Out & About: Learn About Wild Mushrooms on Walk With Quechee Expert

  • Faith Hunt holds a lobster mushroom, an edible variety that a slug also seems to find appetizing. (Valley News — Eleanor Kohlsaat)

  • Don't eat this Amanita mushroom -- it's not a "Destroying Angel" but it belongs to the same family. (Valley News — Eleanor Kohlsaat)

  • This is an edible jelly baby mushroom. It has an unappetizingly slimy texture, but Faith Hunt says they make good candied mushrooms. (Valley News — Eleanor Kohlsaat)

  • A gem-studded puffball during its edible phase. (Valley News — Eleanor Kohlsaat)

Valley News Correspondent
Sunday, September 23, 2018

It’s a muggy, overcast morning following a heavy rainstorm: not a great day for a walk in the woods, but nearly perfect from a mushroom’s point of view. It’s been a good summer for forest fungi, according to mushroom forager Faith Hunt, of Quechee. Mushrooms don’t care about sunshine one way or another (they don’t photosynthesize), but they do like a good rain. 

“A couple of days after it rains, go out and there’ll be a whole bunch of new mushrooms,” Hunt said.

On this particular morning, Hunt, who leads mushroom walks around the Upper Valley, was identifying specimens in Hartford’s Hurricane Forest and talking about edible varieties. 

“Hen of the Woods grows at the base of old oak trees, especially ones damaged by lightning,” she said. “They’re delicious, and not at all buggy. I call them a beginner mushroom.”

She spied a group of lobster mushrooms and admired their coral hue. 

“It doesn’t taste like lobster, but it is the color of lobster,” she said. “They like to grow on paths, so they’re often stepped on.”

Hunt picked a gem-studded puffball and broke it open to display its meaty-looking interior. Puffballs are edible only if they’re solid white inside, she said. In later life stages, they turn brown, dry out and emit a puff of smoke, which is how they propagate.

Wild mushroom season has grown longer since Hunt began studying them in the ‘80s, after taking a class at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. 

“The season used to be August and September,” she said. “Now it begins in July and goes all the way through October. That’s been my experience in this area.”

There are thousands of mushroom species in the Northeast, but in her beginner classes, Hunt focuses on teaching which ones are good to eat and which will kill you (along with those that will make you wish you were dead). She doesn’t spend too much time on the multitude of varieties in the middle, those that won’t hurt you but aren’t very tasty, either. 

Hunt said she has never gotten sick from eating any of her finds. “I’m extremely careful,” she said. “And I won’t serve a mushroom to anyone that I have not personally eaten.”

After some of her programs, Hunt conducts tastings, cooking up different mushrooms with butter and salt so participants can discover their favorites.  

“Every wild mushroom tastes different from every other,” she said. “Different ones are good for different dishes. Some are delicious in stir fries. Some are only good for soup.”

A sampling session will follow a mushroom walk Hunt is leading next Sunday from 1-4 p.m. at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich. The cost is $70, and class size is limited. Call 802-649-2200 or visit montshire.org to register.