I have been spending some time this year getting to know mushrooms a little better, figuring out the foraging and how to treat them post-harvest. Lots of experimentation, some failure, mostly success. Take the mushroom hunt I did a few weeks ago in Jonkershoek Nature Reserve hosted by Mushroom Academy, it was pouring with rain the night before so we were sure to find mushrooms popping up all over the place. We were quite a big group and so many different species were found.
We were taught how to identify the various kinds and which ones to be aware of. Mushroom identification is not as simple as plant identification – mushrooms look different in different environments and at different stages of their life cycle. Take the genus Amanita (the toadstool mushroom, Fly Agaric), it is generally found in many different shades of beige to orange to bright red, easy to spot. The warts (the white spots on the cap) easily wash off in the rain especially in a heavy downpour (as we had) so identification gets a bit tricky.
Amanita can be toxic, must be handled with care and respect as it is hallucinogenic and will cause toxicity in young children and if the wrong dose is taken. We were also told that it is best to stay clear as a common side effect is stuttering which has been known to be indefinite.
It must be said that most mushrooms found in the Cape are not in fact poisonous but rather just inedible. The most common edible variety found is the Pine Ring, Lactarius deliciosus, characterised by its orange watery sap, it has gills and will turn a greenish hue as it ages or where it is bruised. This picture is of a mature one.
Because of the rain, the mushrooms we foraged were soaked. Mushrooms already have such a high water content and so it would have been better to wait for a drier day.
But this I realised in hindsight. I took my basket of Pine Rings and tried my hand at processing them. I sliced them up and divided them into two groups. The first I laid on rice as desiccant to air dry them a bit quicker, the second I oven dried at 50°C.
This took a few hours, the rice even longer. So I turned up the oven and poured more rice over the slices and left them. The end of the next day Trichoderma had set into the air dried slices and I had to give up that experiment but noticed that the water content was just too high due to that heavy rain. The oven dried slices, however turned out great and is an easy way to preserve them if you don’t have a dehydrator and it is in the heart of winter. An alternative in summer is to slice them up and put them on a baking rack on a tray on the dashboard of the car parked in the sun. Quick sticks.
We also found some Turkey Tail, Trametes versicolor, a bracket fungi found worldwide commonly named for resembling the tail of a turkey.
I have taken some of this Turkey Tail, dried it and ground it up for easier storage and administration. It is one of the worlds most highly prized medicinal mushroom varieties, especially in immune system support. A comprehensive article about them by Paul Stamets (Fungi virtuoso and founder of Fungi Perfecti) can be found here.
We were advised that the very delicious Boletus edulis can be found on a warm day after a rain, but you have to be quick because mushroom hunters will get up at the crack of dawn to find them. The dedication is worth it, mushrooms are nutritious, some species being very high in protein and so must be cooked before consuming.
Mushroom Academy also run gourmet mushroom courses as well as courses on how to grow your own.