The workshop my friend and I went to was extremely informative and included an entire morning spent viewing photos and slides of all types of fungi, from the lethal to the edible. The workshop also had a spectacular display of locally gathered fungi in various stages of their development. During the afternoon, the group headed out to a nearby location for hands on fungi identification and tasting. You can read about this workshop, way back here.
Once you feel you are armed with more than enough knowledge to avoid the dangerous (lethal) mushrooms, and safely identify those praised for eating, you will want to consider the logistics; where to go, what time of day, what to take and so on.
Where to go depends largely of your knowledge of the local area, or, if you are not within mushrooming range, knowledge of the area you intend to travel. Find out a little about the area you are heading into. Is the area elevated and subject to heavy mists/fog or cooler temperatures? Pack extra coats! Is it on a steep slope? Wear sturdy footwear. Is the area on a dirt road and is this accessible after heavy rains? Plan your vehicle or perhaps consider parking a safe distance away and walking. Common sense plays a big part here. :)
What time of day should I venture out? Often, the most prized hunting grounds are already well known by other 'hunters' in your chosen area. If you are serious about hunting your mushrooms, you may like to consider heading out early, before day trippers from further afield make it to your location before you. It can sometimes even pay to make a short session or two mid week if you are close by, when most day trippers are tucked up at home or work and not planning a trip until the weekend.
It is also not uncommon for cafes and local restaurants to gather wild mushrooms to include on their menus, or market stall holders to offer at farmers markets, so if your favourite area is also frequented by such folk, heading out the earliest you possibly can after a bout of rain, can prove to be more successful than waiting until the weekend.
What to take?
- Aside from the obvious warm clothing and sturdy footwear, pack a coat and hat as mushrooming grounds are nearly always cold.
- Fingerless gloves are another welcome addition because when you find a good patch, there is little time for hands to be sitting idle in warm coat pockets!
- A small knife is a must, as when harvesting mushrooms, it is the etiquette to cut just below the surface of the ground, to leave the unearthed section behind to reproduce again the following season. Some people prefer specialty mushrooming knives that come with a brush attached to one end, however I find that a simple steak knife is quite adequate for my needs.
- A basket with lid is also a welcome addition. I have hunted without bags, large shopping bags and open baskets before, but by far the best investment was a $3 wicker picnic basket from my local thrift shop that has two hinged flaps to open, thereby protecting the mushrooms if it happens to rain. The basked can also easily be hosed off once emptied, in readiness for the next session.
- A mushroom guide book (or app), mobile phone, map of the area, snack and water bottle and camera are also items worth considering.
- To begin with, I would suggest always hunting with another person, as with two people identifying, errors are less likely to occur. As you gain confidence in your mushrooming abilities, solo ventures will start calling to you, but remember to tell someone if you are 'shrooming alone, for safety's sake.
When out there..
**Only take what you know to be 110% safe to eat!! It seems obvious, but you have really got to be absolutely certain that what you are picking is not going to harm yourself or your loved ones.**
Try and steer clear of other hunters, as it could be considered impolite to hunt alongside them. There is plenty of forest out there, so find another section to look in.
Only take what you need! It can be all too easy to come home with a basket overflowing with mushrooms that you don't get around to using, so please, only take what you intend to use and save the rest for other keen hunters. I believe that is the golden rule of foraging - always leave something behind for the next person.
Have fun! Once you know what you are looking for, mushrooming can be great fun and an enjoyable social activity or an opportunity for peaceful solitude. Either way, it's a great way to spend some of these autumn days before the seriously chilled blast of winter hits.
Do you hunt mushrooms? Do you have any tips for the new hunter that you'd like to share? What is your favourite way to cook foraged mushrooms? Please share in the comments section below!
Be safe out there and happy hunting!
**I choose to hunt only Saffron Milk Caps (Lactarious Delicious) to feed myself and my family. They grow well in our local area in the pine forests and are extremely difficult to mistake with any other mushroom. They have a distinctive orange appearance, ooze a saffron coloured sap when cut and their flesh turns an oxidised green when it is bruised. More information on this edible mushroom can be found here.**