The forests of Vermont are gardens in the wild. The first settlers of Vermont foraged for edible plants and mushrooms; a tradition which has lived on as a favorite pastime for amateur wild-fasters. Hunting for wild mushrooms in Vermont requires a firm knowledge of edible versus poisonous varietals. Tasting the meaty goodness of Morels fried in butter, the woodsy mildness of Oyster Mushrooms in risotto or Chanterelles tossed with fresh scallops and rosemary makes the hunt worthwhile.
Know the Species
Unless you are 100 percent positive of the identity of the mushroom it should not be eaten. Some poisonous species, such as Amanita Phalloides, also called the "death cup", are quite deadly. The best way to learn the species is to have an experienced guide take you. Clubs such as Vermont Mycology Club offer scheduled hunts for beginners. Vermont has a variety of mushrooms that are edible; however, the ones that are not edible taste horrible at best. A guidebook like Charles Fergus's "Common Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of the Northeast" specific for Vermont and New England is of great value.
Where to Hunt
Whether the thrill of the hunt or the fabulous taste; knowing where to look for mushrooms in Vermont will reap rewards. Stands of hardwoods with sandy soil seem to be the best place to start. Apple, Elm and Ash trees close to creek beds offer great hunting grounds too. Mushrooms like dark and damp. As long as you stay away from sparsely populated pine forests and sunny areas, you will be in mushroom territory.
When to Hunt
If there is no snow on the ground there just may be mushrooms. Although sometimes are better than others, mushrooms are a hardy fungus that grows most of the year. It helps to think of mushrooms as intelligent beings when planning a hunt. They know that after a cold snap there will be fewer bugs to eat away at them. Mushrooms grow fast like bamboo. In the course of a few days a Hen of the Woods mushroom can grow from a spore to a full pound or more. Timing the hunt will help if you know the conditions that they are most apt to grow in. The day after a good rain often produces good results for most varieties. When hunting for mushrooms in Vermont remember that it is a hunt not a gather.
Taste is a matter of opinion in all things. Finding certain species of mushrooms in the Vermont woods is like sport fishing; it may not be the best eating to be the best trophy. Morel hunting in late May brings out the hunters in hordes. This species is a favorite due to taste as well as rarity. The more common species such as Oyster and Chanterelles are easier to find and are often sold in farmers markets. Large species such as Hen of the Woods and Monkey's Head can grow to such a size that a single mushroom can be served as a main course for four people.
Protecting The Haul
A good batch of Vermont wild mushrooms is a find worth protecting. A basket is best for storage while hunting as it does not bend and crush the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms are home, wash and dry them thoroughly and store in a partially covered well ventilated container in a refrigerator crisper; a paper bag works well. Make sure not to store them in closed containers to prevent rotting.
- Photo Credit mushroom image by Earl Robbins from Fotolia.com
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