Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
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Season: Late Summer to Fall
READ THIS Before Gathering and Eating Wild Mushrooms.
Urban, Rural or Both: Rural mainly
The Field Mushroom (Agaricus campestris) is a close relative of the standard grocery store Button Mushroom (Agaricus bisporus). It is very good to eat, with a better flavor than the store bought relative, and like the name indicates, found in fields. It appears in grassy areas after rains.
You have to be sure with this mushroom, as inexperienced pickers can accidentally pick the Destroying Angel. Please be sure you know what you are doing before you eat this mushroom. Don't pick immature specimens (cap not open), as that is when they are very hard to tell the safe from the deadly - unless you are a true expert. When you pick these, turn each and every one over - if the gills are not brown (older), or a pinkish brown (younger), toss it. The reason you have to look at each one you pick? There is no rule saying there can't be one poisonous mushroom in with many good ones.
You also have to make sure you don't have the Agaricus xanthodermus. On each mushroom you pick, cut a chunk out of the base of the stem, and see what color the cut area turns. If it turns yellow, toss it.
Also, make sure you don't have the Clitocybe. It's spores can be white, off-white, buff, cream, pink, or light-yellow. The field mushroom spores are always dark brown. Also, the gills on the Clitocybe are decurrent - that is, they run down onto the top of the stem. The gills are "free" on the Field Mushroom - that is - the gills don't even touch the stem, they curve back and end on the underside of the cap near the stem. Look at the pictures with the entry on the Agaricus bisporus to see what free gills look like. The color of the gills is more or less the same as well - brown to pinkish brown.
To sum up: The gills must be "free". If the gills are not brown, or pink brown don't bother with it, and leave the ones that are not fully open alone. Cut a chunk out from the lower part of the stem and make sure the cut area does not turn yellow. It is when picking this one, and the very similar edible Horse mushroom, that inexperienced pickers make the most mistakes. Please take a spore print, it is easy, fast and fun to see the image it produces, and is very helpful.
- Cap Morphology: Convex to flat. White. Generally ranging from 5-10 cm (2 to 4 inches) across.
- Spore Bearing Surface: Gills on the underside of the cap. When immature, gills are light flesh pink, then pink-brown, and when mature they are brown.
- Gill Attachment (how the Spore Bearing Surface is attached to the Stipe or Stem): Free - the gills do not touch the stem.
- Spore print: Brown
- Stipe (Stalk): There is an annulus (ring) left over from the Partial Veil. The stem generally ranges in length from 3-10 cm (1 1/5 to 4 inches).
- Partial Veil: Yes, will be there on mushrooms that are not mature. On mature specimens, all that will be left of the Partial Veil will be the annulus (ring) on the stem.
- Season: Late summer to fall
- Habitat: Grassy fields after rain. Lawns after rain. Often found in grassy fields where there are horses.
- Notes: Be careful, and make sure you go though each point with this mushroom to make sure you have the right one. When cut, the flesh might in time very slightly turn reddish but not yellow. This mushroom can form rings of mushrooms of varying diameter.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
Cap is convex to flat. The gills are free (they don't touch the stem). Usually there is a ring.
Before Gathering and Eating any Wild Mushroom READ THE FOLLOWING:
This is a difficult subject to approach. I've been studying mushrooms in the wild for about 30 years and they often still surprise and confuse me when identifying.
The problem for a site like this, is that 100% correct identification is absolutely necessary, but hard to do for many mushrooms - even with years of experience, let alone a newcomer to the subject. Best to have someone with genuine expertise show you. If that is not possible, please do much research on the web or with books, preferably both. Do not trust a single source of information - EVER. I have found mistakes on the web, and have even corrected errors on Wikipedia myself. You need confirmation from multiple sources. If you are serious about the subject, one book I highly recommend is "Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi by David Arora". I bought the 1986 edition in 1987 and that is what got me started seriously learning about mushrooms. David Arora is from the west coast, but what he says about east coast mushrooms matches with my experience. There are pictures, and very well thought out step by step identification sequences.
Another book which is very good, and a great guide to carry with you on gathering expeditions is "The Audubon Society Field Guild to North American Mushrooms".
Before you gather anything, you must know the most dangerous mushroom of Eastern North American - it can mean your life if you don't. It is the Destroying Angel (Amanita bisporigera). There is another Destroying Angel on the west coast, the Amanita ocreata. Please take me seriously with this, the Destroying Angels not only kill, but they kill you slowly & painfully. Don't rely on taste, people who have eaten them said, before they died, they were very good tasting. I don't think there is anything, other than maybe the Water Hemlock plant, that kills with such pain and suffering. Look them up, read about them here - KNOW THEM.
I suggest only five mushrooms for the wild food gatherer & mushroom novice to start off with. The Chanterelle, Morel, Hericium, and the Sulphur Shelf and Giant Puffball. The Morel, and Giant Puffball can often be found in urban environments. The Chanterelle, Hericium, Morel and Sulphur Shelf in the woods. The Giant Puffball can be often found in grassy areas in the country. I have seen the Sulphur Shelf in the city on rare occasions on the side of dying trees. These five are relatively straight forward to identify correctly, and do not have deadly poisonous close look-alikes - although there may be similar looking mushrooms that could make you sick - very sick, so always take identification very seriously. Also, these are not mushrooms you can usually buy in the local grocery store. Until fairly recently, Morels could not be grown in artificial environments.
The Morel is a spring season mushroom, Chanterelle, Sulphur Shelf and Giant Puffball is a summer to fall mushroom, and the Hericium is a late summer to fall mushroom, so this gives a fairly large window of time to enjoy them. PLEASE take it very slowly, do a lot of research, look at many pictures, and learn how to identify the edible ones from mushrooms that look like them - STEP by STEP with each aspect of the mushroom. Remember, though I do my best to help you identify them, this is not a dedicated identification guide, you do need to learn more than I provide.
And by the way, be careful of what other people pick. Some people go by simple rules of identification that they have learned from others that don't hold up. They may have been lucky so far, but if you eat what others have picked, you had better hope they know what they are doing. Know what you are picking, don't use simple rules except for one: If you are not absolutely, 100% sure, with each and every aspect of the mushroom, do not eat it.
Learn to take a spore print. Put a mushroom cap on white and black paper, and cover with a cup or bowl and after a couple of hours take off the cup, carefully lift up the cap and you should see a spore print. The color of the spores is an important aspect of identification. Go to the spore print link, where you will see the black and white spore print paper image. Click on it, click again and print it. Here is a link directly to it. You can print the same image below:
Print this image to take your spore print on. (William Rafti of the William Rafti Institute CC BY-SA 3.0)
The next six images are the steps in taking a spore print:
This is an Agaricus bisporus that I'm using to demonstrate taking a spore print. This one still has a bit of the partial veil left on. It is the partial veil that makes the ring on the stem.
Next, you have to take off the stem so that the cap will sit flat on the paper. If the gills are "free" - don't touch the stem, you can usually break off the stem. If the gills touch the stem, (adnate, decurrent, etc.), you are best to cut the stem off carefully with a sharp, clean knife.
Set the cap, gills down, on a piece of paper. Put a drop or two of room temperature water on the cap, but not so much that it runs down to the paper. This helps the mushroom hydrate which helps it in the process of releasing the spores.
Cover with a glass or plastic container to keep it humid inside for the mushroom.
It can take as little as a couple of hours, to 12 hours in my experience to get a good print. If you have 12 hours, leave it. If you want to eat the mushroom sooner, take a look after a couple of hours. You may not get a nice looking print, but even a few spores should reveal their color.
This is a close up of the spore print. You can see the white lines where the gills were, and the spores on either side that dropped off. This is the brown for a spore print you would expect for an Agaricus bisporus.
Remember the mushroomer's motto: When in Doubt - Throw it Out. Even experts aren't sure sometimes, and will pass on eating a mushroom unless they are sure.
One more thing I will repeat over and over. When eating anything for the first time, only have a tiny amount to make sure you are not allergic to it. This is especially true for mushrooms. Every edible mushroom creates a reaction with some people. There are two choice edible mushrooms that I am allergic too. The Oyster mushroom makes me feel like I have the flu coming on, and the Boletus edulis makes me feel hot, I break into a sweat, and feel sick to my stomach.
If you think I'm being overly cautious, think about what I read years ago (I regrettably forget the source). There are two kinds of wild mushroom eaters: Brave ones and living ones.
Identification: When reading the description for the mushrooms, refer to the chart below for what those descriptions mean.
Creator of this chart: debivort. Used under GNU Free Documentation License. Full size and source of this image here.
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