COLUMBIA — The forest glowed with yellow and orange autumn leaves on Saturday, but the recent lack of rain meant less-than-ideal conditions for favorite fall mushrooms, such as hen of the woods and chicken of the woods.
Conditions didn’t deter local mushroom hunters from joining the first foray of the newly organized mid-Missouri chapter of the Missouri Mycological Society.
The group gathered in the morning at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park to hear speaker Brad Bomanz talk about mushroom hunting tips and safety. They enjoyed a potluck with dozens of wild mushroom recipes, from risotto and jambalaya to chicken (of the woods) salad.
With appetites whetted, mushroom hunters headed out in search of fungi to identify and maybe take home for supper.
Among the first members were Calvin Herl, who recently moved to Moberly from Tennessee, and his daughter Candy, 15. The Herls said they used to dry wild roots like ginseng, but when they moved to Missouri last spring they became interested in morels and other mushrooms.
Candy Herl said that many of her school friends don’t understand her interest in mushrooms, so she was happy to hear about the new mid-Missouri group.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a month — to meeting actual people who actually do it,” she said.
Michael Rogers brought along jars of dried mushrooms, including fragrant black trumpets, so that new hunters could get a feeling for how the different varieties looked and smelled. He said that store-bought "wild" mushrooms are expensive and not as tasty as the ones you can find yourself.
He said at Hy-Vee, oyster mushrooms sell for $4 or $5 for 4 ounces. "And you can go out and get 20, 30, 50 pounds of them — they’re as common as dirt," he said. "And the wild ones smell better and taste better, in my opinion.”
When the group hit the trail, clouds of dust and bits of dry leaves blew into the air with every breeze and footfall. Stan Hudson, the foray organizer for the new mid-Missouri chapter, identified a group of normally edible puffball fungi. When they dry out, he explained, they’re called “wolf-fart puffballs,” and when brushed against they release a cloud of gray-green dust.
Following advice, such as looking near the bases of old oak trees and on low ground where moisture collects, the group found a few roughly brain-size specimens.
It was an auspicious start for the new organization, but as Candy Herl explained, "Even if you don't find anything, you still get the experience — you get to be outside."
The mushroom gatherers, pointing out pretty leaves as they wandered through the woods, seemed to echo her sentiment.