Morels may be the darlings of spring foragers, but fall is the real mushroom jackpot
Fungi foragers rejoice: a new mushroom-hunting season is upon us. Many species of wild mushrooms grow throughout Michigan, and this is the perfect time of year to try to find them. But before you savor that tempting toadstool, make sure you’ve done your research. (No, really.)
To get some foraging advice—and a breakdown of a few common mushroom species beyond the popular morel—Stateside spoke with Zach Schroeder. He’s the director of culinary arts at Lake Superior State University and director of Les Cheneaux Culinary School in the Upper Peninsula.
Schroeder says that you’ve got to be careful when mushroom hunting. While there are lots of delicious edible varieties to be found, some mushrooms can cause serious illness and even death. He recommends studying hard before stepping out into the woods.
“You need to completely immerse yourself into the information before you head out there and just start picking anything you find,” Schroeder said. “The best way is to find somebody that you know, or that you know through people, that knows the woods and the mushrooms well, and ask them if they’ll take you out once or twice.”
Once you’ve got some basic mycology under your belt, the next step is to find a good spot for foraging. If you’re looking for wild mushrooms in Michigan, many can be found in old-growth forests with lots of moisture, Schroeder suggests. When it comes to individual species, certain tree or soil types yield particular kinds of mushrooms. Here are some varieties that Schroeder likes to forage:
Chicken of the Woods
These mushrooms are bright orange and are easy to find. The best have a springy or rubbery texture, Schroeder says. He uses them in stir fries, soups, and broths. Whatever you do with chicken, he says, you can probably do with chicken of the woods mushrooms.
“They generally grow on dead or dying oak trees, so if you’re in an older growth oak forest, they stand out. They’re like hunters’ orange, so you can’t miss them when you’re walking through the woods, which is really a different, unique kind of thing, compared to most other mushrooms.”
Schroeder says these are some of his favorites, any time of year. You can just get them at the grocery store, but if you’re lucky, you might stumble upon a wild bumper crop.
“It’s kind of like morels with chanterelles, in the fact that everybody has their secret spot, and it seems to be that they grow in particular areas a lot more prevalently than just kind of scattered throughout the woods. So if you happen upon a chanterelle spot, it should produce for years and years and years.”
These white, coral-like mushrooms are also known as Lion’s Mane or Bear’s Head Tooth and usually grow on dead or dying beech trees, Schroeder said.
“When you get some, they're usually in one to three pound clusters, and you break those apart. We like to sauté them with any kind of vegetables we want, or you could even bread them and deep fry them—they’re delicious that way as well.”
Honey Mushrooms (or, in the U.P., “Stumpers”)
These mushrooms, which grow in clusters, are easy to find, says Schroeder, especially in areas that were recently logged. They’re better when their caps haven’t opened up too much yet, he adds, because once the cap splays open, insects can tunnel through.
“You can treat [honey mushrooms] like a button mushroom that you buy in the grocery store. You can sauté them, you can pickle them, you can poach them, you can use them in stocks and sauces and things like that, and really, the sky’s the limit. And you can go in the fall and easily harvest 20 to 30 pounds in one day,” Schroeder said.
Remember: some wild mushrooms might be tasty, but there’s no room for doubt about safety. Always do your research, ask for guidance, and don’t eat something unless you’re sure it’s safe.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt.