kennett Square is also home to Phillip's Mushroom Place and the Mushrooms Museum and Gift Shop. http://www.phillipsmushroomplace.com/ They have more mushroom items in one place than I've ever seen. Be careful not to spend more than you can carry. I pretend I'm going to the the casino and leave my checkbook and credit card at home!
Remember, whenever you want to try eating a mushroom you're not familiar with, check it in at least two field guides. If they say it's edible, try just a nibble, wait 24 hours, and if there are no ill effects then consume larger amounts. All past articles are available http://www.morelmania.com/5Mushrooms/index.html. Please feel free to contact us with questions or comments. Especially if you have ideas or suggestions for future columns: Tom and Vicky Nauman, Morel Mania, RR1 - Box 42, Magnolia, IL 61336, Phone 309-364-3319, Fax 309-364-2960, Tom@MorelMania.com.