October 10, 2011

Mushroom foraging: Expert says do it by the book

Canaan residents hosts more than 100 people at Sunday workshop

By Doug Harlow
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- In real estate, it's all about location.

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TASTES LIKE CHICKEN? Richard Tory of Canaan talks about chicken mushrooms he collected during a mushroom workshop Sunday at the Quarry Road Recreation Area in Waterville.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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A CLOSER LOOK: Scott Fenton examines a chanterelle mushroom during a workshop on foraging for wild Maine mushrooms.

Staff photo by David Leaming

In the world of edible, wild-mushroom gathering, it's all about timing.

"Timing, timing, timing," mushroom hobbyist and presenter Richard Tory of Canaan told a group of more than 100 people Sunday during an open-air workshop at the Quarry Road Recreation Area. "The seasons; what time of year to look for them -- right after a rain. Not too cold, not too hot, not too dry. The right amount of water."

Sunday's workshop and self-guided mushroom tour of the trails and woods surrounding the recreation area were sponsored by Kennebec Messalonskee Trails.

Foraging, identifying and preparing fungi for the table also is about safety, said Tory, a vegetarian for the past 40 years.

"People need to make sure they identify very carefully what they eat," he said displaying a series of local mushrooms that are good -- and safe -- to eat. "Poisoning cases at hospitals in Maine are up this year. You have to be very careful; you have to really learn how to identify species and try to avoid the other ones.

"Be observant, curious and patient. There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters."

The first rule of foraging fearlessly for fungi is to buy and use a good field guide, to learn where the safe, "choice" ones grow and when they grow, Tory said. He recommends learning the identity of the top 10 varieties that grow in central Maine.

There is the oyster mushroom, the chicken mushroom and hedgehog mushroom. There are shaggy manes, bear's head tooth, black trumpet and wine cap, he said of some of the mushrooms that flourish in Maine this time of year, especially after a wet summer.

Some of the tips shared by Tory Sunday included avoiding "little brown mushrooms" and "little white mushrooms." Use only firm and "non-buggy" specimens, he said. Usually mushrooms without "gills" are the safest to eat, he said.

Tory told enthusiasts Sunday to make sure they cook the mushrooms, to eat them in moderation and to be careful of alcohol consumption while eating mushrooms.

Fred Murphy of Waterville was among the many visitors to the workshop who were anxious to learn more about the tasty, wild treat.

"I'm interested in understanding mushrooms," Murphy said. "I want to know what ones I might be safe in picking out back of my house because I own a wood lot that might have some in it."

Murphy said he wanted to take a piece of the bear's head tooth mushroom to try to "inoculate" the trees on his land with the spores from the sample.

Heather Tompkins of Waterville said she had not actually tasted the mushroom selections being circulated through the crowd Sunday, but said she wanted to know more.

"We see mushrooms all over the place and wanted to get a sense of what they are," she said. "I've never really looked into it before, so I wouldn't feel quite ready to eat them. I'm thinking of getting a field guide for them."

Workshop attendee Steve Frederick of Norridgewock said that with recent interest in eating locally and the general state of the economy, he and others may have to look to the woods more for food -- like mushrooms.

"I pick mushrooms, but I wanted to identify more," he said. "For every one I pick, there's probably 10 varieties that I don't know if they're good or not. I think this is very informative. I'm glad I came."

Doug Harlow -- 612-2367

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