Mushroom monsoon

Super crop delights fungi foragers

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Heat. Humidity. Rain. These weather conditions have local mushroom enthusiasts calling 2021 a banner year for foraging.

This July we saw unseasonably rainy weather, followed by heat, and August seems to be following suit. This type of weather produces some of the best mushrooms Rhode Island has to offer, and local mushroom hunters are hiking the trails in search of edible fungi.

Expert mushroom hunter David Jakubowski, who dedicates time to foraging in both Connecticut and Vermont, claims that this summer’s weather is helping the mushroom bonanza.

“Ultimately, I would say that it’s been the steady rainfall and warm temperatures,” he said. “This has helped many of the summer mushroom crops explode across much of New England.”

Jakubowski is what most foragers would consider one of the most knowledgeable mushroom hunters on the East Coast.

Dedicating time to foraging in two states, he can identify most of the choice edibles found in our area. A choice edible is a mushroom (or other forged nut, fruit or plant) that is a 10 out of 10 on the taste and edibility scale.

“I have walked hundreds of miles looking for them. I’m always glad when I am able to come home with even just a dozen of them in my pouch, and I’ve had banner trips where I have found hundreds,” he said. “Summer and fall are amazing times for mushroom foraging here in New England – Oysters, Chanterelles, Black Trumpets, Ink caps, Chicken of the woods, Hen of the woods, Pheasant Back, Bear’s head tooth, the list goes on and on. Each of them taste different, yet they are all delicious.”

West Warwick’s Bill Ladd has been foraging for mushrooms in Rhode Island for 10 years.

“Rain is a mushroom forager’s best friend,” he said. “I know the beach people have not been happy with this summer, but the woods have been full of mushrooms of all types. The morning after a nice rain is my favorite time to hike for them as they really seem to pop.”

On a recent hike in Exeter, Ladd found the elusive and rare Cauliflower mushroom. “My favorites to find would be the morels or the cauliflowers,” he said.

Ladd combines his love for treasure hunting with foraging, and he is often seen foraging with a metal detector in hand.

“As a treasure hunter, I can now combine the two hobbies perfectly. I may strike out with my metal detector, but I come home with a beautiful, tasty cauliflower mushroom instead.”

When you are a beginner in the world of foraging, it makes sense to take a bit of caution. There are poisonous mushrooms out there, and several edible mushrooms with poisonous look-alikes.

Jakubowski advises, “For beginners, I would say don’t be afraid to jump in and start looking for mushrooms. Go out tomorrow and walk around. See what is growing. Pick them. Look at the cap and its shape. Look under the cap (Gills? No gills?). Look at the stem. Find a mentor and spend time with them in the woods. Ask questions. Explore different wooded areas. Read as much as you can. Join some of the many mushroom foraging groups that are on Facebook. Buy a few books with lots of pictures.”

Margaret Carlin of Newport is new to foraging, but has been interested in the hobby for a while.

“I love to cook and try to eat locally grown, seasonal food as at least 50 percent of my diet,” she said. “I have belonged to CSAs for over 15 years. I see my interest in foraging and plant/mushroom identification as a natural next step to my support of local agriculture.”

Carlin started noticing all the mushrooms she saw while on nature walks, and her interest blossomed. Inexpensive mushroom knives can be purchased from Amazon, or other online shops. There are knives with a brush on the end, allowing you to clean your mushrooms in the field. A cheap mesh bag or woven basket for carrying your mushrooms is another tool of the trade. Mushrooms can get crushed or bruised, and banged around while hiking.

With the success of a new Netflix documentary, “Fantastic Fungi,” and our own mushroom boom right here at home, interest in mushrooms has spiked of late.

Paul Stamets is the star of the informative documentary, and has a lot to say about mushrooms, on multiple levels. In the documentary, Stamets is giving a TED talk and holds up a large mushroom. The crowd goes absolutely wild, as if he head-lining a concert. The popularity of mushrooms cannot be denied, and this interest appears to be on the rise. Whether you are locally foraging, or believe, as Stamet does, that mushrooms can save the world, there is one piece of advice that will forever ring true.

Jakubowski perhaps said it best: “Yeah, don’t forget bug spray when you are out in the woods. You are going to need it.”

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