“Fungus Hunter”

Ah, another Kodak moment.

I stood facing the mirror with my reading glasses perched on the end of my nose, my left arm in the air, elbow bent, attempting to flatten out my armpit surface for… the operation.  I had been painting and trimming my house till 2am in the morning, and my arm had started to ache.  When I went to check out why, there IT was… a deer tick in my left pit, solidly buried and having me for supper.  Since I have been in the process of moving, all my medical supplies were packed somewhere.  Rummaging around I found nail polish remover.  That killed the wee beast.  Now I needed to perform… the extraction.

OH, the pain.  I searched for rubbing alcohol to no avail.  No hydrogen peroxide solution, no ointment, no nothing.   Resolving to use Easy Off Oven Cleaner if I had too, I frantically threw cupboards open for any antiseptic or numbing agent.  Then I spied an ancient bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin.  Perfect!  Swabbing said beastie with gin effectively numbed the general area so I could first pluck it out and then probe with a sewing needle to remove… the jaws.   Alas, failure with the jaws, so I bandaged my bloody pit for the night of fitful sleep.  My bed seemed to be full of woodticks.  A visit to the doctor in Isle the next day ended with a prescription.

This pretty much topped off the comedy of errors that was my first morel mushroom hunting safari.  I had missed out turkey hunting this year because of cancellations and bad weather, so the notion of ‘mushroom hunting’ seemed like an ingueing substitute.  I love ‘shrooms and forged off into my woods like Don Quixote in search of the elusive fungi.  How hard could it be to find a fungus in the woods?  I had seen a few mushrooms over the years.  My son and I had talked about mushroom hunting for awhile, but had never done it.  I optimistically took along a tin bucket, a stick to lift leaf piles, a fanny pack but no Deet.  After all, it had been such a cold spring, there would be no bugs,  right?  Logic and old science classes told me that fungi like moist dark spots.  So I spent the day looking on the north sides of hills, the north sides of trees and other shady, wet areas.  The problem, I was told later, is that morels like things WARM and dark, and in a cold, wet year, that is the south sides of trees.  I hiked around for two hours and saw nary a ‘shroom.  I got on the phone later with a Mushroom Master friend who dissected the folly of my first ‘hunt.’  I realized with what little knowledge I had of morel mushrooms, I was like a new deer hunter in the woods all dressed in camo and gear but with no bow and arrows.  Not to be defeated, I planned another hunt the following weekend.  I had similar results, but no ticks in bad places, thankfully.

For my third outing, I invited my mushroom expert friend along.  Again, we found no morels but we did stumble on an incredibly spectacular growth of Sulfur Shelf or Chicken of the Woods mushrooms.  Typically these grow from August into fall, but with our wet, cold and rainy spring, there they were in profusion.  We took some photos, harvested a few samples and had them for dinner.

The following weekend I returned with buckets, knife, camera and ATV.  The 'shroom cluster had quadrupled in size in one week!  I harvested all I could and filled four five-gallon buckets.  After an afternoon of paring, blanching and freezing most of the harvest, I had a big bowl of the blaze orange “chicks” for supper.  Sulfur Shelf growing on dead oak is good.  The same mushroom growing on other trees, like conifers or hemlock, could make you sick to the point of throwing up or getting your stomach pumped.  I was sure to research carefully before I harvested or ate this delicacy.  And delicacy, it was.  To me, it has the texture of the most tender white chicken meat with flavor overtones of sweet lobster and the traditional mushroom taste of course.  Sautéed in butter with a few spices of your choosing is all that is needed for a gourmet side dish with steak, venison, wild turkey, or other main course meat.  I also plan to make soups, casseroles or pasta dishes with the 'shrooms, using them much like I would crab meat.

I had never really noticed most of the mushrooms in the woods until I started looking for them, much like I never really noticed whitetail deer being everywhere until I started hunting them.  Upon seeing the quantities of mushrooms I harvested, my neighbor Ken Rick noted that a person could eat completely out of what they could harvest from the woods.  So true.  I have only scratched the surface of wild edibles however.  While I will never be Yule Gibbons, I do enjoy the primal activity of harvesting from wild nature for my food and drink rather than buying everything prepared and grown by others from the store.  Next time you are in the woods, take time to look down  You never know what you might find.