Edmonton

Mushroom mania: it's fungi season in Alberta

From the red and rotund to white and ethereal, after a damp Alberta summer, mushrooms are flourishing, and Edmonton fungi foragers are reaping the harvest.

'It's great to be empowered on how to pick your own food'

After a wet summer, mushroom pickers across Alberta are enjoying a bumper crop. (Alberta Interscience Association)

From the red and rotund to white and ethereal, after a damp Alberta summer mushrooms are flourishing and foragers are reaping the harvest.

In Edmonton's urban jungle, there is a bounty of healthy and delicious fungi ripe for the picking.

"For some reason, people feel safer getting their food from big box stores from god knows where," said Eric Whitehead, owner of Untamed Feast, a wild-food company based in St. Albert.

"But nature effortlessly provides the best-tasting and most nutritious foods, and they're just out there."

 

Among the many mushrooms in season now, like the spongy summer boletes and the striking bear's tooth, the red top boletus is enjoying a bumper crop across the province.

These meaty little mushrooms are among the most common fungi to be found in Edmonton this time of year, and thrive best in 30- to 60-year-old pine clear cuts.

"Red tops grow all over, in the aspen trees," Whitehead said during an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"Mushrooms are opportunistic. They like to make associations and they do that best in areas that are kind of fresh and prime.

"People commonly think the old growth is where all the mushrooms are going to be. But it's actually the new growth where there is more opportunity for colonization."

Though coveted by fungi foragers, red tops are an acquired taste, Whitehead said, better enjoyed after dehydration or a long simmer in the frying pan.

"I call them slimy and insipid little creatures," he said. "I don't like them fresh.

"But once it's dry, it has this incredible caramelly, mushroomy sweet-like fragrance. And at that point it becomes one of my favourite mushrooms."

 

Red tops are not only plentiful, but the squat toadstools are also easily identified and distinguished from other mushrooms sprouting on the forest floor, making them a good starting point for inexperienced mushroom pickers.

However, Whitehead said novice foragers should always exercise caution before consuming wild mushrooms. Poisonous and edible mushrooms can be similar in appearance, and wild mushrooms of uncertain identity should never be eaten.

"There is no need to pick it up and spend two hours in a book trying to get a quasi-identification you're not even sure of. Pick what you know.

"If you have to look it up in a book, you're not ready to eat it."

"You don't go to the grocery store and look up a cucumber to make sure it's a cucumber, you're 100 per cent sure its a cucumber through familiarization."

For those interested in learning more about Alberta's edible mushrooms, Whitehead said the Alberta Mycological Society is the best resource. The non-profit group maintains a detailed mushroom database on its website and hosts regular outings where people can get hands-on experience in finding and identifying edible mushrooms.

Whitehead said an increasing number of Edmontonians are becoming fascinated by fungi and getting their hands dirty in search for these tasty morsels.

"When we tried selling wild mushrooms 10, 15 years ago it was a pretty new thing. And now everybody and their dog goes out and picks, and it's great. It's great to be empowered on how to pick your own food.

"It doesn't have to make you into some sort of hippie tree-hugger, but you get an overwhelming appreciation for what the world gives us."

The bear's tooth mushroom is just one of many edible mushrooms in Alberta. (Northern Bushcraft)
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

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