The mushroom-hunting season will wind down at the end of October. Until then, said Mike Kempenich of the Mikeology Store in Minneapolis, you can still find all of the mushrooms featured in these photographs (which Kempenich took).
But don’t rely on photos to guide your foraging adventures.
“Comparing mushrooms visually to a photograph is not a very safe way to identify a mushroom,” said Kempenich, a certified mushroom expert. His business supplies mushrooms to Twin Cities restaurants, offers classes in mushroom identification, leads mushroom-hunting expeditions, and holds overnight celebrations featuring mushrooming, chef-prepared mushroom dishes and music (for more information, visit www.mikeologystore.com).
“If somebody’s brand new to mushroom hunting, we have this wonderful thing called the internet, which has a fair amount of information,” he said. Look beyond the mushroom’s appearance and examine other characteristics: Does it have gills or pores? How do the gills attach to the stem? Tapered or notched? And so on. Better still, take a class or seek expert assistance.
“It’s not really something that can be rushed,” said Kempenich, who has been mushrooming for fun since he was a kid and professionally for seven years. “When I started doing this, if I learned one new mushroom a year 100 percent, I was happy.”
Minnesota is home to as many as 10,000 mushroom species, of which perhaps 40 to 50 are edible, Kempenich said. Some are extremely toxic, particularly the deadly Amanita bisporigera, or “destroying angel,” which poisoned seven Minnesotans in 2006. Others aren’t poisonous “but might taste like shoe leather.”
Luckily, some good mushrooms — puffballs (above ground), chicken of the woods, hen of the woods, morels (found in the spring) and oyster mushrooms — have no close look-alikes, or at least “nothing that’s going to kill a person or send them to the hospital,” he said.
State forests and state parks are open to foraging for personal consumption (many regional and local parks are not). Newbies may be surprised to discover how many mushrooms are out there.
“That’s because they haven’t been looking for them,” Kempenich said. “Now they take a 360-degree turn and realize, ‘Wow, I’m standing among 200 mushrooms.’ ”