In my opinion, fall is the absolute best time of year to be outside! The weather has finally cooled from the dog days of summer; the leaves are changing to their beautiful, fall colors; and the bugs have all run their course, leaving us bite-free. Yet a little-known fact is that fall is also an excellent time to go mushroom hunting! Everyone knows about morel mushrooms in the spring.. .but what about puffballs, sulfur shelfs, hen-of-the-woods or oyster mushrooms? If you haven't heard of these, don't worry - you're not alone. However, you can really spice up your dinners with the addition of these fall mushrooms. Follow public and/or private rules when collecting
Some areas managed by MDC allow mushroom collecting, but others don't. Don't be in violation of the Wildlife Code; ask for area regulations!
Choose the right hunting time
Mushrooms are actually a meshwork of fungus called mycelium growing in soil, wood or other decaying matter. The mushroom that we see is the fruiting body, whose only purpose is to spread spores. The fruiting body will only emerge if conditions are right — usually after a rain.
Follow your eyes
Spotting fall mushrooms is much easier than looking for morels. Fall mushrooms can be brightly colored and sometimes are very large or are in large clumps. Morels, on the other hand, blend into any forested background, driving even the most experienced mushroom hunter crazy!
Puffballs are large, white or tan, stalkless balls. They're found in soil, on decaying wood, in lawns, the open woods, pastures and barren areas. Cook them by removing the outer skin if it's tough, then slice them, dip them in batter and fry.
The sulfur shelf mushroom is bright orange with pale yellow markings. It's often found in clusters on living trees or dead wood. Cook only the tender outer edges. Slice the mushrooms and simmer in stock for about 45 minutes, then serve them creamed on toast.
Hen-of-the-Woods grows as a bouquet of grayish-brown, fan-shaped, overlapping caps. A single clump can grow to an enormous size - and weigh more than 100 lbs! Cook only the fresh, tender portions. Simmer them in salt water and serve as a vegetable side dish with cream sauce. An alternative is to chill them after cooking and use them in salads.
Another fall favorite is oyster mushrooms. These large, white mushrooms have gills running down the stems. They're found on trees and fallen logs. Cook them by soaking in salt water to remove bugs. Dip the mushrooms in a beaten egg and then roll them in breading before flying.
Keep in mind a few tips when hunting for fall mushrooms. First of all, you'll need to know if they are edible or poisonous. Many mushrooms are perfectly harmless and can be a surprising treat from your normal cuisine. Most edible mushrooms are easily recognizable, with some practice, and most identification books will also give you tips on the cooking preparations. You should always exercise caution with any mushroom, however; don't eat one unless you are sure of what you have. Most poisonous mushrooms will only cause an upset stomach, but there are a few with the potential to kill an adult. Request the free publication, Mushrooms, from any Missouri Department of Conservation office to help you with your identification. MDC employees also will do their best to help you identify any mushroom, but they won't tell you to eat it. The ultimate decision to eat a mushroom is up to you!
Some guidelines for the mushroom hunter include:
Just remember - the more you hunt for mushrooms, the better you'll get at it. Even if you don't intend to collect and eat a mushroom, spotting and identifying them helps hone your skills. Plus, the more you venture into the woods, the more exciting new things you'll see.