Edible Mushrooms — the Next Local Crop?

By Anna Soref

In my twenties I had the opportunity to live in the French Alps for a year in the picturesque town of Chamonix. Among the plentiful culinary delights of the region were wild mushrooms. For a few months every year the foothills of the mountains were dotted with mushrooms sprouting up literally overnight. They came in all shapes, sizes and colors—and taste, I would learn. If you picked the right ones, had access to a sauté pan, fire and some butter, you were in for the taste of a lifetime. 

French friends aided my mushroom hunting and cooking; I never would have ventured into the experience on my own because of the risks of eating a poisonous mushroom. But like many French, my friends were knowledgeable enough to confidently spot and pick a handful of edible mushroom varieties. We often enjoyed a common variety called “bolete” that grew along the valley floor in the shade of the conifers.

Back in the United States I encounter more and more frequently people who pick edible mushrooms. I’ve wanted to try here my limited foraging skills that I learned in France but wasn’t sure my basic mycology acumen could be applied to wild North American fungi. Recently a book crossed my desk that has boosted my confidence to grab a paper sack and head out for the search.

Edible Mushrooms: Safe to Pick, Good to Eat (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014) is a how-to guide written with the expertise to give even a novice mushroom hunter confidence to try his or her hand at mushroom foraging. It is authored by husband-and-wife team Barbro Forsberg and Stefan Lindberg (she does the writing; he takes the photographs), who describe themselves as “mushroom maniacs who love picking, cleaning and eating mushrooms.” If that’s not enough for you, a professional mycologist has reviewed the 218-page full-color book; so you can be confident that the information is accurate.

The planet is home to more than 5,000 mushroom varieties—Edible Mushrooms focuses on 40 of them. The book will take you through all aspects of mushroom hunting—from learning where, when and how to search for mushrooms to the best ways to pick, clean and prepare them. They even teach you how to dry them for future use.

With names like Death Cap and Destroying Angel, poisonous mushrooms shouldn’t be taken lightly. But learning how to identify them is possible. An entire chapter is dedicated to poisonous mushrooms and covers how to avoid them; the authors also provide a simple test to determine if a mushroom is of a poisonous variety. Forsberg is quick to suggest that every mushroom gatherer should possess several handbooks to compare photographs. Additionally, anyone new to mushroom picking should forage with an expert. Many towns and cities have mycology associations (see link below).

The bulk of Edible Mushrooms is an index of in-depth profiles of 40 edible mushrooms. Perhaps the most vital information here is the photographs. Numerous full-color photos of each fungi variety give the reader assurance of what to look for and how to identify what they’ve found. Personal narratives are intertwined into the text, which bring to life the rich history and enjoyment of mushroom foraging.

Gathering mushrooms has been an integral part of many cultures’ hunting and gathering systems. These tasty fungi provide myriad health benefits and can be prepared simply or used in extravagant dishes. As more Americans embrace agrarian activities such as growing their own foods and raising chickens and bees, mushroom hunting is certain to gain in popularity. Edible Mushrooms offers a solid handbook for the activity.

To learn more about wild edible mushrooms and find mushroom-picking clubs in your area, visit www.mykoweb.com