Across-the-street neighbors, Kim and Tom are campers. They came back from their latest foray with a bag of hen of the woods for us. We fried them with onions and garlic, and ate them on toast. They were good. (Hen of the woods is a mushroom that pops out in clusters from the roots of deciduous trees. It appears in autumn, between the east slopes of the Rockies and the Atlantic.)
Tom and Kim had bought a mushroom guide in a state park gift shop, Start Mushrooming: The Easiest Way to Start Collecting 6 Edible Mushrooms, by Stan Tekiela and Karen Shanberg (Adventure Publications, Cambridge, MN, 1993, ten bucks). Kim loaned it to us, and I’ve ordered a copy of our own.
Start limits you to a manageable six common and easily recognized ‘shrooms. They are morels, hen of the woods, sulfur shelfs (aka chicken of the woods), oysters, giant puffballs, and shaggy manes. I’ve eaten four of them. Only one was less than great -- chicken of the woods, which had a fibrous texture that made me think I knew what eating punk wood would be like. Having read Takiela and Shanberg’s discussion of chicken of the woods, I’d be inclined to give it a second try, on the chance that the mushroom I ate was too old when it was harvested.
Each mushroom gets several pen-and-ink illustrations, with circles and arrows, pointing out the pertinent identifying features, with six or seven hundred words of discussion. There are color photographs, and the feature of the book, a “check-off guide” for each species, listing season when you can expect to find it, its habitat, overall appearance, and the appearance of cap, gills, and stem. There’s also a chapter on what to avoid.
We don’t get out to the sticks much anymore, and we’re trying to work some kind of mushroom operation into our urban permaculture plantation, but this book may lead us into the wilderness.