Mushroom Hunting in the Hudson Valley: Why Mushroom Hunting is the Next Big Thing
Mushroom hunting is a growing trend; learn how to identify and find mushrooms in the Hudson Valley
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There’s something fulfilling about getting in touch with your inner hunter-gatherer. Whether its catching fish for a family dinner or making a quick salad with greens from the garden, this primitive instinct continues to lead modern-day wild-game hunters and edible-plant foragers to the bountiful Hudson Valley. But one food, above all others, sends foodies and foragers alike deep into the forest: wild mushrooms.
“Now with the Internet, people are learning about foraging and are growing interested in trying it themselves,” says “Wildman” Steve Brill, a naturalist who’s been leading foraging expeditions around the New York area since 1982. “There’s just more access to information and to networking; many Meetup groups talk online and egg each other on to try new activities. It attracts a lot of different people.”
I recently attended one of Brill’s plant and wild herb forays through Central Park with a group of nearly 50 people. We found a number of edible species, such as yellow wood sorrel, a clover look-alike with a zesty lemon flavor; the body-detoxifying burdock root, tasty when sliced thin and boiled; and the analgesic black birch tree, whose twigs taste like spearmint when chewed. It was a sight that drew many curious eyes: a large group of men, women, and children gnawing on twigs in the middle of Manhattan. Most surprisingly of all, Brill located a good-sized patch of chamomile, saying it was “the first time ever, in decades of hosting these walks” that he’s found chamomile growing wild in Central Park. Unfortunately, since we’d just gone through a week of hot, sunny weather, there were no ’shrooms to be found.
Generally, it is not recommended that beginners head out on their own to start plucking wild mushrooms without some knowledge of what to look for — and what to look out for. Even if you’re armed with a field guide, many tasty species look quite similar to mushrooms that can be fatally poisonous. There are, however, several local groups that lead guided walks with experts in mycology (the study of fungi). During these tours, one can safely learn how to identify, store, cook, and serve the wild mushrooms found along the way. “We see all kinds of people on tours,” Brill says, “from families with kids, to scientists or science buffs; vegans, freegans, and people who heard about foraging on the Food Network.” (For those wondering, freeganism refers to people who choose to live alternative lifestyles that revolve around minimalist consumption, i.e., dumpster diving for food and goods.)
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» Edible vs. poisonous mushrooms: What to look for (photo gallery)
» Mushroom recipe: Cooking with chanterelle mushrooms
» Foraging essentials: What you need before you go mushroom hunting
» Meet Wildman Steve Brill and the mushroom people (mycologists)
» Return to main story: Hunting for Mushrooms