Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Edible Mushrooms
Nature Bulletin No. 235-A   September 10, 1966
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

EDIBLE MUSHROOMS
If weather conditions continue to be favorable, the crop of fall mushrooms should be good. Then the woods will be alive with men and women -- each with a sack or basket, a sharp knife, and a cane or stick - - carefully searching amongst the grass and fallen leaves around stumps, and around dead or dying trees, for the "Jimmies" or Honey Mushrooms, and the "Cauliflower" or Hen of the Woods. Others, especially in early morning, will be seen wandering slowly over pastures and golf courses, searching for the squatty Meadow Mushroom or champignon which they call the "Champion" -- a species which has a white kid-skin cap and delicate pale pink gills underneath, from which our common commercial variety was derived.

Mushroom hunting is a distinctive and solitary form of recreation. It is a passion with thousands of people. As you wander through the woods, you see wild flowers, many wild creatures, and enjoy the rich fall coloring of the trees, shrubs and vines. It is peaceful, healthful exercise. You have the satisfaction of "finding something free" and, perhaps, of getting more and finer mushrooms than the other fellow. You cut the stem of each, with a sharp knife, close to the ground. You rake leaves and grass back over the spot so that it appears untouched. You don't ask another fellow where he got his, and you don't tell him where you got yours. It is a game with its own strict code of ethics.

However, it can be a dangerous game unless you pick only the kind or kinds which you absolutely know, by long acquaintance and after having been shown again and again by experts, to be edible. Many people die each year from eating poisonous mushrooms, such as the white Destroying Angel, which are beautiful and innocent in appearance, good tasting, but deadly. Their poison is completely absorbed by the blood before any ill effects are felt -- from 6 to 15 hours later -- and by that time it is too late for any antidote to be effective.

Most mushrooms, even if not palatable, or woody and tough, are edible or at least not dangerous. But there are deadly kinds which only an expert can distinguish from the harmless kinds. It is not safe to try to identify a mushroom from any book. It is not safe to pick a mushroom because that kind has been nibbled by slugs, turtles, squirrels or rabbits. Contrary to popular belief, several poisonous mushrooms have brittle stems and smooth caps which will "peel". It is false to believe that "toadstools", the common name for poisonous mushrooms, can be detected by the fact that, when cooked, they will turn silver black, curdle milk, turn parsley leaves yellow, or turn an onion brown or bluish. The "stump" mushrooms, which include the Honey Mushroom, are all edible except one: The Jack O' Lantern, which grows in large orange-red or pumpkin-colored masses around stumps and dead trees, and is sufficiently poisonous to be dangerous for most people.

There is not much food value in a mushroom. It is mostly water. But they do have flavor, especially the wild ones. One authority states that of some 1300 different species, at least 200 are notably edible. These may be stewed, served in soups, fried, broiled, baked, cooked with meat, pickled, or dried and kept for winter use.

There are no experts on the flavor of the Destroying Angel.


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