10/25/2011 05:40 pm ET | Updated Dec 25, 2011

Mycology Today

the maitake motherload

You've probably heard already what a banner year this has been for wild mushroom foraging. In the wake of Hurricane Irene there was a ridiculous abundance popping up deep in the woods, in people's back yards and on suburban lawns. I even heard about massive hen-of-the-woods (aka maitake) in Central Park. The rain creates essential humidity and all that wind carries the spores far and wide. A couple of crisp nights, a new moon (or a full one) and it's fungal fever. Sadly, many people are too scared to forage, or too uncertain of what to do with their finds. I'm a firm believer in a reliable field guide and adhere fervently to the saying "When in doubt, throw it out." Stick exclusively to those species that are virtually impossible to confuse with anything poisonous: chanterelles, black trumpets, hen-of-the-woods, lion's mane and chicken mushrooms. As luck would have it, these are by and large the ones that make for the best eating. (Matsutake and boletes are the exceptions, but leave those to more experienced foragers.) As for what to do with your haul? Having found upward of 50 pounds this year, I have more than a few suggestions.

siren call: black trumpets (Craterellus cornucopioides)

on pizza with a little goat cheese and pancetta

powder: excellent sprinkled on eggs, pasta, risotto, buttered toast

hen-of-the-woods in all its ruffled glory

tempura honors its delicate flavor and meaty texture

and it makes the ultimate mushroom soup

funky chicken: Laetiporus sulphureus, often found at the base of oak trees

tastes like chicken, but looks like a flamenco dancer's dress

mushrooms on toast: a buttery classic

And just for good measure, a few 'shrooms you definitely don't want to eat...

amanita, the destroying angel (nuff said)

ravenell's stinkhorn

like i said, it was a banner year for wild mushrooms

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