Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wine Cap Stropharia (Stopharia rugosoannulata)

Season: Once in the spring and again in the fall
Edibility: Very good
Defining Characteristics:  Wine colored cap (possibly fading as it ages), pronounced ring on white stalk, lilac to purple gills.  Often growing on wood chips, especially when you planted the spawn yourself!  Dark purplish spore print.

This spring I decided that I wasn't finding enough mushrooms I felt comfortable eating in the wild, and ought to supplement my finds with yummy home grown fungi.  I have had moderate success with growing oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds (I am planning a big project this coming winter with oysters- stay tuned!) and thought it was time to try out some outdoor kits.

The Wine Cap Stropharia is supposed to be one of the easiest to grow and has the added benefit of simultaneously providing you  with an additional crop from the same amount of garden, and increasing the mycelial density in your garden, which is generally regarded to help out the size and health of your veggies!

As you can see from the picture above, the Wine Cap grows very well on wood chips.  I laid down a thin layer of wood chips over about a 20 square foot area in the herb garden, then spread out the kit I bought from Field and Forest Products over the wood chips, and then covered it all with another inch or so of wood chips.  After that all you need to do is regularly water the chips ( ~1 inch of water per week) and think happy thoughts!

I planted the kit in June of this year- the kit suggested that I might get a crop before winter depending on rain, early frosts, etc... and then I should get a full crop this coming May or June.  After the spring fruiting you can add more wood chips to renew the bed, or take a shovel-full of the inoculated wood chips and add them to a new pile!  Hopefully I will be able to keep the Wine Caps thriving and spreading through my garden for years to come.

Now down to the important details:  the mushroom.  I planted the kit up in Maine, probably a few weeks later than ideal (given the short Maine growing season) and as a result I only got this one mushroom from the kit- but at least I got something, and I know the mycelium is alive and growing!  It was about 3 inches across the cap, with a 4 inch stem and firm flesh.  Quite a satisfying mushroom to grow, and after I had checked my mushroom books and made sure that I had what I thought I had (always a good idea with mushrooms!) I cooked it right up.

Online recipes suggest that the Wine Cape takes well to lemon and wine, as opposed to the traditional garlic, leek and similar preparation.  Since it was my first time eating it I sauteed the mushroom in butter to better understand the taste of it plain (besides, sauteing food in butter is pretty fool-proof).  It was excellent!  It has a soft nutty flavor with a round juiciness.  Somewhat hard to pin down on a flavor wheel, but very enjoyable.

Hopefully next year I will have many more to write about and feast on- in the meantime you can read more about the Wine Cap Stropharia at

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus and cincinnatus)

Season: June-October
Edibility: Yummy (just get it young)
Defining characteristics: Bright to pale orange surface, bright yellow to white underside.  Pores, not gills.  Growing at the base of oak trees or on dead wood in clusters that can be spectacular and huge (50 pounds plus)

Last week I came across the mushrooms shown here.  A large dead oak tree fell over about a month ago and within two weeks these Laetiporus sulphureus started growing!  It is quite likely that the mushroom may have actually contributed to the death and collapse of the tree, but at least some good came from its death (those mushrooms are delicious).

We are lucky to have two distinct species of the Chicken of the Woods growing here in Rhode Island.  Laetiporus sulphureus (shown here) grows primarily on dead wood and has a brighter orange color, and a vivid yellow underside.  Laetiporus cincinatus has a white underside and is normally found at the base of oak trees (around my house it has been more common this year, although you tend to find just one cluster on a tree).  Taste-wise the cincinatus is reported to be more tender, which I would agree with so far.

There are reported allergic reactions in a small percentage of people who eat this mushroom (just like with most foods) so as always exercise caution when tasting it for the first time!

For more information check out and

Even my cat was impressed...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)

Season: July-September
Edibility: Choice!
Defining characteristics:  Orange color, ridges on underside of cap that look like gills but are not, growing in spread out groups but NOT a single large cluster, odor (from none to apricot-like).
Don't confuse them with: The False Chanterelle or The Jack-O-Lantern mushroom

I have now been hunting New England mushrooms for 1 year.  I have been hoping to find the chanterelle, and finally this last weekend I had success!  While visiting family in Maine and we took a hike along an old dirt road that proved to be full of fun mushrooms.  I will try and get to some of the other species in a later post, but for now- the chanterelle.

Chanterelles are one of the most sought after and popular wild mushrooms (you can read all sorts of neat things about them at wikipedia, from, and mykoweb).  They have resisted attempts at cultivation thus far, and while they will come up in the same spot year after year, the amount varies from year to year, and the habitat is very sensitive to disturbance.  All this means that chanterelles are not a common find, and very expensive commercially.  So if you happen to find a chanterelle harvesting ground, please treat it with respect so that they can continue to be harvested in years to come!

Chanterelles and Black Trumpets getting ready for dinner
I found them in a dark, thick conifer forest that was fairly wet and near a marshy area.  There were probably 100 or so chanterelles spread out over an area about 30 feet wide, quite a great find.  We collected about 1/3 of them and got out of the area quickly, so hopefully next year we will get another excellent crop.

There are a couple potentially confusing look-alikes, so be VERY careful if you are not confident about your harvesting skills.  Read about the False Chanterelle and Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms (which glow in the dark!) and make sure you know what you are doing.

We made up the pasta below with our chanterelles, black trumpets (to be written about soon!), and our own garlic.  Super simple, and incredibly tasty- you can't beat fresh quality ingredients!


Monday, July 27, 2009

Red Russula (Russula sp.)

Season: June-October
Edibility: Varied- but probably won't taste good, almost impossible to ID, and may be poisonous. Why bother?

As I mentioned in a post about another Russula, these buggers are almost omnipresent, not safe to eat (unless you are incredibly good with your Russula taxonomy) and you're going to find far more of them than what you are searching for. This has led to them being referred to as JAR's (just another Russula). There are probably at least 2-3 red Russula species in the area- and possibly many more. For my purposes I shall call them all Red Russulas.
Thus far in 2009 the chestnut bolete has been the only edible I have found (and only 4 of them at that), and I have probably seen 200 Russula's with bright red caps. Identifying features include a fairly dry cap, generally brittle, and a bright red cap. The stems of most of the red JARs I have found have been fairly pure white. They are normally 1-3 inches wide and sit just a couple inches tall.

The only similar mushroom I have found is a milky cap species that has a similar red cap. The milky caps are named thus because if you draw your finger across their gills they will exude a milky latex in quite copious quantities.

Happy hunting and let me know if you figure out how to tell the various species apart!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Chestnut Bolete (Gyroporus castaneus)

Season: June through October
Edible: Yes (with extreme caution as always!)
Defining characteristics: Chestnut colored cap, pale yellow underside, pores, hollow chestnut colored stem

The rains have finally slowed long enough to venture outside- and there are mushrooms! The boletes have started popping up right on time here in Rhode Island (mid-late June). I found my first Chestnut Bolete right in my backyard this morning. About two inches across, solitary with a deep chestnut colored cap and a very pale yellow underside.

I am focusing on my bolete identification skills first for a couple reasons: boletes are a smaller group of mushrooms, more easily identifiable, have fewer toxic species, and a bunch of tasty ones are locally available.

Basic mushroom lesson: The "classic" mushroom has gills on the underside of the cap (known as the pileus in mycology circles). They includes most of the mushrooms we are used to buying in the store- white button, crimini, portobello, oyster and are often refered to as "agarics". Boletes by comparison do not have gills- instead they have pores on the underside of the cap, as show in the picture of the Chestnut Bolete below.

Now that the mushroom season seems to be in full swing I hope to start compiling a good list of local mushrooms, as there does not seem to be such as list readily available online. Leave a note if you have more information on a species or if I have mislabeled a species!

Further reading: