The New York Mycological Society

There are strict rules about foraging anything in state parks and city parks. The laws aren’t clear at all, so it’s always best to ask someone more experienced. Whenever we go picking mushrooms, we bring a towel/picnic blanket to drape over the basket just in case.

We have finally gotten a taste of some good weather so I started researching one of my favorite topics: mushrooms! I grew up picking mushrooms in Europe which is completely different than doing it in New York. First of all, in Europe, Czech Republic in particular, mushroom picking is a popular sport! Second of all, the mushroom season is only 2-3 months long.

In New York it’s completely different! First of all, almost no one picks mushrooms. This is true for New York City as well as the state, most Americans in general seem too scared to pick mushrooms! Also, mushroom hunting season here is practically all year round. However, prime mushroom picking time is from April until October.

Coming from a country where you have to wake up at 5 AM after a rainy day to find a single mushroom that hasn’t already been picked by the hordes of hungry mushroom hunters. The first mushroom I ever found in New York was found in plain sight on a very busy path in a New York City park… that got me researching.

Even if you know something about picking mushrooms in Europe or Asia, you can’t just apply the same knowledge in a new place. There are lookalike mushrooms that can be edible in one country and poisonous in the other. That’s why it’s a good idea to join a mycological society. If you’re in New York, I recommend the New York Mycological Society!

They have a website and a Facebook Page where members (and non members) can learn about mushroom types and join on mushroom hunting expeditions for just $5, unless you become a member for $15 annually ($25 for a family). The group consists of experts, some experienced mushroom pickers and many newbies.

They also don’t focus on picking edible mushrooms, they like to explore and identify mushrooms of all sorts! I joined for a walk through a cemetery in the Bronx, where we split up, picked mushrooms and met at the end to examine all of our findings. It was a lot of fun and very educational!

A mycological society can also help explain the laws regarding mushroom picking in the area that you are in. I was surprised that there are so many rules in America about literally everything. Isaac got a fine once for being in a park when it has snowed, despite there being no signs about it.

There are strict rules about foraging anything in state parks and city parks. The laws aren’t clear at all, so it’s always best to ask someone more experienced. Whenever we go picking mushrooms, we bring a towel/picnic blanket to drape over the basket just in case.

Starting this weekend, I will start going on hikes hoping to find oyster mushrooms that grow all year round! But the moment it gets warm and rainy, everything else will sprout too. I just can’t wait!

Do you love mushroom picking? Share your favorite mushroom stories int he comments below!

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Easy to Identify Mushroom in NYC: Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea)

Puffballs of all sizes grow in the forest, alongside roads, in the middle of a green grassy lawn, they can really grow anywhere! You can stir fry them, cook them in the oven and my absolute favorite, is pretending they are pancakes!

It’s prime mushroom picking season but it’s quickly cooling down. You might be seeing mushrooms all around you, even in city parks and on the side of highways! There’s still some time to go out and forage before winter chases us indoors for Netflix, hot chocolate and hibernation. However, most mushrooms take a lot of experience to identify which can be scary and discouraging.

It is also extremely dangerous to eat anything that you’re not certain about. Although there are many YouTube videos and Facebook groups are not always a reliable way to be sure that you will be safe. Even after you read this article, go talk to experienced mushroom pickers, join a mycological society and always be overly careful.

Two other warnings:

  1. It is not legal to pick mushrooms everywhere. Ask a police officer, park ranger or at the info center where you can pick them. If you go anywhere else, you risk getting a hefty fine. In NYC it can be up to $250!
  2. Wild mushrooms are not like the ones you buy at the store. Some people might experience an allergy to a specific type even though they are not allergic to others. Some edible mushrooms have skins that certain people might react to with a stomach ache. Although I am lucky to be allergy free and tolerate everything I’ve tried so far, I’m aware that I might eat a perfectly good edible mushroom that might make me feel sick.

That being said, mushrooms are a great way eat sustainably, healthily and package-free. They are also vegan but can be cooked with whatever ingredients you prefer. Some people make ice cream and cheese cake out of mushrooms…

Let’s get down to business, there are mushrooms that are growing everywhere around New York right now and they happen to taste delicious! The giant puffball (tiny ones are good too) is really easy to identify, grows to be huge so it’s satisfying to find and it’s a great way to begin your mushroom picking lifestyle.

Giant puffball (Calvatia gigantic):

Puffballs come in round shapes and in various sizes. They don’t have any gills, or stems, they grow right out of the ground. The regular kind is small, round, white/grayish/yellowish with tiny bumps and they get dark and dry when they are ready to release their spores. When they are dry, you can stomp on them and they will puff out dark-colored spores, which is why they are called puffballs.

Giant puffballs don’t taste any better than small ones, arguably they taste worse. But one big puffball can feed a family of three for a day. They can grow to be larger than your head! In their prime they are pure white on the outside and inside.

If they are any there color, or have any markings, be cautious.

Unlike the hen-of-the-woods that I wrote about earlier this week, giant puffballs do have a very poisonous lookalike, but it’s extremely easy to differentiate them! Once you pick a puffball, cut it down the middle from top to bottom, an edible puffball will have firm purely white firm flesh without any markings. It should look like sliced mozzarella!

If the mushroom is off-white, it’s an edible kind that’s past it’s prime. Don’t eat it! There are several stages of a puffball going bad. First, the inside will get yellower but will remain firm. Then it’ll get wetter and darker, at this point the outside might be getting yellower too. Finally, it dries up and releases dark gray/black spores.

Even when a puffball is yellow, it’s technically not poisonous. The only type of puffball that is poisonous, is one with black lines that look like intricate designs. These will be on the outside and on the inside. These puffballs are very poisonous and should NOT be consumed.

Puffballs of all sizes grow in the forest, alongside roads, in the middle of a green grassy lawn, they can really grow anywhere! Just make sure to cut every single mushroom in half, and throw any puffball that isn’t pure white on the inside. The rule of thumb with mushrooms is, if there is any doubts, leave it behind.

If you thought that the hen-of-the-woods had many recipes, just wait until you bring home a haul of puffballs. You can stir fry them, cook them in the oven and my absolute favorite, is pretending they are pancakes!

All you need to do is cut 3/4 inch slices, fry them in the oven or on the pan with some coconut oil and cinnamon and serve with maple syrup. If you cook them long enough you can barely taste the difference – they are soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. Delicious. Here are some other recipes.

Just a quick reminder, some people don’t react well to the skin of puffball mushrooms (or any mushroom skins). Some mushrooms have tough skin that’s supposed to protect the mushroom from being eaten, this skin can be hard to digest and some people are more sensitive than others.

It’s very similar to the skin on certain nuts, if you’ve ever pooped out an intact almond, you know what I’m talking about. Personally, I eat the skin but please be aware that you might have a reaction to it! You can always start by eating a small piece with the skin on, wait a few hours and see how you feel. It can be scary to feel sick after eating a wild mushroom and not know why.

Do you have any stories to share about puffballs? What’s your record find (size or amount)? What’s your favorite recipe? Share your puffball stories with us in the comments below!

Easy to Identify Mushroom in NYC: Hen-of-the-Woods (Maitake)

I find these mushrooms the most rewarding to pick, because even a small one is enough as a side dish to any meal and the bigger ones can feed an entire family! Every time I’ve looked for hens, I found at least one and usually had 2-4 kilos (4-9 pounds) in just 30 minutes of searching. Of course, you can also find a single mushroom that weighs 13+ kilos (30+ pounds).

It’s prime mushroom picking season but it’s quickly cooling down. You might be seeing mushrooms all around you, even in city parks and on the side of highways! There’s still some time to go out and forage before winter chases us indoors for Netflix, hot chocolate and hibernation. However, most mushrooms take a lot of experience to identify which can be scary and discouraging.

It is also extremely dangerous to eat anything that you’re not certain about. Although there are many YouTube videos and Facebook groups are not always a reliable way to be sure that you will be safe. Even after you read this article, go talk to experienced mushroom pickers, join a mycological society and always be overly careful.

Two other warnings:

  1. It is not legal to pick mushrooms everywhere. Ask a police officer, park ranger or at the info center where you can pick them. If you go anywhere else, you risk getting a hefty fine. In NYC it can be up to $250!
  2. Wild mushrooms are not like the ones you buy at the store. Some people might experience an allergy to a specific type even though they are not allergic to others. Some edible mushrooms have skins that certain people might react to with a stomach ache. Although I am lucky to be allergy free and tolerate everything I’ve tried so far, I’m aware that I might eat a perfectly good edible mushroom that might make me feel sick.

That being said, mushrooms are a great way eat sustainably, healthily and package-free. They are also vegan but can be cooked with whatever ingredients you prefer. Some people make ice cream and cheese cake out of mushrooms…

Let’s get down to business, there are mushrooms that are growing everywhere around New York right now and they happen to taste delicious! The hen-of-the-woods (maitake) doesn’t have any poisonous look alikes, grows to be huge so it’s satisfying to find and it’s a great way to begin your mushroom picking lifestyle.

Hen-of-the-woods (maitake):

The hen-of-the-woods looks a little like the fluffy feathers of a hen, hence it’s name. Here are some photos of how they can look at different stages of growth.

Picture credits: Photo 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Don’t confuse the hen-of-the-woods with the chicken-of-the-woods. Chickens can grow higher up on the tree, they are orange and they grow in layers. I have heard a lot about these mushrooms and I’m told they’re delicious, however I haven’t found any yet and I don’t know how to tell them apart from the many other orange mushrooms that grow on trees! Stick with hens at the beginning, you can’t go wrong with them and there are plenty to go around!

Hen-of-the-woods mushrooms typically grow on oak trees, so if you see acorns on the ground you’re in the right spot. If you look at the roots of an oak, you’ll notice that they have a clumpy shape with many little lumps which is very similar to the hen mushroom. From a distance, you might confuse a hen mushroom with some dried leaves. Always go check it out, and take a look around the entire tree. They tend to grow on bigger, wider oaks and there can be a several clusters of them around a single tree!

I find these mushrooms the most rewarding to pick, because even a small one is enough as a side dish to any meal and the bigger ones can feed an entire family! Every time I’ve looked for hens, I found at least one and usually had 2-4 kilos (4-9 pounds) in just 30 minutes of searching. Of course, you can also find a single mushroom that weighs 13+ kilos (30+ pounds).

Hen-of-the-woods are either off-white, kind of beige/grayish or more brownish, especially around it’s rounded edges. They always grow in clumps, so from a distance you could confuse them with clustered mushrooms – remember that even though it looks like a cluster, it’s one big mushroom that spreads out and looks fluffy. If you cut it at the stem and you see many individual mushrooms, it’s not a hen. If you see any gills (pictured below) it is NOT a hen.

Hens are smooth, fluffy looking, single-stemmed mushrooms.

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Remember, the picture above is NOT a hen-of-the-woods. It’s an example of gills, that hens do NOT have.

Sometimes, the hen-of-the-woods grows on trees other than oaks. If you want to be extra safe, you can stick to only eating the ones that you find on oak trees, although like I already said, there isn’t any dangerous look-a-like. Hens are very unique looking.

Don’t forget to bring some common sense with you to the forest. If there are too many bugs on the hen, if it looks dry or off-color, then it’s probably not good for eating. While most insects are pretty safe to eat if cooked correctly, you should stay away from unintentional entomophagy. Plus, insects can cause allergic reactions in people who are also allergic to shellfish.

Another common sense move is to avoid picking mushrooms in forests where there’s a mark on the tree, or a colorful rope tied around an area. These could mark a protected area, a sick tree, some sort of pest, pollution, disease, etc. If it looks questionable, don’t go there.

Same goes for roadside mushrooms. Think about the pollution that they are exposed to. Would you like some car exhaust with your mushrooms? I don’t think so. Don’t pick anything that looks unclean (not including natural forest dirt) or could be polluted. Similarly to road exhaust, some places could be using pesticides or other chemicals in the area. Although most of us are already exposed to them from the food we buy in supermarkets, the less chemicals we consume, the better.

When you find a hen and bring it home, watch a video on how to clean it correctly. It has many layers, the thick white stem isn’t as yummy as the rest of it so you want to cut that off and if possible, clean it outside or in a large tub to avoid clogging your drain with forest debris. If you see any holes, cut into them and remove any insects, spiders or slugs.

How do you cook a hen?

There are so many ways to cook these mushrooms! Chop them into tiny pieces and stir fry, with other veggies, or if you’re not vegetarian then maybe some meat, lard or eggs to make the perfect mushroomy omelette.

The nutritional value of hens varies depending on the website, but everyone agrees that they have very little fat or protein and lots of vitamin D. Some websites claim that they have very few carbs, others claim that they are 70% carbs. Almost everyone agrees that they are a healthy addition to a balanced diet!

I tend to use too much olive oil and caramelized onions to make a fatty, crispy, scrumptious meal but there are much healthier alternatives. You can cook them in the oven with coconut oil, you can steam them, boil them, grill them probably even air fry them. Whatever you chose to do, make sure to cook them well as they can be a bit chewy and hard on the stomach if you undercook hens, although this is true for mushrooms in general. You can find various recipes here.

If you didn’t manage to find any, or didn’t want to risk picking the wrong mushroom, you can still enjoy eating wild hen-of-the-woods. Check out your local farmers markets from August until November and I guarantee that you’ll find some hens – generally for $1 per pound!

Do you enjoy picking mushrooms? Have you tried hen-of-the-woods? Share your stories, tips, recipes and favorite mushroom picking spots in the comments below!

Mushroom Picking in New York City

So many people are curious about picking and cooking mushrooms but fear holds them back. It is never risk-free to eat wild mushrooms, but there are certain kinds that are extremely easy to identify. There are also books, Facebook groups and other recourses that can help you. Never eat anything that you’re not sure about or something that has a poisonous look-a-like.

Fall in New York is amazing for so many reasons. It is finally cold enough to enjoy the city, the fall foliage is breathtaking, you can finally wear those scarves and jackets that have been waiting in the back your closet and *drumroll* you can go mushroom hunting!

Living in China for two years and moving to New York didn’t beat the Czech girl out of me. I grew up picking mushrooms with my parents and I never expected NYC to be mushroom heaven!

In Prague, mushroom hunting is a popular sport and the experts don’t joke around. If you arrive in the forest at 7AM, you’re already late. All you’ll find is stumps of cut off mushrooms that were picked at 4 or 5AM. It’s extremely competitive and almost every Czech does it.

I was so excited to visit Bear Mountain even though it cost a lot on car tolls and the drive was long at almost 2 hours from Brooklyn. I decided to look for mushrooms while we hiked, and the very first tree that I looked at was covered in hen-of-the-woords mushrooms!

This led me to discovering the New York Mycological Society, an amazing group of people who love mushrooms even more than I do! They offer lots of foraging events all over the city and sometimes upstate New York or New Jersey.

So far I joined one event that took place at the Woodlawn Cemetery and Conservancy in the Bronx. For just $5 each (for non-members) we got to join around 20 other people who collected mushrooms for four hours and then came together to identify them. It was really fun despite the horrible weather and I learned so much about local mushrooms!

If you’re coming from Europe like me, please do your research before you go mushroom picking! Certain boletes that are edible in Europe are actually poisonous here in the USA. There are also plenty of edible species here that don’t grow in Europe – that’s why it’s a great idea to start off by going with the Mycological Society, they will teach you the dos and don’ts!

Another thing to be aware of in New York City, is that state parks have strict laws about foraging. Technically, picking mushrooms can get you a fine of up to $250. It is confusing because when you look up the laws, they make it sound like foraging plants and flowers is illegal while mushrooms are an exception, but I keep hearing about people getting fined and pleading ignorance doesn’t always work.

So many people are curious about picking and cooking mushrooms but fear holds them back. It is never risk-free to eat wild mushrooms, but there are certain kinds that are extremely easy to identify. There are also books, Facebook groups and other recourses that can help you. Never eat anything that you’re not sure about or something that has a poisonous look-a-like. I’ve been picking mushrooms my whole life and I still leave anything that is questionable or looks off, even if I’m 99% sure.

Are you an avid mushroom picker and have some tips, stories or want to generously share your favorite spots? Please share in the comments below!