I knew I had spotted something interesting in the upstate woods, but I also knew that it would be a few days - and perhaps never - before I tasted these perfect little mushrooms.
They were young, and in pristine condition. I collected most of them by slicing the stalks, but kept this entire cluster for identification purpose. All parts of a mushroom are needed for an accurate ID.
Above: In mushroom identification, recording and observing the caps as well the gills is important. So is knowing that there is a veil, or partial veil attaching cap to stalk.
Accurate identification involves a series of important steps, and every detail counts. And you always make a spore print. Each is like a finger print for a species.
People who dismiss eating wild mushrooms as dangerous tend to think that it is a case of Russian Roulette. Maybe the next one will get you. But there is a protocol to follow, and if observed minutely, you will lead a long and well-fed life.
** I guess I have to say it: if you have never collected mushrooms before, don't start with the gilled ones. Aim for pored mushrooms. They are easier. People who cut corners can get into serious trouble with gills. **
Once I had done my reading at home, submitted my photos to several mushroom groups, made my spore print (WHITE - if it is a rusty colour you may have collected a deadly Galerina, or a big laughing gym, Gymnopilus junonius, which will make you sick) and consulted with members of the New York Mycological Society, I was ready: I had a species of Armillaria - all are edible, and are collectively known as honey mushrooms. The species itself was probably gallica, based on the bulbous stem, but several species are apparently so hard to tell apart that it requires microscopic analysis.
So that took 24 hours.
I cooked and ate six tiny ones, on the off chance that I had an allergic reaction (it can happen with mushrooms). I didn't.
36 hours after collecting them, I dived in.
Mushrooms on toast. These honey mushrooms are firm and a little nutty, and do not lose moisture in the way that store-bought button mushrooms (Agaricus) do.
Mushrooms with crisp pancetta, a poached egg and mugwort-infused butter.
And the rest - along with regular button mushrooms - on a tart, with a dandelion base.
I used the olive oil pastry recipe in my book (page 111) and adapted that lambs quarter tart recipe to use dandelions. The mushrooms I sauteed each in their own pan, till cooked, topped the cooked greens with the cooked mushrooms, and poured over the cream and egg yolk mixture from that recipe.
The Frenchman hummed.