Fall wild mushrooms add variety
By Leslie Mertz

Canopies of brilliant orange, red and yellow may steal the autumn show in Michigan’s forests, but for mushroom hunters, the true treasures of the season are at ground level. There, snugged up against tree trunks and tucked amid the rich compost of decomposing logs are culinary delights free for the picking.

While most Michiganders are familiar with the delectable, sponge-capped morel mushrooms that poke a few inches above the soil in early spring, few realize that fall offers up a greater variety and a much larger number of tasty fungi.

“If I find 40 morels in the spring, I’m happy with myself, but when I walk through the woods in the fall, every single little area has mushrooms, and some of them stand up in quality to morels any day,” said lifelong mushroom hunter Zach Schroeder, who is the executive director at the at Les Cheneaux Culinary School and executive chef of its restaurant in the U.P. town of Hessel near Drummond Island.

Size-wise, fall mushrooms beat their spring counterparts. As an example, Schroeder notes one of his favorites: the oyster mushroom, shown left, (Pleurotus ostreatus). With an up-to-12-inch-diameter, cream-hued cap, this variety typically grows in clusters.

“I’ll load up the family, hop in my truck and we can spot oyster mushrooms from a couple of hundred yards away,” he says. “We fill huge coolers with oyster mushrooms and use them in the restaurant.” Schroeder characterizes oyster mushrooms as having a milder flavor than some other wild varieties, “but it’s a delicious mushroom that’s easy to find, and our customers really like it.”

The king of the autumn mushrooms, however, is the hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa), according to Phil Tedeschi of the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club. “That’s the one we’re all looking for. It’s a large mushroom that averages 3 to 5 pounds, but they can get as large as 30 to 40 pounds,” he describes. See the current issue for the full story.