Maitake and Honey Mushroom season may be over and we are waking up to frost on our windshields but there is still a whole season of great edibles just waiting to be found in the Mid-Atlantic region. I live in the Philadelphia area and am fortunate enough to be able to foray in two distinct ecosystems: the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens and the Piedmont Ecoregion. The Pine Barrens of New Jersey become quite active for mushrooms later in the fall, with mycorhizal species being very prevalent. In the deciduous forest of the Piedmont (aka the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains), the mycorhizal species dwindle as the leaves drop, but wood decaying fungi are quite active.
I have kept a dated journal of mushrooms that I’ve found for the past 10 years. This list is compiled from that journal so it is not all-inclusive, but what I have found in the Philly/South Jersey area in November and beyond. Other good edibles may be out there just waiting for be found by the vigilant and prepared forager!
Tricholoma magnivelare: the Matsutake
Matsutake are found in the Pine Barrens in sandy dunes under the pine trees. Not common, but worth hunting for, these prized mushrooms are found in November in our region. They have a spicy, aromatic flavor reminiscent of cinnamon with a funky odor. But funky in the way cheese can be funky! My favorite way to prepare these are to slice thinly and steam in a pot of rice as the rice cooks. The entire pot of rice takes on the flavor of the mushroom. Add a little tamari for salt and a shot of citrus or mirin for acidity.
Cortinarius caperatus: The Gypsy
The Gypsy mushroom shows up in October and November in the Pine Barrens under a number of different trees, but especially where you find blueberry plants. It is the only Cortinarius that I currently eat, and can be quite abundant in good years. I tend to use only the cap, as the stipe is a bit stringy. I have only ever used them fresh, but I suspect that they would dry well. Flavor is mild and mushroomy, quite pleasant and perfect for a classic saute in butter and garlic.
Pleurotus ostreatus: Oyster mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms show up anywhere where there is broadleaf trees and grow on dying or dead wood. They will show up for a few years in the same spot until all of the nutrients it is feeding on are depleted. Several species of Pleurotus live in our area, showing up at different times of the year. Ostreatus likes cool weather and will actually fruit any time that the conditions permit. I have records of picking it in mid-December, frozen on logs. It tolerates freezing fairly well. I think the trick is that if it is frozen, keep it frozen and throw it in the pan frozen. Defrosting on the countertop leads to mushy, wet mushrooms. Flavor is deep, often with a hint of anise. Best when cooked really well with caramelization (or is that a Maillard reaction?).
Hypholoma lateritium: Brick Caps
Brick caps grow on hardwoods and taste great after a frost. They have their own unique mushroom flavor and do dry well. I find them in big bunches in the very cool fall weather and have even found smaller ones growing in January. The very similar Hypholoma capnoides grow on conifer and are equally edible.
Leccinum species of the Pine Barrens
These Leccinum’s are undescribed and there are quite possibly several species floating around the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. We simply call them Leccinum and eat them all. They are treated like boletes, so only the smallest firmest ones are for cooking fresh. The remainder go in the dehydrator for reconstituting. They do well in sauces and soups. At this time the best name we can call them is Leccinum section/subsection Leccinum. Or call them delicious.
Auricularia americana: Wood Ear
The Wood Ear will show up any time of the year when conditions are correct, growing on hardwood. They like cold, wet weather and will even fruit during warm spells in mid winter. They don’t have much, if any, flavor but the texture is very “crisp” and gelatinous. Mushrooms very similar to this are popular in Asian cuisines and are sought after for their texture. Sweet and sour soup is where you often find this type of mushroom. They dry very well and reconstitute easily. I use them most often to bulk up Asian stir fries or soups, just allowing them to soak up whatever flavors I am using.
Hericium erinaceus: Lions Mane
Lions Mane mushrooms will continue to fruit on hardwood (mostly Maple and Beech in my experience) for the remainder of November if there is mild weather. As you can see from the old school time stamp on this photo, these guys were spotted on Thanksgiving Day in 2011. They were a little past their prime, but still recent growth.
Flammulina velutipes: Wild Enoki
The Wild Enoki, or Velvet Shank, is a cold weather mushroom. I have seen it fruiting while there is snow on the ground, growing from dead hardwood. They have a somewhat gelatinous cuticle that some people say to remove, but I never have. Mild flavor that works well in egg dishes, these mushrooms are also popular in Asian cuisines.
I have never eaten this mushroom, but apparently people are eating it regularly. The thought is that it has been confused with Auricularia often enough and eaten often enough by the same people that we know it is edible. There is even a recipe appearing in Leon Shernoff’s latest edition of “Mushroom: The Journal of Wild Mushroom” (Winter 2017/Spring 2018 Issue 117) for Exidia recisa moo goo gai pan. I will be on the lookout for this species to try.
Laccaria trullisata: Sand Loving laccaria
Another mushroom that I have not eaten, but it is considered edible and is quite common in the Pine Barrens or anywhere else where it is sandy and there are Pines. I know of an area right outside of Philadelphia where I find it every November. I’m not sure that it is considered to be of very good quality, but I will eventually try it.
A few more mushrooms that I could not find any photos of in my photo collection, but are around now:
Lepista nuda: The Blewit
The Blewit is a very good and fairly common mushroom that will persists well into late fall. Growing in grass, I have even found it under snow cover in early December while deer hunting. I was literally scooping snow out of the way to make a place to sit and found a bunch of half frozen blewits there! Careful not to confuse these guys with Cortinarius; a spore print quickly sorts that out.
Hypsizygus ulmarus: The Elm Oyster
A very under appreciated fall mushroom, the Elm Oyster fruits on hardwoods. As the name suggests, it likes Elm but since Elm is practically non existent in our region (thanks to the fungal Dutch Elm Disease), it is more commonly found on other hardwoods. I routinely find it on Acer negundo (Box Elder). I think it may not be very common, or possibly it is just overlooked since it lives higher up in the trees. You might have to climb to get it. It is firm, meaty and deep in flavor. One of the better mushrooms on this list, I find it regularly in early November in Philadelphia.
Chroogomphus vinicolor: The Pine Spike
I have not eaten these guys, but they are pretty common in the Pine Barrens and considered edible. I am usually finding enough Tricholoma and Leccinum when the Pine Spike fruits that I don’t get around to trying them, but one of these days.