Mushrooms of the mid Atlantic (mostly) by season
There are thousands of mushrooms all over the world. Some are highly sought after for culinary, medicinal, recreational, or even industrial reasons. The mushrooms that are featured below are mushrooms based in the mid Atlantic (because that's where I'm located!), and I primarily forage for culinary reasons. All of the pictures are either taken by myself or by my protege and have been personally consumed with no adverse reactions. However, every person is different so when consuming mushrooms for the first time, cook thoroughly, eat a small amount, and wait 24 hours. This list is a recount of my own experiences and is no way to be used as a soul guide to mushroom foraging. Always identify 100% before consuming any wild edible. I will gladly direct you to identifying resources, but I can not and will not give you a positive Identification through photo only. Happy hunting, be safe and discover your backyard!
-Chef Jonathan Kehau Till
Blonde Morels are highly prized both among foragers and chefs alike. The are found in hard wood forest and play a dual roll. They have both a symbiotic relationship to trees such as ash, elm, aspens, sycamores, poplars, as well as apple, cherry, and pear trees. They also decompose dead wood and leaf litter. Their flavor is very umami and the texture is slightly chewy. They need the ground to be between 40-50 degrees to fruit and are one of the first ones to come out in the spring. In my experience blonde morels tend to cluster more than any other variety of morels so if you find one, your'll probably find more! They also seem to grow the biggest out of the other morels in. To prepare cut in half (this will help verify species if your not sure, morels are completely hollow. This also exposes any critters that might have found their way in the stalk.) place in a bowl of room temp water and gently massage, lift out of water and place on a paper towel or clean cloth to let absorb extra water. Don't dump mushrooms and water into a colander or strainer, you'll just dump the dirt back on them. Once morels have dried for 20-30 min either use immediately, dry, or place in container with a dry towel placed over them and refrigerate for up to a week. Morels contain a toxin than can make you sick if you eat them raw. It's broken down once cooked so make sure to cook well before consuming.
Like The Blonde Morel this mushroom comes up in the early spring time. Mid April in the mid Atlantic seems to be a good time to start looking. For what I have experienced they grow a little smaller than their cousins the Blonde Morel and I don't see themin as big of clusters as I find the yellow ones. As with all variety of morels look for true "pits" in the honeycomb structure of the mushroom, never folds. The whole mushroom should be hollow when sliced in half length wise. Look in old growth Tulip Poplar groves on ridge lines next to water in well draining soil.
The Half-free Morel isn't one that you're likely to see on a menu somewhere. Foragers often pass this one over in favor of the Blonde, Black and Grey Morel. This is however a true Morel and I enjoy them just as much as their cousin. However proceed with some caution as this mushroom has been said to give some people gastro problems. The Half-free Morel has a very distinctive look with their extra long stalk and small cap,they look almost like a malformed Black morel. Follow previous recommended cleaning and cooking procedures for these guys.
The Grey Morel is, to me anyways, like a combination of characteristics from the Yellow and Black Morel. They grow in what I would call "running" clusters. I have best luck finding them on steep hill sides full of fallen hardwood. They are roughly the same size as Black Morels, maybe growing slightly larger.
Dryad's Saddle, also called Pheasant Back, has been called a "consolation prize" to an unsuccessful day of Morel hunting. This mushroom is a shelf polypore that grows on dead hardwood and can be found around the same time that the Morels fruit in the spring. One unmistakable identifier to this mushroom is when it's fresh and cut open it has the distinct smell of cucumber with a hint of watermelon. For that reason I find that this mushroom is best hot pickled instead of cooked in a more traditional way. Great with salads, sandwiches or in a relish when pickled. Like all shelf mushrooms the older the species is the more woody it gets so look for young fresh ones.
Jewel Studded Puffball
The Jewel Studded puffball is one of a few edible puffballs. It gets its name from the small "Jewels" that adorn the mushroom. You can find this mushroom growing on dead woods and I find them from spring into fall. When harvesting any puffball you want to make sure the inside is stark white and when lightly squeezed bounces back into shape. If there is yellowing of the flesh in anyway pass over it. I love too cook these guys in a cast iron on high heat with oil so they get a nice sear. A little butter and lemon and you have something reminiscent of bay scallops in texture and flavor.
Chicken of the woods
Chicken of the woods is a pretty versatile mushroom, both in the season it grows, what it grows on and the way it can be used. It's a saprophytic shelf mushroom, meaning it feeds off of decomposing wood and forms in layers or "shelves". This mushroom is a poly-pore, having thousands of tiny holes on the underside. It usually grows on trees, but sometimes can appear to be growing directly out of the ground like in the picture shown. This mushroom is best eaten when young and the mushrooms edges are soft and rounded. Once they hit full maturity, the mushrooms edges flatten out and it takes on a styrofoam like texture. Older specimens are good for stocks and being ground into powders. As I mentioned they grow off a variety of wood. I've found them on hardwoods and conifers. I have read and heard that Chicken of the woods that grows off of conifers might cause gastro problems and has a unpleasant taste. In my personal experience I haven't found this true, but it could effect you different. The only factor I've found to play a big part of the edibility of this mushroom is age. I've found these mushrooms while looking for Morels in the spring and and Maitakes in the fall and everything in between. I've also noticed that they grow even when conditions are too dry for other mushrooms to grow.
Beefsteak Mushroom is one of the most bizarre edible mushrooms for sure. Not only does it resemble a kidney, but if you slice this mushroom open you'll see it has a grain....just like in steak. That's where the similarities with beef end though. It has a slightly sour flavor, not quite like a lemon, but it's noticeable. I've noticed this mushroom comes out right around the time of the raspberries, but honestly it's not one of the primary ones I'm out looking for so it may come or go earlier than I've said. I just know I see them when I pick berries. On the occasions I do decide to collect them, I find them on dead rotting stumps usually. I find them best to slice thin and marinate before grilling or sauteing.
This is a variety of Chanterelle that I've only ever found in a small patch in Virginia. They apparently only grow in the Appalachian region of the world, although I maybe wrong about this. I'm only going off what little there is published on this variety and my own experience. But I can tell you this isn't a Cinnabar Chanterelle (more on them later). They have no flavor difference to Common Chanterelles but are incredibly beautiful. If you find a patch of these guard it closely, they're a rare find.
Cinnabar Chanterelles are one of the craziest colored mushrooms out there. They grow a bright pinkish red and are smaller than their cousin the common Chanterelle. They share all the traits as a Chanterells, grow terrestrial, wrinkles instead of true gills, and I don't really find any look a likes to this one (doesn't mean they aren't out there!!) You don't see a lot of these commercially and I feel like there are a few reasons for that. They aren't really easy to cultivate...at all, they're pretty small, and a run like this is a pretty big one. They typically come up around late June and will grown through the summer until the temperature starts to drop below 60 at night consistently or the rain stops mid summer like last year. I find them growing along stream beds and on mossy hill sides like this one in the picture and they tend to grow in little clusters. I love them in pastas, on pizzas, or pickled with cured meats. If you see these on a menu, order them! Chances are either the chef picked them himself or someone he's close to did and they definitely have a limited supply. The only downside to these guys are they lose that bright color when cooked or heat is applied. So if you find a way to preserve it, let me know!!
The Common Chanterelle, Golden Chanterelle, or more often than not just the Chanterelle is one of the first signs for me summer has arrived! This mushroom is one of my favorite mushrooms to cook with in both my professional kitchen and my home kitchen. It's easy to find a pound or two of these when the conditions are right. They like to grow in mixed wood forest and often the plant "Indian pipe" can be a sign that Chanterelles might be near by. This mushroom has a pretty clear identifier and that is it has no true gills, rather waves or wrinkles running down the stem. This mushroom has a meaty and slightly fruity aroma and flavor to them. These mushrooms can, pickle, dry, and even freeze well (although you should blanche them first if you freeze them). Look for these mushrooms starting in mid June and run for about 90 days give or take a week or two in either direction.
The Black Trumpet is a mid to late summer mushroom. It's easy to identify seeing as they don't really have any look-alikes. They are smooth with no visible gills and true to their name they grow in a trumpet formation. The stalk is hollow all the way to the ground so these mushrooms need to be cleaned very well since they collect whatever falls into them. Look for vivid black mushrooms without any sign of wilting or rot on mossy hillside stream banks among Beech tree forest with a lot of moss. This mushroom works well dried and goes great with wild game meats, braises and stews. The flavor is very earthy and when has the unmistakable sent of "wet dog". When in peak season this mushroom can be found in bulk so bring several collecting bags. Again make sure you clean this mushroom well because their shape collect dirt and debris and can easily ruin a meal if not thoroughly cleaned. A hint for finding these mushrooms, get on your hands and knees and look horizontally across the ground instead of straight down. Trumpets, like a lot of mushrooms, are extremely good at camouflaging into the forest floor.