Along with each illustration is a brief description of the mushroom, including where and when it can be found. Remember that where and when a mushroom grows can be very important in identification. If there are reasons for caution, they are noted. Also included are some cooking hints for each type of mushroom.
Description: Depending on their size, puffballs have been mistaken at a distance for everything from golf balls to sheep.
These round or pear-shaped mushrooms are almost always whitish, tan or gray and may or may not have a stalk-like base. The interior of a puffball is solid white at first, gradually turning yellow, then brown as the mushroom ages. Finally, the interior changes to a mass of dark, powdery spores, Size: 1 to 12 inches in diameter, sometimes larger.
When and Where: Late summer and fall; in lawns, open woods, pastures, barren areas. On soil or decaying wood.
Cautions: Each puffball should be sliced from top to bottom and the interior examined. It should be completely white and featureless inside, like a slice of white bread. There should be no trace of yellow or brown (which will spoil the flavor) and especially no sign of a developing mushroom with a stalk, gills and cap (see Poisonous Mushrooms). Amanitas, when young, can resemble small puffballs, but cutting them open will quickly resolve the question.
Cooking Hints: Remove outer skin if it is tough, then slice, dip in batter and fry.
Description: The shaggy mane or lawyer''s wig is so large and distinctive that with a little practice you can identify it from a moving car.
The cap of a fresh specimen is a long, white cylinder with shaggy, upturned, brownish scales. The gills are whitish, and the entire mushroom is fragile and crumbles easily. Most important, as the shaggy mane matures, the cap and gills gradually dissolve into a black, inky fluid, leaving only the standing stalk. Size: 4 to 6 inches tall, sometimes larger.
When and Where: Spring, summer and fall, growing in grass, soil or wood chips. Often seen scattered in lawns and pastures.
Cautions: Shaggy manes are best when picked before the caps begin to turn black. However, until you become familiar with these mushrooms, check for the developing ink to be sure of your identification. (Note: The shaggy mane is the largest of a group of edible mushrooms called inky caps. The field guides listed at the end of this article can help you identify other members of this group.)
Cooking Hints: Saute butter and season with nutmeg or garlic. Good in scrambled eggs or chicken dishes. Shaggy manes are delicate and should be picked young and eaten the same day.
Description: These fungi appear as clumps of branching stems which point upward. They do look much like coral. Most are tan, whitish or yellowish; a few are pinkish or purple.
Also called club fungi, antler mushrooms or doghair mushrooms. Size: clusters may be up to 8 inches high.
When and Where: Summer and fall; in wooded areas, growing on the ground or on decaying logs.
Cautions: A few coral fungi have a laxative effect, and some people seem to be particularly sensitive. Avoid coral fungi that taste bitter, bruise brown when handled or have gelatinous bases. These are most likely to case trouble. No serious poisonings from coral fungi have been reported.
Cooking Hints: Tips and upper branches are most tender. Saute and add to vegetables or white sauce.
Description: Sponge, pine cone and honeycomb mushroom--the nicknames of the morel--are all appropriate. Morels are easy to recognize and delicious to eat, making them the most popular wild mushroom in Missouri.
The surface of a morel is covered with definite pits and ridges, and the bottom edge of the cap is attached directly to the stem. Size: 2 to 12 inches tall.
There are three common species of morels:
1. The common morel (Morchella esculenta): When young, this species has white ridges and dark brown pits and is known as the "white morel." As it ages, both the ridges and the pits turn yellowish brown, and it becomes a "yellow morel." If conditions are right the "yellow morel" can grow into a "giant morel," which may be up to a foot tall.
2. The black morel or smoky morel (Morchella elata): The ridges are gray or tan when young, but darken with age until nearly black. The pits are brown and elongated. These morels are best when picked young; discard any that are shrunken or have completely black heads.
3. The half-free morel (Morchella semilibera): This is the exception to the rule that morels have the bottom of the cap attached directly to the stem. The cap of the half-free morel is attached at about the middle (see illustration). These morels have small caps and long bulbous stems.
When and Where: From spring to early summer. Morels are found on the ground in a variety of habitats, including moist woodlands and in river bottoms.
Cautions: Morels have been known to cause mild poisoning symptoms when consumed with alcohol. Morels are quite distinctive, but there is a small chance they could be confused with false morels. See the poisonous mushroom page for ways to distinguish true morels from false morels.
Half-free morels may be confused with a mushroom called the wrinkled thimble cap (Verpa bohemica). Fortunately, this mushroom is also edible in moderation. The cap of the wrinkled thimble cap is free from the stem except at the top (see illustration).
Cooking Hints: Cut morels in half to check for insects. Wash carefully. Morels can be breaded and fried, stewed, baked, creamed or stuffed with dressing. Their delicate flavor is brought out best by sauteing them in butter for about five minutes on each side.
Description: With its clumps of hanging white "fur," this tooth fungus looks much like a polar bear''s paw. It is pure white when fresh and young, but yellows with age.
The bearded tooth may grow quite large, as much as a foot across. Its size and whiteness make it easy to spot against the dark logs on which it grows.
Other names include bear''s head, satyr''s beard and hedgehog mushroom. Size: 4 to 12 inches across.
When and Where: Summer and fall; always on trees, logs or stumps.
Cautions: The bearded tooth is distinctive and has no poisonous look-alikes. There are several closely related species which are more open and branched, but all are good edibles.
Only young, white specimens should be eaten; older, yellowed ones are sour.
Cooking Hints: Slice, parboil until tender (taste a piece to test), drain and serve with cheese sauce.
Description: Those hardy souls who take long winter walks are sometimes treated to the sight of a snow-capped mass of fresh oyster mushrooms growing on a tree or log.
This large white, tan or ivory-colored mushroom is named for its oyster shell-like shape. It has white gills running down a very short, off-center stem. Spores are white to lilac, and the flesh is very soft. Oyster mushrooms usually are found in large clusters of overlapping caps and always on wood. Size: 2 to 8 inches wide.
When and Where: Spring, summer, fall and during warm spells in winter. On trees and fallen logs.
Cautions: This mushroom has a number of look-alikes, (including Crepidotus and Lentinus spp.), but none are dangerous. they may, however, be woody or unpleasant-tasting. Check by tasting a small piece and by making a spore print. Watch out for the small black beetles which sometimes infest this mushroom.
Cooking Hints: Soak in salted water to remove bugs. Dip in beaten egg, roll in cracker crumbs and fry
Description: Chanterelles are a great favorite of European mushroom hunters and are becoming more popular in the United States.
These mushrooms are funnel-or trumpet-shaped and have wavy cap edges. Most are bright orange or yellow, although one, the black trumpet, is brownish-black. Fresh chanterelles have a pleasant, fruity fragrance.
To make sure you have a chanterelle, check the underside of the cap. Some species of chanterelle are nearly smooth underneath, while others have a network of wrinkles or gill-like ridges running down the stem. The ridges have many forks and crossveins and are always blunt-edged. (True gills are sharp-edged and knife-like). Size: 1/2 to 6 inches wide, 1 to 6 inches tall.
When and Where: Summer and fall; on the ground in hardwood forests. Usually found in scattered groups.
Cautions: When you can recognize those blunt-edged, crisscrossing ridges, you won''t confuse chanterelles with anything else. However, take extra care at first that you do not have the poisonous jack-o''-lantern (see Poisonous Mushrooms). Jack-o''-lanterns have knife-like gills and grow in the tight clusters on wood or buried wood, rather than on the ground.
Cooking Hints: Chanterelles are tough and need long, slow cooking, but when properly prepared their flavor is excellent. Saute slowly in butter until tender, season with salt, pepper and parsley and serve on crackers.
Description: If you can picture a hamburger bun on a thick stalk, you will have a good idea of what most boletes look like. These sturdy, fleshy mushrooms can be mistaken at first glance for gilled mushrooms, but if you turn over a cap you will find a spongy layer of pores on the underside rather than bladelikegills. The pore layer can easily be pulled away from the cap.
Bolete caps are usually brownish or reddish-brown, while the pores may be whitish, yellow, orange, red, olive or brownish. Size: up to 10 inches tall; caps 1 to 10 inches wide.
There are more than 200 species of boletes in North America. The King Bolete (Boletus edulis) is probably the best edible.
When and Where: Summer and fall; on the ground near or under trees. Frequently found under pines.
Cautions: Boletes are considered a good, safe edible group for beginning mushroom collectors. However, you should observe these cautions:
1. A few boletes are poisonous. To avoid these, don''t eat any boletes that have orange or red pores.
2. Some boletes, while not poisonous, are very distasteful. Check this by tasting a pinch of the raw mushroom cap. If it is bitter or otherwise unpleasant, throw it out.
3. To make them more digestible, boletes should be cooked before eating. If the cap is slimy, peel off the slime layer; it sometimes causes diarrhea.
4. Bugs seem to like boletes as much as people do, so check your specimens carefully. Boletes also tend to decay quickly. Be sure to collect and eat only fresh specimens.
Cooking Hints: Remove tough stems, and peel off the pore layer in all but the youngest specimens.
Saute in butter and add to any cheese dish. Dried boletes also are good in soups.