The sun bounces up from the valley floor like a red rubber ball. I leap from my bed, cartwheeling like a school kid to the kitchen. I can smell the aroma of sizzling bacon and fresh eggs cooking with a pot of coffee jumping cheerily on the stove like a pup begging for a walk.
Suddenly, the RV door swings wide. Choruses of gorgeous wood nymphs smile back at me, singing in unison “Good Morning Jack.” They are all beautifully dressed in gossamer gowns with a palette of rainbow colors with flowers in their hair.
The maidens wave delicate fingers at me. They smile with sparkling eyes, batting their lashes, posing shyly__ suddenly the scene fizzles, begins to fade then pops__ What, what is going on? I fight back against reality as the slow fog of wakefulness tries to break through my ethereal dream.
I won’t admit to myself that I am not really awake. Under my breath I swear, “Damn it,” and suck drool from my gaping maw. Cold air hits my thinning brow. I choke my sleeping bag around my bleary mug.
I look like that deranged Monty Python character did from in that movie about the grail or the meaning of Life or something, “Will the Wind be so mighty?” you know the one.
I shiver from the frigid mountain air. I try to coax my beautiful vision back, squeezing my eyes tighter but knowing it would have been much better to wake with a good dream in the morning than that cold slap of mountain air that woke me. Ah but, alas, the dream is gone.
Enough poetry; I grumble with spite. This bad start will not force me to leave my comfy sleeping bag just yet. I bury my face in defiance.
Oh, do not feel sorry for me my fellow mycologists (the scientific study of fungi.).
I am certainly not living poorly out here in the BC Mountains. Maybe this “all by my lonesome,” oh poor me these past few days, but by no means am I lonely.
Most of you that read my articles probably already know, I live very comfortably in my RV and where ever I decide to go these days, I go (The future, of Preppers.)
This month I have decided to venture past international borders. I head north into the lower half of the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia to enjoy their huge lake and the area’s sunny weather.
Some of you might be wondering when the mushroom part of this story begins. Patience, that will come soon. Hidden between the lines of, “A day in the Mountains with me, Jack Woods.” What a treat, eh? You will find much wisdom.
First a little about myself, what makes me a prepper, and how I chose to live in the Western Mountains of North America. I figure if you are going to take advice from someone you better know some background first, right?
Therefore, I will toot my own horn, for a line or two. I was once a very successful businessman a few years back, working 20 plus years in the North America Oil Patch (We all have our dirty little secrets, don’t we?).
Now, I mostly travel where I chose, and venture where I like these days. Married 25 years, I am divorced 6 years now, my kids are grown with lives of their own and I have been on my own ever since. I guess I am what some people call a full time RV’er.
Occasionally I work odd jobs in the summer (for fun and by choice). I usually work in small towns or areas with vineyards and orchards. I follow any decent weather I can.
In the winter, I care-take, often for what one would call remote and sometimes “very remote” wilderness lodges during the off seasons. Lodges similar to the tosmalurist facilities on the “way off the beaten trail in the backcountry”. Places like “the Shining,” that’s right, “ REDRUM, and those crazy twins.”
Since my youth, I have spent every moment I could in the woods. Trapping as a youngster until heading out west. I have hunted big game since I was 12 years old.
Even when I lived and worked in the city I spent every weekend I could in the backcountry or traveling the back roads for work.
I have hiked with my kids over the continental divide. I’ve explored the foothills of the Rockies for probably going on 35 years now. I even spent three years in Hawaii, but that’s yet another story.
I write for a living, mostly working on my up and perpetually coming novel. I write most often in the winter, as you might have guessed. I write sometimes for fun and sometimes for money.
Occasionally, I sell wilderness products, such as wild mushrooms, fiddle heads, and seafood items to restaurants. I occasionally do some mineral prospecting, for jade and other minerals.
Once in a while I even pan for gold, using a free miner’s certificate, in mountainous regions. I am currently working on a novel in my spare time. It is about a seventeenth-century trapper from this region of BC. Yet another reason I am exploring the area this summer, to gather background and some color in my novel.
I live sparsely and am mostly self-sufficient. I use a solar power system and a satellite phone for my emails.
I believe prepping is a new way of life for me now. Living this way is fine by me, because soon we might all need to do this one day soon. Therefore, I have chosen to seek it out sooner rather than later.
It is mostly my life’s circumstance that has driven me back to this place. I love the woods, and if the SHTF, I am going to be as ready as anyone can be, I suspect.
Therefore, I have decided to take advantage of my situation rather than fight it. I embrace it. That is enough about me, now about our day, hunting wild mushrooms together.
And, so our adventure begins…
It is an early morning, only 5:30 am, in the mountains well above the great lake called Okanagan. The sun has not yet begun to crest the hill East of my camp. My breath still floats on the cool morning air. It must be close to seven (7) degrees above freezing inside my RV, and it is only the month of August.
However, up here the weather can change quickly from summer to autumn and even to winter. For instance, just the other day it hailed slushy balls of ice for an hour or so.
Just a slight hail, but frozen water nevertheless. Typical mountain weather in the hills of BC, at least at this time of year. It is, by no means a frigid winter weather, but cold enough to see one’s breath, and by midafternoon it will be sunny and warm again.
I reluctantly accept that my dream ladies from this morning are gone for good now. I know it is useless to try to sleep in. So, I reluctantly get out of bed, and suddenly remember “it’s mushroom picking day”!
This should be all the motivation I need to get moving this morning. I reluctantly envision myself free of my warm covers and like a coward, I pull them tighter around me for just one more moment before relenting. I know I have to get up.
In the Right Zone
Mushroom hunting simply enough, starts by first going to where the mushrooms are. Therefore, I have camped in the hills surrounding the Okanagan valley of BC Canada at least for this month.
Sure, the coastal forest of BC are teaming with more mushrooms than here, but it rains far less here, and since here is where I am__ when in Rome as they say…
Thinking you might become a mycologist, are you?
My first lesson, to any new wild mushroom picker, is this: have you ever considered eating wild mushrooms, but were afraid to try? Here is your chance to learn some of the basics. Your chance to see if you like it or not.
This is one of the things I learned the hard way. It’s where I first started. I will give you some hints and clues on how to be safe and get you pointed in the right direction. This is how I began “way back when”.
My RV is self-contained, with solar power and water filtration. I am telling you this to appeal to the preppers out there. I am 30 Miles outside of the Town of Kelowna and camping between 4500 and 5500 feet above sea level in the Crown forested area of British Columbia (It’s public owned Government land).
Mind you, mushroom hunting can be done anywhere in the world and in any country between the two poles, even below the tundra unless you are after lichen. The strangest thing you will discover initially, is that you have been walking by thousands of mushroom species every day and did not even notice them.
As I said, I am camped five hundred feet short of a mile, somewhere above the Okanogan Lake, staying in my RV. Below me, it is a stifling 38 degrees Celsius, a veritable heat wave all week for the people in the valley.
They are still in their beds, probably just getting some sleep after a sweltering night of tossing and turning. It is much cooler at night way up here in this temperate zone.
I purposely left the valley heat below, for a better night’s sleep. Plus, the benefit of finding some wild edibles for myself, and “it’s free camping up here in the forestry.” FREE is always the key when thinking of prepping, for me.
Compared to the areas down to the southern parts of the States, the summers here are relatively short, so many folks in the valley do not have air conditioning. It is a mild climate and the reason why I have chosen it as my Canadian destination.
However, in the town of Osoyoos, near the bottom end of the Okanogan valley and right along the Canadian side of the US border, I have seen summers where afternoon temperatures, can reach 46 degrees Celsius.
It has been cooking for weeks down there this year. People without AC are staying cool by exploiting the multitude of water activities in the area. However, I chose to stay way up here, in the surrounding hills.
With the mountain air moving down from the higher ridges in the evenings, it’s quite pleasant and can be, very agreeable sleeping weather. Not to mention a great mushroom hunting experience. My campsite begins to cool down each evening as soon as the sun sets and drops into the single digits by early morning.
My nearest friends, other than my dream ladies, of course, are a few raucous ravens, some chipmunks, joined most days by a half a dozen camp robbers, or the Whiskey Jacks, very curious birds known by many international names.
The Grey Jay, the Canadian Jay, the Arctic Jay, Camp Robbers, the whiskey Jack, (my personal favorite), and from the east coast of Canada “the Gorbie” for reasons I know not why, (Perhaps named after that Russian guy Gorbachev). Also, there is a family of coyotes, to whom I sometimes feed bones and leftovers.
I leave the scraps out for them when I can. I set these treats down the trail a hundred yards to the south of me. I enjoy their company as one might enjoy good friends because I have been around wild creatures most of my life. Okay, I know what you are thinking “don’t feed the wildlife!” Relax…
Yeah, sure, I respect them and their wild ways. Therefore, I don’t place the food too close to camp because that just makes pests out of wildlife for other campers to deal with.
Nevertheless, out here, they are my closest neighbors. I rarely speak to people for weeks at a time up here in the forestry area. I see no one except for the occasional 4 X 4 enthusiast or hiker/hunter. It’s not hundreds of miles from civilization, but it will do.
Songs from the Wood
The coyote pups will sometimes regale me with a song or two in the evenings when they decide to swing by for supper. This makes for a very pleasant end to my day.
It is as if they have accepted me into their world and are sharing their songs of life with me. So as I turn out the lights at night and ease into my sleeping bag, I sometimes fall into a deep slumber listening to them serenade one another.
Last night I had a real treat. I heard several howls from a lone wolf not three maybe four hundred yards from camp and then it all went silent. A wilderness without these wild creatures would be a tragedy to me.
I must admit I’m not the touristy type. Those people that bother animals in the parks like the ones I read about once in awhile in the national parks newspapers
I’m not like those double-parked, doe-eyed city folks with their cameras and Cheetos. The ones that see our national parks as some kind of wildlife petting zoo I guess and usually end up on the evening news, “Another Park Visitor Gets Mauled”.
Or worse yet in a story I once read, accused of feeding their child’s honey-coated hand to a black bear. What can you do? It’s Darwin’s law of the fittest, I guess.
I do respect these creatures and they respect me too I guess. I am sure we, that is both parties, know that “they” could just as easily become my dinner as I, theirs. Somehow we respect each other’s spaces and for that, I get along regardless of our differences.
I sort of camp by a governor’s style reprieve for all my furry friends. Anyone within one hundred yards of my camp can live their lives’ unharmed by me. So they tend to hang around my RV more this way.
Last year this time of yea, I would sit in the evening with 8 or so rabbits busily munching the greenery around me, and even one or two right under my camp chair as I sat enjoying the evening. This makes for a more interesting experience. Yet I have no qualms about harvesting beyond my artificial perimeter.
When mushroom hunting, do not forget, you are sharing the woods with other forest denizens. You will have much competition for wild edibles in the Mountains of Southern BC, or any wilderness zones, so be prepared.
After I rose this morning, my real morning started. I poked a bony leg out of my sleeping bag letting it dangle in the chilly morning air. Gingerly I touch my toe to the floor, as if testing the water in an icy stream.
I shiver and bite the bullet, quickly clamber out of my bag and rush to the stove. Dancing in place, I light a burner to warm my hands and yesterday’s coffee. I begin breakfast, cracking some eggs, toss a half-inch slab of ham into the skillet.
I wait for the sunrise while ham sizzles in the cast iron pan and I sip a steaming cup of coffee. Not bad, and you thought I was suffering.
Unfortunately, the only beautiful girl at my door that morning was a young glossy black bear who poked her nose out of the bushes not twenty feet away. She cautiously came toward my RV, sniffing my barbecue.
I was quite surprised by this and overjoyed at the same time. I knew she had been around, for I had seen signs of one all week in the nearby woods. I just didn’t expect a sighting so close.
I watched her snuffle toward my barbecue. At the last minute I frightened her away by scolding her in a slow and low disappointed tone, (my morning gravelly whiskey voice) “What are you doing,” I said.
The tone was similar to the one I use when one of my grandchildren get near a wall socket or something. She paused a moment, appearing as frightened as any toddler. She twisted on her heels and lit out toward the brush from whence she came.
I grinned, sipping my coffee from behind my open screened window, eyes smiling maniacally over the steaming mug, delighted in how menacing I was.
The young bear humped its way towards the tree line, startled by the sudden voice of some grouchy old dude coming from somewhere above her.
She spun on her backside and bounded off then momentarily just for an instant, hesitated at the edge of the woods. She did a classic “bob and weave maneuver” and switched directions to hunker down low behind an old weathered stump. a few moments later she skulked away along a large downed fir holding close to the ground for better cover, I suspect.
It always amazes me how these animals can move as if double jointed, especially the young ones. I guess we all could at that age. Obviously, it was a small yearling Bear.
Most likely, it believed that I would not see this clever trick. A tactic it had probably learned from its mom the summer before to avoid wolves, those mature boar trying to kill it, or some hunter shooting at it last spring.
I stepped outside to watch it go only to hear her crashing through the trees in her haste to get away from my barbecue and this old timer as quickly as possible. What a great way to start the morning I thought. My faith in the day has been renewed.
I stretched out my arms and breathed in the fresh mountain air, reaching into the blue morning light. Hugging myself and rubbing my shoulders against the cool breeze for a moment, I climbed back in my RV.
I settled at the table again, sipped my coffee and reflected on what a great morning this morning turned out to be.
This is why I camp in the wilderness. It’s why I chose public lands instead of RV parks. The woods are really still and quiet most days. Yes, punctuated only by these awesome events like a bear or some doe and her fawn coming to visit every other day or so.
Black bears in this area are quite small especially when they’re just yearlings. There are many around these days, along with all of the other predators in the Rockies.
I believe it is because of the population explosion of game that we have and the lack of hunting in our modern world. That will change as soon as the economy implodes, as it did during the Great Depression. When people with little choice began hunting for survival.
Either way, bears don’t bother people often, though you should carry bear spray when hiking. They are strong and capable animals. Black Bears can be rather bold up here, especially this time of year.
They are getting ready for late fall, and their winter’s sleep, so be prepared for their newfound courage. As you can see they have no problem coming into camp or driving you out of their favorite berry patches whenever they like.
I usually camp quietly and away from people not wanting to be bothered by humans. I try to blend in with my environment and avoid making a lot of unnecessary noise. I’m hidden in a dead end trail. I like being a part of the woods.
However, I DO NOT want bears raiding my camp at night or when I am out and about because they will cause a mess of things. If they think they can get some treats they will tear apart an RV to get it. I take precautions, but I don’t try to discourage wildlife from coming around.
I hope my little bear comes back again, just not when I am not here and with a little proper fear instilled in her.
The mushrooms cannot run away, so relax.
Remember to pace yourself when in the forests, and take your time when identifying mushrooms or whenever hiking in general. Stay calm, and be in no hurry. Soon your city ways will fizzle away like my dream girls did this morning.
I decided to finish my pot of coffee before heading out. My real purpose this day was not harassing young Bears, it was some pre-season mushroom hunting.
Chanterelles in fact, maybe some morels, though I know it is early for Chanterelles, I want to find all that is out and about, so I like to start early in the season.
Being mid-August in western Canada, I assume most likely, the only edible mushrooms I will find left for me to pick this high up in this dry zone, are the Boletus variety, and some Morels, but I don’t mind.
The Morels are highly priced mushrooms, yet are at the end of their season. They are usually found fruiting after any year a forest fire burns through the area, and I always keep an eye peel for them too, whenever seeking mushrooms, even this high up, and even this late in the season.
Many fires have burned in the surrounding hills just last year, due to it being so dry. Yet, in this particular area, the woods are unscathed. However, as I said I am not specifically seeking Morels, and they are found even without fires just not as abundantly.
The Chanterelles should be just beginning to fruit soon, and in this upper zone, the woods may be full of earnest people gathering mushrooms, perhaps in another week or so. This is when; I hope to be in the thick of them myself.
I know I will have better luck as soon as the September frost hits so by beginning up country and working my way down to the lower slopes, I can follow the harvest from zone to zone this way.
Don’t take chances with unknown mushrooms
Nevertheless, on this, our “Mushroom day,” a day that I promised myself that I would get out and gather any I could, from this mountainous terrain.
I have decided to write a beginner’s guide on mushroom hunting for this website, just to show the easiest way to start to become amateur mycologist. I believe this is also some good prepper knowledge to have.
It is full-on summer in western Canada. Everything that can be blooming is blooming. Everything that can be feeding on it, is too. The berries are ripe. The grass is deep.
The cones on the conifers are green and sticky and the mosquitoes, at least in the high mountain areas, are at a tolerable drone. The air smells of pine and it;s summertime in heaven.
I grab my rucksack from the bench; it contains anything and everything I might need if I had to spend a night or two in the bush by myself. I carry it because Cell phones do not usually work reliably up here (Even if I actually owned one, which I do not).
I always travel alone in the woods. I carry extra gear in case I get lost, twist a leg or worse yet, who knows. This way, I can still help myself when accidents happen. The gear that I bring is only enough to fit in a small leather rucksack.
If I get injured, no one would know. It would take months until someone found my RV abandoned or my bleached bones the following spring and I am okay with this.
I have weighed the pros and cons of living this way for myself. Simply because, I have spent many years in the bush in my youth trapping beaver, muskrat and mink, mostly alone, and by myself, I have learned to not take chances when traveling in the woods or exploring the backcountry.
I have found that the only things to be afraid of in the wild are other people and your own foolishness.
What is in my pack besides my lunch? My rucksack is always ready and contains a mid-sized coffee can and lid (used for cooking). It is stuffed with the following gear.
A package of oriental noodles (rather crushed), a small 60ml. bottle of cooking oil (also for cooking, fire starting, or lamp use). A bunch of bullion cubes, some fishing line and hooks, a space blanket, a Spork (fork/spoon combo), some Parcord, some toilet paper in a zip bag without the paper tube (for well you know what and for starting fires), and a lid on top.
In the rest of my pack, there is a compact hammock made from parachute nylon (About the size of a softball), a half roll of Duct tape (wonderful stuff Duct tape), a multi-tool, a high carbon fire striker for sparking fires, kept on a string with a decent compass attached, and a knife-sharpening device.
A very small hunting knife, a large leaf garbage bag, some rabbit wire, and (I know this is probably illegal most places, but I also have this with me for emergencies survival situations) a bunch of ¾ inch gill net for getting fish from streams or building blinds.
(To all you wildlife officers out there, I don’t actually use the gill net unless I am stuck in an emergency, but who worries about fishing laws when you are trying to survive.)
I also have strapped to my rucksack, an old fashion “Indian peace pipe style tomahawk,” because I’m nostalgic, and I like how it looks, so there. One should always have some form of brush cutting tool, machete or hatchet in their kit.
This might sound like a lot of gear, but it is surprisingly compact and very light. I use a leather rucksack because of its looks. It is oiled liberally for the weather. I love how it makes my adventure feel more authentic. “I know, I’m crazy right,” I just think there is too much nylon in this world, so sue me.
Hitting the Trail
I grabbed my favorite walking stick by the door. My grandson made this twisted Shillelagh (An Irish Walking stick usually made of hardwood) for me years before, not of oak but of gnarled swamp willow, a piece of dead standing willow about 5 feet tall.
He peeled it, dried it for a year, and oiled it with linseed oil, and I treasure its twisted shape and the way it fits in my hand.
A walking stick is a great thing for anyone to have when exploring the woods. Not only is it good support and useful for jumping creek crossings and testing marshes, but it is a good weapon for fending off animals too.
Many trappers hold off surly black bears with nothing more than a good solid stick. (I do recommend bear spray, though.) I have read stories where an old trapper kept a wolverine at bay for over two hours with a pointed stick.
It was probably hoping to steal his trap bait that he carried with him, but who knows the mind of a wolverine. They are a grouchy bunch, and have been videotaped stealing food from Large Grizzly Bears.
I swing open the RV door, sorry no wood maidens. I step down feeling the warmth of the morning air on my face. The orange glow has finally crested the hill that shadows my camp. It is late morning before the sun shows its face, even in August.
At first looking up at its glow, I pause and then gaze around my camp, to take it all in. The hum of insects, already excitedly flitting over the tall summer vegetation, making musical notes like a symphony from nature’s orchestra.
It comes in deafening quiet tones, clicking, buzzing, and dancing insects in the morning light, bring back memories of my youth, and summer adventures, years before.
I suddenly recall hot summer days heading toward my favorite fishing hole, holding my pole and tackle high above the tall wet grass, already steaming in the afternoon sun.
Distant images flood back as I wade the grass toward the trail head. I aim for an opening in the trees looking like the mouth of a dark cave.
When I reach the trail head, I duck into the opening and from a distance, I must appear like an old grey bearded codger. My old leather rucksack swinging my crooked walking stick as if some turn of the century woodsman has suddenly time traveled, though. I’m quite at home out on an adventure.
The Mushroom Trail
Boletus Mushrooms are some of the easiest mushroom variants to identify, and the poisonous varieties are few and very easy to spot too.
Forgive me; for all of, the coming highlighted text and warnings, but I do not want anyone harmed and hope everyone has a safe hunt.
My very first footfalls in these woods are muffled by thick moss as if I am entering another world. The air is cool under the canopy, dark and still, with a heavy musky smell of wet earth, and pine needles.
The first mushroom specimen that I find is only a few yards inside. They are growing beneath a large pine tree, nestled in some moss and nature are called Larch Boletus. A yellowish-brown mushroom with pale lemon-yellow flesh and dark amber pores instead of gills.
Clue number one: all Boletus mushrooms have these pores, not the typical gills as you might find on the common “button mushroom” like in the produce aisles of your local grocery store.
This makes the boletus mushrooms much easier to identify for the beginner mycologist, and why I have chosen it for you to start with. Pores are very different from gills and look much like a sponge instead of the gills similar to fish gills on most other mushrooms. They seem to like this dry mountain region also.
The larch Boletus:
The above the “Larch Boletus” and many other Boletus variants need special preparations, to make them edible. Nothing to worry about but the skin on the caps are tough and sometimes bitter and often slimy (this will not harm you).
The skin needs to be removed first, otherwise they will tend to stick together in clumps when bunched in your bag or basket or make your recipes gluey.
This can be easily done by peeling the skin off the caps, before storing them, or before cooking them. (I usually do this back at camp)
The pores of these mushrooms can be a bit slimy also, so when cooking them you decide.
(You might want to remove this too for some recipes, like soup. I find the pores are fine in fried recipes, or if dried out a little before cooking).
This is why my other mycologists friends do not even bother picking these species of mushroom; they feel they are too much bother to make them edible.
However, in a prepper situation, a meal is a meal, is a meal, am I right? I find that drying them a little before, cooking them, helps concentrate the flavors.
The Boletus is a great beginner mushroom to start with. They are easily identified by their “detachable pores,” under the cap (NOT GILLS). These pores can be easily detached and rolled off with your finger from the underside.
This helps in identify it. If the pores are easily removed by rubbing it away from the inner flesh, you most likely have a boletus mushroom. Bear in mind that several poisonous variants’ of boletus are around these same North American woods at times.
(Study boletus mushrooms in your particular area before heading out)
The poisonous boletus mushrooms can be very easy to identify by their unique characteristics of turning color (Usually a bluish color) when their flesh is bruised or exposed to air. Like the next example below, this one is especially dangerous when eaten raw:
“The Boletus Pulcherrimus” or “Red Pored Bolete,” (shown below) and watch out for the equally poisonous and related, “Boletus Satanus” that also changes colors when bruised or exposed to the air.
PS… Anything named after Satan can’t be good for you.
This color change happens, whenever this poisonous boletus is exposed to air, it will always identify the poisonous variants of these mushrooms, at least in North America.
However, not all boletus that change color are poisonous. As a beginner Mycologist, you should simply stay away from the color changing variants of Boletus until you are better equipped, this will be safest.
Now that we are on the subject of SAFETY, I must caution anyone unfamiliar with mushroom picking, to study, study, study, and go out with someone in your area that knows what he or she is doing, before attempting to pick mushrooms on your own.
Most areas in the world will have a Mycologist Society nearby. They usually have meetings or classes, and you may even be able to bring your mushrooms to them to have them identify by a qualified person. Some societies have set up markets to buy and sell your woodsy treasures too.
The Huge Universe of Mushrooms
For me to include enough information for a beginner or to have them identify all edible mushrooms for themselves would be overwhelming. Well, simply put it would need to be a book of a thousand pictures and pages or more.
Even then, the book would barely cover a specific area in the world that you are located. Try to get books that are written for your area. They are hard to find but well worth it.
Remember photographs often do not have the correct tone of color, and therefore unreliable for identification alone. This is why sometimes the best books have hand drawn pictures.
Disclosure: This post has links to 3rd party websites, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. Survival Sullivan is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. See my full disclosure for more.
(Footnote: A great author of mushroom identification is a woman, known as Helene M.E. Schalkwijk-Barendsen author of the book, “Mushrooms of Western Canada”, and others)
European mushroom varieties look completely different then the same North American varieties, East coast species look different then west coast species, even if they are in the same mountain range and their genus or species are the same, they may also vary in many ways.
Moreover, if just over in the next valley, they can look different in color and size. So, for your own sake, be very careful and record all the features you can to identify your species to be sure.
How to Identify Mushroom Genera and Species
To properly identify any species of mushroom you need to record the location in which it was found, the environment that it grew in, as well as the geographic location.
As for the environment in was found in, was it found on dead wood, or living tree. Whether it was found growing in grassy soil, or a pine grove or hardwood forest, and if found near other poisonous mushrooms is all important for identification.
Important Footnote: The West Coast Lobster mushroom in British Columbia is a bright red lobster colored mushroom (parasitic mushroom, edible and highly desirable), however can obtain the poison traits of other poisonous mushroom hosts that it grows on (growing on the host mycelia).
You must also record the shape of any mushroom you find, retain its stem and base intact for proper identity.
Always be aware of poisonous look-a-likes in your area, the list is much shorter than the non-poisonous varieties (this will help, but when unsure do not eat it).
(The highly poisonous varieties of AMINITA mushrooms (i.e. Fly Mascara, or The white amanita called the Death Cap) these can all be identified by the bulb or egg shaped knob at the base of their stem)
REMEMBER THIS IS SERIOUS STUFF PEOPLE, so be sure you know what you are harvesting, before you eat it! Some highly poisonous variants should only be handled with gloves, in case you wipe your eyes or brow especially on hot sweaty days.
An experienced Mycologist must record all the characteristics of the mushrooms for identification, like recording: its body shape, its stem characteristics, whether it is solid stem or hollow or has rings on the stem.
Record its color and texture, or whether it has gills, pores or ridges under its cap, or maybe looks as if it grows in a toothed shape, or some even resemble coral.
Record the shape of its cap (cut crosswise) as this is more important than even its color, and the textures of the parts tell a lot, this can also be critical.
In addition to these details, you must include the spore pattern and the color of the spores when identifying species; this can be the best identifier in the end.
This is the “smoking gun,” clue of your detective work. You can do this by laying the caps; pores or gills down, on a sheet of paper over night to catch their spores when they drop (note the color, and shape if you have a magnifying glass).
Besides all of this detective work, the aroma, and the taste of the mushroom can also be critical to properly identifying many species. Like I said take your time, and RELAX, this is why boletus mushrooms are the safest for beginners. I started with these myself.
These are merely some of the ways to positively identify a Mushroom, and all these clues need to match up EXACTLY to be sure.
Even after identifying your mushroom, taste test them first in small amounts, before eating a full meal. Remember that cooking your mushrooms, before testing it is safest, as most varieties are more toxic if eaten raw.
Many poisonous varieties can kill by shutting down a victim’s kidneys or liver functions, and these poisons have NO KNOWN CURE. Meaning you are not going to get an antidote for this poison. Consider all Amanitas as poisonous…
(Footnote: The delicate white “Destroying Angel,” or the white “Death Cap,” both Amanita variants that can be, when first emerging, mistaken for the delicious shaggy mane or the common white, field mushroom).
The cruel thing about this particular Amanita mushroom, the Destroying Angel, is that apparently it tastes pretty good. Just before you die, you suddenly feel all right again for a short while. Most mushroom fatalities are caused by this mushroom.
(Please, Remember all Amanitas have a bulb like base they grow from)
Always be aware of poisonous look-a-likes.
Now that I have scared you half to death, be aware that most non-edible mushrooms merely cause stomach upset. So, know those few “deadly variants” in your area above all else. It helps beginners after they actually find these poisonous varieties and they get an upfront look at them (so Handle with care).
Unfortunately, the safest and most common edible mushrooms AKA, the easiest to identify, are usually the LEAST desirable varieties, as they have little or no taste and are not very sought after by the hard core Mycologists.
The Boletuses as I mentioned before are the best beginner mushrooms with many very desirable varieties, and unfortunately many are plain tasting, and for me even more unfortunate is for this article, they are all I can find this morning.
The three bland species of Boletus mushrooms; plus a few native puffballs, including the Giant Western Puffball, which seems to be the only ones up this high so far, but don’t despair. After a simple rainstorm, the woods may be full of your favorite variety tomorrow.
Remember, after you have a positive identification, record the GPS location that you found it in, as they will be growing there again sometime during next season, and you won’t need to go traipsing around as much trying to find or identifying them the following year.
Treat your new hunting spots like your own personal garden. Then visit them each season for the harvest.
The puffball mushrooms are best for beginners too, as most puffballs are edible and a great beginner mushrooms, like the boletus. The puffball mushrooms are exciting to find for beginners, but when you first see one of these “Giant Western Puffballs it can be a lot like coming face to face with an alien from another planet.
They often grow as big as soccer balls, and can weigh several pounds looking as if “out of some Star Trek episode.”
When you rap the outsides of these giants with your finger, they have a hollow drum-like sound especially when immature and ready to harvest. See below:
Giant Western Puffballs known as (Calvatia Booniana)
These Giant Puffballs are known as (Calvatia Booniana) or the Giant Western puffball. So named and Identified by, Dr. Wm. Judson Boone the First president of the College of Idaho.
Most puffballs, giant or otherwise are edible and, as I mentioned earlier they are a great beginner mushroom to harvest, but don’t expect much in the way of flavor.
You must always peel away the tough outer skin of these puffball mushrooms or cut away the outer covering before cooking. Only the immature puffballs are edible though. Once they spore, they are no longer edible. (Again, be aware of any poisonous look a likes, there aren’t many but be aware of the few there are)
The Giant Puffballs like Boletus varieties that I mention earlier are unmistakable, and may not have much flavor but the giant puffballs are edible when they are immature and solid white inside.
When they are ready to be harvested, they can be made into quite an acceptable meal. If the Puffballs are solid and white throughout their center, with no striations they can in a pinch be quite edible.
These giant varieties of mushrooms are large and are delicate too. They can be sliced into thin burger-sized steaks (Served on a bed of rice or greens) and grilled or diced into cubes and fried with garlic.
(Or as I like to, just fry and blend them into a passable cream sauce, or season in olive oil and served with black olives and fettuccini.)
Although I did have some of these same, “Calvaalltia mushrooms” (Puffballs) in a white wine sauce earlier this spring, I diced and grilled them, then mixed them with some spaghetti for a delicious afternoon lunch.
Unfortunately, all I found today was the very mature rotten ones as happens to late in the season. These look more like cow patties then mushrooms once gone to spore.
They change to an olive green color or black color inside when mature, and have a unique curry smell to them. Eventually, the pores dry to a powder, almost black, and they melt as if rotting, looking more like cow patties then mushrooms. Therefore, I carry on down the trail in search for my chanterelles…
The sun is high overhead now and the day is growing warmer. The horse flies are coming out to pester me in the damp clearings, some mosquitoes buzz around my ears in the shaded areas.
I also found some wild parsnip growing in a clearing, with some large scotch thistle nearby. I decided on a snack and carefully peeled the thistle stems with my pocketknife for a trail-side snack.
I gathered some parsnip stems for a stir-fry later. Although thistle are hard to get at, they have a celery crunch, that to me taste much better than any store bought celery…
Opportunity Knocks: At the edge of the clearing I found another variety of Boletus that caught my eye. It is very common in late July up here, and they are called “Slippery Jack”. A hundred yards away from that, another variety called “Slippery Jill”.
These two-boletus mushrooms are referred to as the “Suillus Boletus,” (or sticky Boletus) they get their name from the slime that appears on them, especially after a rain. Despite their sliminess, the “Slippery Jacks,” are quite edible, though bland tasting to some hard core Mycologists.
I like them and find them very tasty. Again simply peeling the caps off and removing the pores if you wish, this is enough to turn these mushrooms into a meal.
You can fry them in an omelet or in any recipe that calls for mushrooms, such as cream of mushroom soup. They also can be dried and re-hydrated later for use in soups and stews.
(Footnote: Clean them first and chop them sealed in a paper bag to dry them, I use small bags and many of them. This works great, and keeps insects away.)
The Slippery Jack, (edible, please note the color of these can vary widely):
Footnote: I love these in soups, after I dry them, I rehydrate in the broth.
The Slippery Jill, (edible but not as palatable as the: Slippery Jack):
Note: the wet caps and the ring attached to the stems of these two varieties to aid you in identifying them.
The Early Bird Gets the Worm
Another few weeks or so and the Chanterelles will be coming out in this part of the country. This is the real reason that I am hunting up here this time of year.
It pays to be in the right place at the right time when hunting mushrooms. One must frequently check for your favorite varieties. I stirred a rabbit from under a bush and wish I had brought a rifle with me since rabbit season did begin this month.
It would have gone great with these wild mushrooms, brazed in some sauce along with my wild parsnip simmering for an hour or two.
I am hiking just at the beginning of Chanterelle season and these pricey mushrooms, I hope will be beginning to come up soon. These delicate Chanterelle mushroom, as do most mushrooms, will start to deteriorate very rapidly after emerging.
Like most of these mushrooms, they are best picked in their prime, within a day or two of fruiting. They then can be cleaned and dried right away and kept for a long time. Some other mushroom varieties like Morels can be parboiled and jarred as well, the broth makes for a great soup starter.
The biggest enemy to the avoid my mycologist friends, when it comes to, especially Boletus and similar mushrooms are the maggots, and the grubs that also seem to like them.
These pests seem to get on these mushrooms within minutes of their emerging. All but a few of the Boletus mushrooms that I found this morning were infested with these maggots.
This is why, between the peeling of the caps, removing the pores, and cutting out the insect larvae, you can see why serious mycologists do not bother with these boletus varieties.
However, since I am simply scouting a new area this morning, and I am always seeking edible foods for survival. I like pointing out these edibles to anyone in survival mode, like my fellow preppers.
The wild foodstuff for preppers especially during hard times must be sought after at all times, regardless of the season, and this is what is available in late summer.
The thing about eating wild edibles is not that you need to curb your idea of gourmet foods. The thing is that sometimes it is simply nourishment, and not a delicacy like Chanterelles, King Boletus, or the Morels that you are after.
I always get a thrill finding edibles on my walks. No matter what I find, as long as I know I can feed myself. As for tomorrow, I may find gourmet food or not, but today I just survive.
I now reflect as I head back to my RV to cook up what I have found, with some pasta, and sauce. I’ll crack a beer, and enjoy the rest of my day. Life is rough here in the backcountry.
I turn on the iTunes riff of my run of Joe Cocker’s version of Blind Faiths, Feeling alright, and I Can’t find my way home, and Todd Rundgren’s “ I saw the light. I drink whiskey and find it hard to care what others care about in this version of reality.
So, always remember my minion mycologists, first relax, and take it easy out there. Then keep your nose to the ground; you never know what you might find…
Happy hunting, from the practical prepper…
And you thought this article might be about those other kinds of mushrooms, shame on you?
Jack is an avid outdoorsman who, when he’s not at the shooting range, he’s most likely in the woods, either hunting or uploading his latest survival article via his satellite connection.