Wild mushrooms: an edible extreme sport

Posted in Travel at 16:47 by RjZ

At dinner the night before, one of the guests said that he enjoyed hunting for mushrooms and knew several edible varieties here in the forests around Kitzbuhel, Austria. That’s all I needed to know! I really can’t explain it, but I love the idea of harvesting delicacies from the forest. I don’t want much, the deer and squirrels have to eat as well, but I love having a berry or two off of a wild raspberry bush, or better, actually knowing which of those crazy mushrooms one can actually eat.

Mushrooms, near Brainard Lake, Colorado
We didn’t eat these, they’d probably kill you or something.

I jumped all over the suggestion and demanded that we go into the forest the next morning. Perhaps I imagined myself as some forest druid at one with the forest, or a bearded woodsman living off the fruit of the land. I tried to think of more metaphors here for just why hunting for wild berries and mushrooms is so attractive to me, but I couldn’t think of any because I don’t know why get so excited about it! I do know why I never really got into the hobby though.

We woke up early for our forest adventure, complete with wicker baskets and rain gear. We walked to the trails and forest not far from our host’s chalet and it wasn’t long before we started spotting the delicious fungi. Except they weren’t delicious. Our guide pointed to a specimen and explained how that one would likely kill you from a severe neurotoxin. “Unfortunately it looks almost identical to an edible variety,” he exclaimed. Another ‘puff ball’ would supposedly knock you over if you so much as touched it and caused it to puff its noxious spores in your face. Still another wouldn’t kill you, but would definitely have a long arguing disagreement with your stomach and digestive track, probably including glasses being thrown and doors being slammed.

Finally we discover a Steinpilze (lit. rock mushroom: or king bolete, aka porcini.) These are delicious and large! The one we found was mushy and still wet from the rain the night before. Real mushroom hunters would leave this poor wasted thing in the forest, but, eying my prize like Indian Jones, I carefully plucked the soggy treasure and placed it in my basket. We kept wandering around learning about how this one isn’t edible and that one makes you sick. How they all look the same and it seems impossible to actually know which are tasty.

I really wanted Pfifferlinge (chanterelles). These are gilled yellow mushrooms, that look like alien trees and they’re only found in the wild. I’d never had the pleasure of tasting them until I made it to Germany. That’s too bad for most people in the states, because they are absolutely delicious. We searched every where and found a few more edible mushrooms, which were described with comments like: “you can eat that one. It isn’t any good but you can eat it.” I greedily snatched them up for my basket. The other hikers’ baskets were strangely still empty, and occasionally, when I looked up from the forest floor for a moment, I’d wonder if I was the only one so excited to find these tasty tidbits. That’s just crazy, I thought, and went back to looking under trees. I think I found one chanterelle.

We returned in the evening and, like a kid on Halloween, I sorted my soggy booty of barely edible mushrooms wondering what I would do with them. We didn’t have enough to really have a nice meal and so I declared that I would scramble them with eggs. Only a few people even wanted my gourmet breakfast, but I relished it.

Colorado, too, has mushrooms. Many of the same varieties and all of the same problems. My guide here was looking for the very same King Bolete, and was able to recognize quite a few others with nearly all the same comments as my original German guide. That one might be good but it looks very similar to an inedible variety. This one is probably very tasty but is reported in Colorado to sometimes cause “severe gastro-intestinal distress, including hospitalization, indicating there may be a poisonous variety.” Mmmm, gastro-intestinal distress. Sign me up.

We gathered, returned, cleaned and sauteed our haul and sat down to the dinner table with steaming plate of delicate mushrooms on homemade mashed potatoes, I looked at my mushroom hunting guide and declared, before having the first bite, “well, it’s been a pleasure knowing you.” Then I dug in and hoped for the best.

They were delicious. All the more tasty because we had cut them ourselves. There’s even something exciting about eating wild mushrooms, perhaps akin to eating the poisonous japanese fugu, but I think I’ll leave the identifying and picking to the experts. That way I’ll have someone to blame while I am suffering from gastro-intestinal distress.

Mmmm, mushrooms. Mmmm, gastro-intestinal distress.


  1. erin said,

    August 23, 2006 at 14:44

    everything is extreme these days, even eating. glad to hear you survived your meal.

  2. tim r said,

    August 24, 2006 at 9:59

    The dance of death with mushrooms?


    Was even nicer to hunt them in oregon where we could gather some wood sorrel for salad….

  3. joey said,

    September 3, 2006 at 23:36

    Hmm.. surprised you would mushroom hunt as I know of your concern for not disturbing nature. What is the impact of picking mushrooms on the forest/environment?

    I’ve actually always wanted to do this myself as I love mushrooms! But it does indeed seem very risky because there are so many imposters!


  4. Elena said,

    September 15, 2006 at 9:53

    The photo is nice

  5. erin said,

    August 18, 2007 at 9:01

    there’s an article in the new yorker about hunting matsutake. the article ins’t online, but this slideshow is. delightful to see the phallic little creatures. :)


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