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Pickin' wild mushrooms – another way to enjoy the outdoors

Posted on August 23, 2013

Mark NaleA recent call from my neighbor Tom Hosband got me outside collecting two new kinds editable mushrooms.

Hosband, led the morning hunt for mushrooms –"velvet tops" and "goldens," as he called them. We walked slowly through an area of deciduous forest with an undergrowth of huckleberries and mountain laurel. Hosband knows what he is doing and was soon able to show me examples of both mushrooms. I snapped a few photos and put the mushrooms in my canvas shoulder bag.

Hosband demonstrated how a broken cap or cut gills of both types oozed a white, sticky substance looking much like milk. That would place them into a group of fungi known commonly as the "milk mushrooms."

In addition to the edible fungi, we found quite a few of what Hosband referred to as "wanna-be's."

"You really want it to be an edible mushroom, but it isn't," he explained with a smile.   

While I had to look closely, Hosband could tell the difference from 10 feet away. Hosband's family has been harvesting wild velvet tops for three generations. I was learning - and after an hour-and-a-half, Hosband pronounced me safe enough to collect on my own and shared a few cooking tips.

Upon arriving back at the house, using field guides and the Internet I commenced another "mushroom hunt." What were these mushrooms?

I found a promising photograph in State College author Bill Russell's "Field Guide to Wild Mushrooms of Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic." Russell called it the wrinkled milky (Lactarius corrugis).  The time of year and written description fit the velvet top in my hand.  It was the tiny wrinkles that gave the mushroom's cap its velvety feel.

I googled the scientific name for the wrinkled milky given in Russell's book and was soon provided with a positive identification. It is also called the corrugated-cap milky. That led me to the scientific name for Hosband's "golden" (Lactarius volemus) – also called the orange-brown milky. I found a wealth of information about both mushrooms.

The orange-brown milky is one of the most widely distributed mushroom species – growing within warm and temperate regions of North America, Europe and Asia. It is collected and eaten in countries all across the northern hemisphere. Its species name comes from the large amount of milk (or more correctly - latex) that the mushroom exudes when broken. The latex will stain hands brown, and the mushroom gives off a fishy odor shortly after picking, but fortunately this does not affect its flavor after cooking.

My family enjoyed my mixed-batch of milk mushrooms, which lasted for several meals.

I will be out fungi hunting a few days after the next significant rain – back in the forest looking for these tasty milk mushrooms. I am always looking for any excuse to take another walk in the woods.

PLEASE NOTE - Never, never, never pick and eat a wild mushroom just because you read it on the Internet. Some species are deadly.