A mushroom of one's own

The woods around Boston are full of fantastic fungi — if you just know where to look
By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  September 21, 2011

CUTLINE: FACEFUL OF FUNGUS Will shrooms grow all around us — and they’re (probably) edible! 

Fellow children of suburbia, take heed: all around us, there are forests. Right now, in these forests, mushrooms are growing of their own volition. We can take these mushrooms! Nobody will notice! Then — get this — we can cook them and eat them.

If this seems obvious to you, please note that I actively dislike nature and have taken great pains throughout my life to avoid it. Until this summer, it never occurred to me that the woods are full of growing things that retail at Savenor's for upward of $50 a pound. These things are chanterelles, and right now — for the rest of the fall, in fact — they are abundant.

I can hear the members of the Boston Mycological Club laughing as they read this. Twice this summer, I joined them on their weekly public walks, once in Concord and once in Manchester-by-the-Sea. It was a sorry, discomfiting effort on my part, not least because I sprayed on so much bug spray I could taste it for days.

The first time out, my boyfriend and I encountered four umbrella polypores the size of cabbages encircling a tree stump. Neither of us wanted to touch them — their voluminous grey folds seemed unclean, if not downright insidious. When we went to grab club member Marcia Jacob to help us identify the horror before us, she pulled a knife from the pocket of her jeans, hacked one off its roots (roots, eek!) and tucked it in her wicker basket. For the rest of the walk, Jacob and the others taunted us for being mushroom sissies.

The next time, thanks to a glitch in my phone's GPS, I was so late that I missed the forage altogether, arriving just in time to witness the club members returning to the mouth of the woods and dumping their fungal bounty on a folding table. Senior club members presided over the score, identifying for the noobs what was dead, what was poisonous, and what was edible.

A few lovely and generous people took pity on me and gave me some mushrooms, including some gorgeous orange chanterelles, which they found on twigs and brambles, and a smattering of black trumpets. One sliced off part of a gigantic umbrella polypore. One gave me a handful of boletes. When it was over, I had amassed about a pound of foraged mushrooms. A man wearing very high-waisted jeans assured me that if I ate them, I would not die.

I told Jacob I was going home to eat my mushrooms. She looked dubious — she had never seen the high-waisted-jeans man before — and marched me over to BMC President Emeritus George Davis, who gave his approval.

"Be sure to keep one of each uncooked," Jacob said as I walked away. "You need something to show them if you go to the hospital."

I took my booty to Rattlesnake, where chef Brian Poe was waiting for me. He became visibly excited when I opened my mushroom bag.

"These are so fresh! They're gorgeous!" he said, sifting through the mushrooms. "If it's okay with you, I'm not going to wash them."

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