Monday, January 19, 2015

Fun with fungi!

For much of January the temperature has stayed mostly below 20. This is the time to take advantage of  the region's indoor activities, so last week I was excited to learn about a mushroom identifying class hosted by local guide Nathaniel Whitmore at the nearby Cornell Cooperative Extension Education Center in Liberty. Nathaniel is a member of the Delaware Highlands Mushroom Society.

The Tuesday evening presentation was well-attended and Nathaniel is definitely an expert on fungi. He went over mushroom types, anatomy, edibility, dangers, and more. Samples were passed around, some of which he collected before the class, along with guide books. He stressed the importance of not only bringing a book during a mushroom search, but one geared toward the region you're in. Local types include amanitas, polypores, and boletes, which all look familiar if you've grown up in the area.   

Mushrooms are highly variable and this makes identification difficult. A safe type can look the same as one that's toxic. An interesting story Nathaniel told was that though looking for specimens under apple trees is usually a good bet, soil in old orchards may be contaminated by pesticides sprayed decades ago. 


I've been on two of Nathaniel's walks in the past, one in nearby Milford where we identified common plants, and the other in North Branch during which we went a bit further, collecting and cooking specimens into a complete meal. I ate thistle! Specifically the core of the stalk which you boil and serve with butter, salt and pepper. Cooking mushrooms from the wild is pretty foreign to me, but definitely a goal. 

As Nathaniel told us, "There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old bold mushroom hunters." 

Nathaniel Whitmore:
Cornell Cooperative Extension:
Delaware Highlands Mushroom Society:

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