Mushroom Hunting: Oysters, Shaggy Manes, and Thanks

By Tom Nauman

It was about this time last year while traversing this great state on my way home from the day job that the cell phone rang. It was Harry Canterbury. Harry and I had met at the Henry Decoy Show several years before. Harry had approached my display table and began to put my mushroom knowledge to the test. He asked so many questions, I was beginning to wonder if he was my competition! I must have passed the quiz because he asked if I would be willing to appear on his radio show, Illinois Sports Outdoors in the spring. By the time spring arrived, the radio show had expanded into television and Harry wanted me to take him on a televised morel hunt. The filming with Harry and friend Buddy Edlin was such fun that it has become a classic.

The subject of the phone call was that Harry had decided to expand ISO again into magazine format and wondered if I would be willing to write a mushroom hunting column every month. At first, Harry and I were both concerned that I would be able to find enough new material to write about mushrooms on a monthly basis. Harry, let me reassure you, I have the next six articles composed - in my head. The only problem thus far is finding the time to put them on paper. Harry said that he was going to do Illinois Sports Outdoors on a full-time basis. Any of you that have ever seriously thought of being self-employed know the leap-of-faith that Harry was about to make.

You may have guessed by now that this particular column isn't completely about mushrooms. It's to remind us as outdoors people in Illinois of the gratitude we owe to Harry for taking the risks involved with such a venture and for creating this forum for all outdoor enthusiasts. So if you see him this month, thank him and congratulate him on his first anniversary. And I personally want to thank him for letting us be a part of his adventure.

Now, back to mushrooms. There are two popular edible mushrooms in the fall that we haven't discussed yet. They are the oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) and the shaggy mane (Coprinus comatus). I only give the latin names to make them easier to find in a field guide to be sure you have the right mushroom. The oyster gets it's name from it's shape, not from it's taste. Individually they resemble an oyster shell. They commonly grow in clusters on stumps, fallen logs, and other rotting wood. The color of the smooth cap ranges from white to gray to yellowish brown. In Illinois they are most common in spring and fall but I understand it can appear in summer and winter also. The stalk is very short if present at all and is usually off-center. The gills are white, very close together, and extend all the way to where the mushroom meets the wood. They can grow fairly high up in a dead tree, so you may need your binoculars and a ladder. Collect them by cutting the mushroom away from the tree without disturbing the area where the mushroom meets the wood. If you find a log with oyster mushrooms on it, it is possible to take it home and water it (preferably non-clorinated) for additional harvesting. They are fairly easy to grow from kits and are available fresh and dehydrated in grocery stores.

The shaggy mane is cylindrical with a rounded top resembling an elongated egg at least when they are fresh. The cap is white to yellowish and has brown scales that begin to turn upward from the bottom with maturity giving the mushroom a "shaggy " appearance. It is usually found in grassy or areas where the ground has been disturbed. We found two next to our driveway just last weekend. We didn't pick them right away as we wanted to get a picture. We came home the next day with fresh film for the camera only to find what appeared to be two entirely different mushrooms in their places. The shaggy mane needs harvesting immediately as they mature rapidly. Ours now resembled a toadstool with a cap that opened up and turned black. The mushroom cap had originally been pressed against the stem but was now opened up. It was comparable to the difference between a closed then opened umbrella.

Remember, whenever you want to try eating a mushroom you're not familiar with, check it in at least two field guides. If they say it's edible, try just a nibble, wait 24 hours, and if there are no ill effects then consume larger amounts.

The new Morel Mania catalog is available. To get one, phone or mail your address to us. Or, they're available at our booth at Crafter's Marketplace at Glen and University in Peoria.

Please feel free to contact us with questions or comments. Especially if you have ideas or suggestions for future columns: Tom and Vicky Nauman, Morel Mania, RR1 - Box 42, Magnolia, IL 61336, Phone 309-364-3319, Fax 309-364-2960.