Mushroom Foraging in Fall – Firefly’s Favorite Five Fungi

Our favorite mycelial friends are back in action, and we’ve put together our top 5 favorite fall mushrooms in the Southern Appalachians, with ID tips, how to cook them and where to find them.

The forest is starting to turn colors at higher elevations, and with all the rain we’ve been getting, you know what that means? Mushroom time! Our favorite mycelial friends are back in action, and we’ve put together our top 5 favorite fall mushrooms in the Southern Appalachians, with ID tips, how to cook them and where to find them.

As always, when harvesting any wild food, we invite you to do so with gratitude and respect for the longevity and health for your larger biological community when harvesting. Check out this post on Ethical Foraging to help guide your explorations, and enjoy!  

Important note: The information shared in this post is for educational purposes only and is limited in breadth and scope. Before consuming any wild mushroom, be sure you have your ID verified by an expert. See below for more resources, or get more tips for how to properly identify and consume wild mushrooms from our upcoming Wild Mushrooms & Fungi Identification Walk with Luke Cannon on Friday, September 23. 

1. Chicken of the Woods

Laetiporus sulphureus

Why we love them: These are delicious, prized edible mushrooms that have been abundant this summer in the Smokies and Blue Ridge mountains. Big and juicy, they are a real treat to find and  fall will likely be an amazing year for them. 

Where to find them: These sherbert orange mushrooms grow on downed wood (usually hardwood) in hardwood forests – they are quite gregarious so where there’s one, there’s often many!

Look-alikes: Jack o Lanterns are also bright orange, but they have gills and a central stalk. Chicken of the Woods has pores instead of gills and attaches to its substrate from the side of its mushroom, it never has a central stalk. Here’s a great resource for distinguishing the two

How to cook: Their texture is firm like chicken breast meat, and they make a delicious stir-fry or curry. Saute with olive oil or butter and garlic, and add to your favorite dish!  Be sure to cook them all the way, or some folks get a tummy ache. 

2. Chanterelles: Black Trumpets & Orange Chanterelles

Chantherellus spp & Craeterellus spp.

Why we love them: The delicate flavors of Chanterelles are so stupendous, and finding them is a most magical experience because often, once you find one, the others nearby seem to hop out to greet you!

Where to find them: Older hardwood forests, in the duff and leaves on the forest floor, typically near trails or areas where the soil surface is less covered by duff and ferns. These are usually found in late summer, but sometimes early fall, so keep your eyes peeled for these bright beauties!

Look-alikes: There are many small mushrooms that are orange or black in color, so be sure to get your ID correct and understand what decurrent gills look like. Decurrent gills are the characteristic feature that distinguishes Chanterelles from other gilled mushrooms. Decurrent gills are gills that run down the stem and are more shallow than typical gills.

How to cook: Chanterelles in the southeastern U.S. are typically small, with a delicate flavor, so our favorite way is to saute them up alone with your oil of choice.

3. Fishy Milk Cap

Lactifluus volemus (formerly known as Lactarius volemus)

Why we love them: Fishy Milk Cap is a vegan chef’s dream – it tastes like fish! Do you miss having fish sauce in your thai recipes? Ready to try a new spin on crab rangoon? Then this is your mushroom!

Where to find them: Fishy Milk Cap grows from the forest floor in moist hardwood forests.

Look-alikes: There is a species of milk cap that looks identical to the Fishy Milk Cap, but it’s bitter, so be sure to taste test one from each bunch you find growing near each other to be sure that you’re not collecting the bitter species.

ID Tips: The stem and cap are a dull orange color, often with zonations and slightly concave towards the center. The gills are pale colored and exude a white milky liquid about 30 seconds after breaking the gills open with a fingernail. Fishy smell starts about 30 minutes after picking. Be sure to nibble part of a cap before you pick a bunch of them growing near each other, if the nibble is bitter, then don’t collect from that patch. If the nibble is mild and kinda mushroom-sweet, then that’s the patch for you. Be sure to leave a couple standing in each patch so they can continue sporulating and doing their mushroom business.

How to cook: Slice ‘em up and sautee them with veggies and a strong sauce. This is one of the few mushrooms that you can cover in savory sauces and still taste them. This is a favorite recipe.

4. Oyster Mushrooms

Pleurotus Spp.

Why we love them – Oyster mushrooms are one of our favorites, because they are both delicious and abundant, growing in large patches along dead hardwoods.

Where to find them – Fallen dead Tulip Poplar’s trunks can share with you many pounds of these delicious mushrooms, but most dead hardwood trees are a great place to look for Oysters, especially in young to middle aged hardwood forests.

Look-alikes – Oyster mushrooms are cream colored, pale gray, or pale tawny colored, with stems that connect with the side of the cap, not directly in the middle of the cap like most mushrooms. In the wild you find them growing out of wood substrates, not the ground. Note that white-colored mushrooms that grow from the ground are numerous, with many look-alikes, including a very poisonous one. Be sure that a) your Oyster mushroom is growing directly on wood, b) doesn’t have an annulus or vulva (i.e. no little skirt around the stem, and c) get a proper ID on Oyster mushrooms until you learn their characteristics.

How to cook  – Oyster mushrooms tend to be wet and stick to the bottom of a pan. One way around this is to slice them up and  bake them at 350 for 10-20 minutes on parchment paper until they’ve dried out enough to stir fry with other vegetables, or to cook them at a high heat with lots of butter!

5. Lobster Mushrooms 

Hypomyces lactifluorum

Why we love them – This bright orange mushroom that has no gills or pores is a wild daydream of a mushroom, because it’s not just one mushroom, it’s two! Hypomyces lactifluorum is a fungus that grows over another mushroom (usually Russulas or Lactarius mushrooms) and changes the chemistry of the host mushroom into its yummy edible self. It lacks gills or pores, covering the host mushroom completely in a thick reddish orange skin, with white flesh. 

Where to find them – Lobster mushrooms can be found growing on the forest floor in Pine forests and hardwood forests. Their bright orange color makes them easy to spot from a distance away.  

Look-alikes – Look-alikes are mushrooms covered in white, yellow or gray mold–don’t eat those; or mushrooms like the Jack ‘o Lanterns, which are orange, but have gills, whereas the Lobster mushroom has no gills nor pores. Here’s a handy guide for identifying Lobster Mushrooms.

How to cook – Saute them up with butter or olive oil, or stir fry them with veggies. Be sure to cook them for a long time (20+minutes) and add a bit of water or broth and a lid when the pan gets dry, cooking helps break down the chitin of all mushrooms, thus increasing digestibility. Longer cooking is particularly important with the more dense body of Lobster Mushrooms and Chicken of the Woods.

Want to dive deeper into the wild world of mushrooms and fungi and build your confidence in proper identification? Check out our Wild Mushroom and Fungi Identification Walk led by Ethnobotanist and beloved Firefly Gathering instructor Luke Learningdeer Cannon on Friday, September 23! See link to learn more about Luke and how to register.  Happy Hunting!  

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This piece was written by Nastassja Noell, Firefly’s Registration Coordinator. As a toddler, she was considered odd for her fetish of mushrooms – as she grew up, her appreciation for mushrooms expanded. She’s the author of “Radical Lichenology,” a chapter on lichens in the awesome mushroom tome Radical Mycology by Peter McCoy (available at Firestorm Books in Asheville).  You can find more about her and her work on her website beinglichen.org, Instagram: @beinglichen, Twitter @nastassjanoell.

WRITTEN BY

Nastassja

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Kimberly Dunn

Finance Manager (she/her)

Having grown up in a multicultural family, Kimberly’s love for languages and traditional cultures is infused into everything she creates. After many years overseas, she now calls the Appalachian mountains her home and continues to keep the adventure alive by staying close to the wild. Kimberly is a singer songwriter, dancer, women’s circle facilitator, personal finance astrologer, bookkeeper, yoga teacher, and chef.