All mushrooms are edible. But some, you can only eat once.
– Old Finnish proverb
I’ve been holding on to this post for quite a while but somehow struggled to get it finished. Today I went out with Musti and found such a nice mushroom harvest, I knew I had found the last pieces to this puzzle. I had to finish it.
So, I go to the forest quite often.
I don’t actually consider going to the forest exceptionally calming per se – I just like it that there are no other people there. I like the feeling of temporary, fleeting isolation. If you go deep enough, you can almost not hear the motorways.
I go all year round, but autumn is my favourite time – there are no longer so many mosquitos, it’s not that hot – the air has that crisp autumn smell – and, if you are lucky, you can find mushrooms.
Picking mushrooms is in Finland like a national hobby: when autumn arrives, every social media channel fills with pictures of mushrooms, foods made with mushrooms and a lot – I mean A LOT – of the conversation with people revolves around these special fruits of the forest!
Plus, mushroom hunting is incredibly fun! The joy of the discovery, the warm satisfaction of feeling so capable and self-reliant is almost intoxicating. Here we are back in Finland, a few years ago, when we found so many black trumpets, we still eat them to this day! The smiles tell it all.
Apparently mushroom hunting is not as common elsewhere as it is in Finland. Ever since I moved abroad, I have not found a single mushroom hunting buddy! I’ve found that a lot of people are, first of all, confused about identifying mushrooms but also not sure what to make of them and how to really get started. So, I’ll gently take your hand and hold it through the basics of mushroom picking: presenting 3 + 1 of the easiest mushrooms to pick in central Europe and a couple of nice easy recipes to complete your first foraging adventure!
So, how do you get started? First of all, before anything else: you need a mushroom identification book. It’s important to read it not-just-in-the-field, but getting to know the different types of soil and forest; what kind of mushrooms tend to grow and where.
I have a few books myself, but they are all in Finnish. I’d recommend this in English, this in German and this in French. Make sure though, whichever book you choose, that it’s a relatively new edition. Or check from the publisher that there hasn’t been an important revision!
Regarding the books, an interesting feature in mushroom identification is that every country has their own sets of classifications, meaning that the mushroom taste ratings differ from book to book and country to country. Although poisonous mushrooms are always marked as poisonous, the way that is stated also differs. In Finland, for example, Gyromitra esculenta is a wonderful delicacy regardless of it being deadly poisonous – BUT ONLY IF COOKED RIGHT. However, in practically all mushroom books in Germany and France, they are marked as exclusively poisonous and inedible.
So, after you’ve gotten yourself a book, we have to look at some other equipment. In all honesty, you don’t really need that much, but if you are serious about making mushroom picking your hobby, some practical gear is in order. Below is some equipment I take with me. Get yourself kitted out the same and you’ll be ready to hit the forest like pro:
1) A basket
Any basket is fine, really – but I go with the timeless Finnish classic, ladies and gentlemen, the “shingle basket”, the one and only Pärekori!
I think mine (the one in the picture above) is from these guys. You should get one, too! Here you can see a smaller example in action:
2) A mushroom knife
A classic mushroom knife has a blade on one end and a brush on the other. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using a regular knife, but I must say: mushroom knives are very practical. You might also need a mushroom brush (really, just a hard enough baking brush, like the ones on the left), to clean the mushrooms. The brushes on the knives are sometimes not heavy duty enough, especially if the harvest is really dirty.
(The “pocket knife” type on the far right is my favourite, other ones from right to left: Annansilmät-Aitta, some no-brand one, and Fiskars.)
3) Paper bags
I use the ones meant for your organic waste and compost. They work just fine. Any will do, really. They are useful so you won’t mix up the mushrooms, if there are some to be identified and if there is a risk that they are poisonous.
Makes all that digging the ground, cleaning the mushrooms and handling potentially poisonous ones that much easier and more pleasant.
So off you go to the forest. What now? Well, the 3 + 1 mushrooms I’ve selected for this post are great, as they have no poisonous look-a-likes. That’s also the reason I have not included any form the boletus family – while the porcini mushroom is “the king of all mushrooms”. The boletus family is big and there are many, many variants and look-a-likes – even deadly poisonous varieties and some truly foul tasting.
Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)
Chanterelle is my absolute favourite “beginners” mushroom. It is so common, easy to spot and to identify. Apart from a couple relatively, “so-so” similar-looking mushrooms, the chanterelle is a fool-proof mushroom, and also extremely common. It can be found in various kinds of forests and soils, giving you a higher probability to find it to begin with!
Chanterelles grow from summer until autumn in all kinds of forests, so you have a good chance of finding some. As they tend to grow in groups, all bright and yellow, they are so easy to spot!
Gills. Possibly the first and best indicator of your mushroom being a chanterelle, is that chanterelles do not actually have gills in the same way other mushrooms do: they are more like veiny, branching folds. Another dead giveaway is the way the folds are decurrenting, meaning that the they slopingly attach to and become a part of the stem (see pictures).
When examining a mushroom, you should also note that the whole mushroom is practically the same colour – folds and all! Chanterelles also do not ooze the milky fluid some mushrooms do.
Colour. Colour can vary from light and bright yellows, all the way through to an almost brown-ish, deep golden tone. Although the tone variance is great, all chanterelles tend to stand out in the forest setting with their luminous, yellow colour.
If you cut the mushroom in half, the inside should be white or a very, very light yellow colour.
Cap. Edges and form: even the youngest and the smoothest of the chanterelles are not perfectly round and tend to have a recognisably wavy edge. Young chanterelles have a smoother, inverted edge, which normally with time straightens up and better reveals the wavy, meandering and uneven edge.
The mushroom should have an easily recognisable funnel shape with slight dip in the middle of the cap, though the depth may vary, f.ex. depending on the age of the mushrooms. Younger chanterelles tend to have a less of a funnel shape and more of a curved cap.
While the width of the cap is generally between 6-12cm, much larger can exist if the soil is particularly favourable.
Stem. Recognisably thick and meaty stem. May narrow steeply but the top stem should be in proportion to the cap. Stem height is anything between 3-10cm. No ring.
Smell. Chanterelle has a pleasant, slightly sweet smell, reminiscent of dried apricots.
Location. In forests: practically anywhere and everywhere.
Funnel Chanterelle (Craterellus tubaeformis)
Funnel Chanterelle also has practically no dangerous look-a-likes. The worst that can happen is that you mix it to another highly delicious mushroom, or another one that just doesn’t taste that good, but doesn’t really taste bad either. It also grows in clumps. Finding one usually means finding a wonderfully delicious jackpot.
Gills. Sparse, gill-like, branching folds. Sometimes so deep they might look like gills – so look closely. Slightly decurrenting.
Colour. Typically a greyish brown cap, darkness can vary. Gills are typically lighter grey or greyish-yellow, with a distinctive brownish yellow stem.
Cap. Naval cap with very thin flesh. Typically 2-6cm wide, with a slightly wrinkly texture (as in not smooth), possibly with a scaly feel to it. Edges are wavy and, as with chanterelles, young specimens have a more curved cap. The funnel form with the naval point becomes prominent with age.
Stem. Hollow and typically 3-7cm long. Quite thin – only around 0,5cm thick. Texture is even and the stem has no ring.
Smell. No strong, distinctive smell.
Location. Pine/evergreen forests with mossy ground. Also in other moist forests during autumn. The funnel chanterelle is extraordinary in how well it stands cold: the mushroom can be found throughout the winter in Central Europe, even after frost and snow. The perfect winter mushroom.
Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Named after its oyster-like looks, this delicacy is a typical and wonderfully common central European mushroom. It’s very easy to identify and also does not have any poisonous look-a-likes. The worst that can happen is that they won’t taste quite so deliciously good.
Gills. Oyster mushroom has real, prominent decurrenting gills.
Colour. Cap colour varies greatly: typically mid-to-dark brown, it can also go from white or light beige all the way through to dark blue-ish greys and even purples. Gills are white to light beige and the flesh inside is also white.
Cap. As the name suggests, the cap is oyster or fan-shaped, often off-centre. The cap is completely smooth: no wrinkles or scales. It typically grows in a shelf-like formation with overlapping clusters. Older specimens tend to start drying and cracking from the edges, signalling that they are past their prime. A rolled-in edge when young straightens out to a wavy edge when older.
Stem. Wild oyster mushrooms often do not have a stem. If a stem is present, it’s stubby and off-centre, especially if the mushroom is growing on dead wood. Depending on the location it’s growing, a more prominent stem may be present. The stem is tough and dry in this mushroom, cut it away and do not eat (it’s not good). No ring.
Smell. A distinctive, pleasant smell, possibly slightly reminiscent of anise. Once you start to recognise it, the smell will easily become your first way of identifying the oyster mushroom.
Location. Oyster mushrooms are great because they don’t really need any specific soil or forest to blossom – it mainly grows on dead wood and tree stumps. Most common on leafy trees – not so much on evergreens. Very common in Central Europe, less so in Northern Europe.
+ 1 Black Trumpet (Craterellus cornucopioides)
Easy to recognise, not so easy to spot. The most advanced of this selection and, while it has no poisonous look-a-likes, it can be almost impossible to see in its humble-looking, dark and modest appearance. Common in Central Europe and the British Isles, this death metal mushroom has an intense taste, working well as a dried kitchen condiment.
Gills. Does not have visible gills, pores or folds.
Colour. Dark: typically deep black or in the shades of brown-black or grey-black.
Cap. The mushroom has a prominent, trumpet or funnel form with very thin flesh. Typically 3-9cm wide, with a wavy & uneven edge. Texture is slightly rough and uneven, possibly with some wrinkles.
Stem. Directly follows the cap: no distinctive separation of any kind. The stem is hollow and evenly narrows all the way to a black end tip. The stem might be covered in a white “smudge” that comes off when touched.
Smell. Has a pleasant smell.
Location. In leafy forests on forest litter and on moss. Black trumpets tend to be hard to spot generally because of their small-ish size and dark appearance. The easiest place to spot them might be on the moss: the black funnel will stand out better against the green. Often grows in large patches, near little streams or on hills. The mushroom does not stand cold very well, but can be often be found throughout the winter in Central Europe. Known to be location faithful, you should try to hunt them down in an area where they have been seen before and, if you happen to find a spot on your own, never forget it.
As said before, always carry a mushroom identification book with you and check all the characteristics! Most importantly, if you’re not absolutely certain – don’t eat it!
Only pick good mushrooms – don’t pick the ones that have been eaten by bugs. Leave them to spread their spores and bring your more mushrooms for next time. Try to see if it has been eaten inside by worms: cut it in half if you must and look for worm tunnels. Don’t pick the smallest mushrooms – let them grow & spread their spores, Or come back for them later, when they’ve gotten a bit bigger. When you’ve found a mushroom you want to pick – simply cut the stem with your knife and use the brush to clean up the mushrooms on the spot as much as you can.
So, we’re back home now, with a lovely harvest. There is nothing better than bringing home the results of foraging trip, after a long walk in the forest, and making a hearty dinner, creamy side dish or a fluffy, airy pie.
Many mushroom recipes start with frying the mushrooms, which is a crucial step. Let’s start frying your mushrooms:
- 1 big onion
- 1-2 gloves of garlic (optional)
- 3 tbs salted butter
- Chop up the mushrooms to appropriate size and finely chop an onion. You can also add garlic, but it’s entirely optional – it’s not really needed.
- “Sweat” the mushrooms (just the mushrooms!) on a dry pan to remove excess moisture. Not too hot though – be careful not to burn them.
- When the mushrooms have dried out a little and softened, throw in some salted butter and the finely chopped onion.
- Let the onion, butter and mushrooms nicely fry and combine together until cooked, always being careful not to let them burn. This can take anywhere from 5-20 minutes, depending on the mushroom. F.ex. black trumpets tend to take a bit longer due to their chewy texture.
- When done, your mushrooms are ready to be used!
Ah yes and still, regarding frying black trumpets: the older specimens which might be especially chewy? Consider chopping them into fine slices to speed up the cooking process.
Here are a few of my favourite recipes:
A timeless classic. In my opinion, when you have fresh, self-foraged mushrooms, people tend to over-season and over-prepare them. For me, simplicity always wins.
This is one of my favourites, works well with chanterelles, funnel chanterelles and oyster mushrooms, as well as boletus – so mushrooms with not-too-strong a taste. Black trumpets also work, but use them a bit more sparingly due to their intense flavour.
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Himalayan salt/Sea salt
- Parmesan or equivalent
Fry your mushrooms as normal. Boil some pasta, salting the water well. After draining the pasta, put the pasta on a plate. Put fried mushrooms on top of the pasta, squeeze a bit of lemon in it, throw on the black pepper and salt and top it all with some freshly grated parmesan and chopped parsley.
This is quite a curious mushroom pie: it’s absolutely delicious, but the ingredients and ratios will seem weird before you make it. And maybe the dough too. Trust me on this, though – it’s absolutely wonderful. Don’t be scared!
- 3 eggs
- 250g smetana/sour cream/creme fraiche
- 250g mayonnaise
- pinch of salt
- 6-8 tbs of flour
- 2 tsp of bicarbonate of soda
- mushrooms of your choice (chanterelles, funnel chanterelles and oyster mushrooms work best – never tried it with black trumpets, but hey, why not?)
- onion slices (optional)
- dill/parsley (optional)
Turn on the oven to 180C. Excluding the mushrooms, mix the ingredients in the given order. It should result in a thick and creamy yet quite liquid dough.
Butter a pie dish, pour half of the dough in it. Add fried mushrooms, and layer onion slices, if you are using them. Pour the rest of the dough on top.
Bake in the oven for 30-35mins, or long enough that it has a nice, golden colour and it has become solid inside. I always use a skewer to check. This is a magical pie – it never lasts even to the next day, if even until the end of the evening. Everyone eats several slices, even if “they weren’t even that hungry”. It’s hearty yet fluffy and moist and soft, never dry or too thick or heavy.
Cold mushroom stew
- 200g mushrooms (chanterelles, funnel chanterelles, boletus or such)
- 2dl cream or smetana/sour cream or creme fraiche (for my Finnish friends – something like Koskenlaskija-cheese works, too!)
- 1/2dl all-purpose flour
- salt & pepper to taste
- maybe milk or water
- parsley (optional)
This recipe continues from where we left off when frying the mushrooms. Don’t take them off the pan, instead sprinkle the flour on the mushrooms and let them fry for a bit longer. But be extra-careful to not let them burn!
Finally, add cream/smetana or equivalent on the pan. Mix together with the mushrooms. If it’s too thick, add a bit of water or milk to lower the viscosity.
Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Sprinkle parsley on top before serving. Eat on top of a thick slice of bread, with a baked potato or as a side dish for a roast.
Warm mushroom “salad”
This recipe is especially delicious with oyster mushrooms, but compliments also the black trumpets, chanterelles and funnel chanterelles. I make this directly with raw mushrooms – I don’t fry or prep them beforehand. You can eat it as it is, or as a side dish.
- 100ml white wine vinegar
- bay leaves
- 800g mushrooms, well cleaned and sliced
- olive oil
- lemon zest from one lemon
- lemon juice from one lemon
- dried chilli to taste (entire chilli though, de-seeded and chopped, not powder)
- leafy parsley to taste
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- anchovies fillets to taste (I put 5-10)
In a small pot, put three tablespoons of water (not more! believe me!) and add the white wine vinegar and salt.
When brought to boil, add the mushrooms and boil for 8-10 minutes, or when the mushrooms have softened enough, and drain.
On a pan, heat the olive oil with the lemon zest, chilli, leafy parsley, garlic and anchovy fillets. When hot and sizzling, add the mushrooms and sauté them for 5-6 minutes, or until they turn a little brown, while constantly turning them to avoid burning.
When done, add the lemon juice. Take the pan off the heat, check seasoning and serve warm – not stove hot.