The magic of finding wild mushrooms

As a child, I went with my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins to the woods to find our annual harvest of wild mushrooms each spring. Sometimes we would find one or two – other times, we’d find grocery bags full. We’d soak them in salt water, and fry them in flour and butter. A true delicacy.

The methods for finding mushrooms could be categorized by certain scientific phenomena. Yes, there are several natural world phenomenon that occur with the finding of mushrooms – such as:

  • · The lilacs begin to bloom
  • · The dandelions in your yard first begin to go to seed
  • · The oak leaves are the size of mouse ears
  • · The may apples have developed their leaves
  • · The Jack in the pulpit begins to appear
  • · The Dutchman’s breeches are flowering

Mireille Guiliano refers to gathering mushrooms in her book, French Women Don’t Get Fat. Today, you can buy fresh morel mushrooms for over $50 per pound.

But buying them is just not the same. The fun is in the hunt for morel mushrooms. How do you find mushrooms? How do you know what to look for? I know that many of you wouldn’t even dream of trekking out in the woods to collect what could be a poison mushroom. But I can’t imagine letting a yellow sponge mushroom lay there, uneaten. The taste of a gray sponge mushroom, or a snakehead mushroom is something I can barely live without in the spring. But finding mushrooms is hard work – they are very difficult to find in the woods under dead leaves, brush, nettles and fallen trees. Many hours of walking through the woods often leaves you empty-handed. You would think the frustration of the wild mushroom’s elusiveness would discourage us from trying to find them. I think it is their mystery (and their taste), and not the “agricultural form of gathering” that makes finding wild mushrooms so appealing. But, if you’ve found one once in your life – especially as a child – the mushroom will forever call your name. I’m not encouraging you to go out and find them by yourself – take an expert with you. But first, let me explain that finding them is not an exact science – it’s still quite a mystery.

But to be honest, I have found mushrooms when none of the above was occurring. For this reason, I think that finding mushrooms is more mystical than scientific. Here’s what I mean:

  • When I follow a fellow hunter, I usually stay behind about 10 steps. Sometimes, I find mushrooms that the person in front did not see. This phenomenon is called “popping up.” The conditions are so right for mushrooms that they are literally popping up in front of your eyes. At this point, we usually turn around, and head back to search the area we just covered, only to find mushrooms where there were none before.
  • Every mushroom has a twin – my Mom would find one, and tell me to draw a line from that spot, 360 degrees to find the other one. There it would be — lined up in a perfectly straight line from the first one.
  • My family swears by the north facing hills – but I’ve heard others that only find mushrooms on south facing hills.
  • Apple trees, for us always yield a strong crop of mushrooms.

And that brings me to “where to look.” We can point to numerous places we identify as where to look:

  • · In old apple orchards
  • · On south-facing slopes
  • · On north-facing slopes
  • · Around dead elms
  • · Near dead trees
  • · Near dead trees that still have bark clinging to them
  • · In sandy soil
  • · In soil with a high Ph value
  • · In soil with a low Ph value
  • · Near old sawmills
  • · Near wood piles
  • · In river bottoms
  • · On high ground
  • · At burn sites
  • · Near railroad beds
  • · Under cottonwoods
  • · Under poplars
  • · Under tulip poplars
  • · Under Douglas fir
  • · Under ash trees
  • · Under oak trees
  • · Under Hawthorn trees
  • · In may apple patches

And once you’ve found a spot — the mushroom hunters never share it. It’s secret they have earned.

However, despite all the logic of the best places to look, my husband found a yellow sponge at the suburban soccer field where our son plays a game every Sunday. And, I knew it was a match made in heaven when I learned that my husband, too, as a child, found mushrooms.

The ground’s wet — I see green. I’ll be looking for mushrooms today. More links:

12 comments to “The magic of finding wild mushrooms”
  1. This was something I did as a child. Oh, that was fun. Those were so wonderful to eat!

    I would not even know where to start looking where I live now.

    Happy hunting!


  2. Dad, Mom and I would go mushroom picking after a lightning storm. We have a LOT of mountains where we live. Those moments we shared were so much fun.

  3. Julie — ask around to find a place, and take your children!!

    Louann, I had no idea they grew in the tropics. Interesting.

    Sognatrice — thank you for the link to your site with the photos. I knew they grew in Europe, but had now idea what kinds, and what they looked like. You didn’t say — but do you just LOVE them? Are you hooked?

    Sorry to say, my last weekend trek into the woods left me empty-handed. Too early. It’s warmer now. Maybe this weekend I’ll get lucky.

  4. Actually, the city where we live, Baguio, is known as the summer capital of the Philippines because it is the coolest place in the country during the summer – hottest temp would be 25C and coldest during the rainy season – we drop to at least a 9 or 10C. Baguio never gets as hot as the other provinces in the Philippines.

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