All About Mushrooms – Foraging with Alan Muskat, The Mushroom Man

Mushrooming-9

It’s the largest living organism in the world and lurks in the shadows.  It provides the network that permits communication across all things deep in the forest. It can bring fear to the uninitiated and a smile to the face of those who know its secrets.  It goes by many Latin names to distinguish its membership in the gang.  Some have taken names that describe their personal character like “Puffball” or “Stinkhorn.”  There’s a fungus among us and the Bunkycooks recently took to the road to uncover this wild mystery.

The mushroom is often misunderstood, especially when it is growing wild in the forest.  This year has been especially rainy and ideal for growing certain varieties of mushrooms.  If you are not familiar with wild mushrooms, you may profile them against white button mushrooms that are purchased in styrofoam boxes at your local supermarket.  Most of us assume that wild mushrooms will make us sick, kill us, or take us on a psychedelic journey from whence there’s no return.

Alan

Alan gives one mushroom a taste

There are over 10,000 different types of mushrooms and while most (96%) are not typically eaten, 50% are not edible (too tough, woody, or indigestible), 20% are “edible but regrettable” and can make you sick, and finally, 25% are “edible but forgettable,” meaning they just don’t taste good but are not poisonous.  One percent can kill you, which means that only 4% of the mushroom varieties are sought after for food.

With Greer and Alan

With Greer and Alan

We traveled to Asheville, North Carolina a few weeks ago to meet with William Dissen, Executive Chef and Owner of The Market Place Restaurant, and The Mushroom Man, Alan Muskat (a fun guy with fungi ;-)) and Alan’s friend, Greer, to learn more about mushrooms.  Alan is a local mushroom expert in the Western North Carolina mountains and hosts many classes and foraging trips to teach his students about mushrooms and other edible plants.  With Chanterelle season in full swing, we joined William, Greer, and Alan in the forest to meet their friends in low places.

Note – All videos are shot in High Definition (HD).  Be sure to set your You Tube player to 720p to watch in HD.

The South has been drenched with daily rains this summer, often heavy, that have taken a toll on many crops.  However, to the mushroom, it has been a Chamber of Commerce summer.  This spring was spectacular for morels in North Georgia while summer brings Chanterelles to the South and fall is prime mushroom season with the greatest variety of edible treasures.

Greer and Chef William Dissen

Greer and Chef William Dissen

mmm

Satan’s Bolete, Red-Cracking Bolete, False Jelly Coral, Painted Bolette

During our mushroom expedition, Chef William Dissen provided an education on mushroom basics while Alan Muskat provided colorful commentary and expert knowledge.

mmmm

Black-Foot Polypore, Yello Patches, Leatherback Milk Cap, underside of the lactating Leatherback Milk Cap

While on our hunt, we found many different types of mushrooms; most edible and the majority forgettable in that they may not make you sick, but they just didn’t taste good.  We discovered mushrooms that looked like opaque jelly, others that were a beautiful blue, some that lactated when cut, and others that turned blue when bruised.  Some were spongy and others firm.  It was like observing fish on a coral reef; each with colors and properties unique to themselves.  Some were beautiful, some colorful, some tasty, and others unpleasant.  And, like a coral reef, we were cautious of the potential dangers.

We worked our way through the forest floor until we struck the mother load of Chanterelles on a runoff slope in Pisgah National Forest.  Chanterelles are prized for their almond-like aroma and meaty texture.  They cost upwards of $30.00 per pound (if they are even available) at the market.  Most are orange in color and a conical flower in shape, with no gills.  Those that have gills are called faux Chanterelles and are best left alone.  Some are red in color and are prized for their flavor and texture.

The Motherload season for Chanterelles

The Motherload season for Chanterelles

Red Chanterelles

Red Chanterelles

We were all happy to take some home

We were all happy to take some Chanterelles home with us

As we began to harvest the mushrooms, Alan told us how each mushroom is a blossom of the fungus that extends under the soil.  That fungus can stretch great distances (in Oregon, a fungus three miles wide has been found) through the Mycelium.  These tiny fibers, 1/7th the size of a hair, can wrap and extend for miles and provide information to all living plant life in the forest.

Mycieu,

Mycelium attached to the Wolf Fart mushroom

A morning of mushroom foraging yielded a few pounds of Chanterelles and a ton of mushroom knowledge.  If you are interested in learning more about mushrooms, be sure to refer to Alan Muskat’s website and if you’re in Asheville, take part in one of his mushroom classes or foraging adventures.  If you’re interested in eating mushrooms, then take a trip to Asheville and join Chef Dissen at his restaurant, The Market Place.

Alan and Greer

Alan and Greer

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14 Responses to “All About Mushrooms – Foraging with Alan Muskat, The Mushroom Man”

  1. 1

    William Dissen — August 9, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

    Great post Gwen! That was a fun morning foraging and learning more about the different varieties of fungus that thrive here in Western North Carolina while hanging out with Alan Muskat a.k.a. The Mushroom Man.

    • Gwen replied: — August 9th, 2013 @ 4:07 pm

      Hi William,

      Thank you for making the connection and joining us. We had a great day and informative time with Alan.

      Gwen

  2. 2

    JIMMY HANRAHAN — August 9, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

    It wouldn’t be the weekend without an early Saturday morning trip to Alan’s booth at the ASHEVILLE CITY MARKET!

    • Gwen replied: — August 9th, 2013 @ 4:08 pm

      Hi Jimmy,

      I am sure that Alan brings some interesting finds with him, particularly with this wet summer. Thank you for your comment.

      Gwen

  3. 3

    Steve Shipley — August 9, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

    Excellent post. I will be spending more time reviewing you blog!

  4. 4

    Gwen — August 9, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

    Hi Steve,

    Thank you so much for stopping by!

    Gwen

  5. 5

    Christine — August 9, 2013 @ 8:45 pm

    What an exciting adventure and a load of chanterelles to take home!

    • Gwen replied: — August 12th, 2013 @ 8:53 am

      Hi Christine,

      Yes, it was and Alan is so much fun to forage with.

      I hope you are doing well!

      Gwen

  6. 6

    Jamie — August 10, 2013 @ 8:14 am

    Oh my does this look fascinating! Being in Europe where mushroom foraging is much more common, I do understand the passion… and have heard people like my husband talk about the different types. We are lucky to find more varieties here at our markets and each one has such a different flavor. This must have been a fun and exciting experience for you guys…thanks for sharing!

    • Gwen replied: — August 12th, 2013 @ 8:56 am

      Hi Jamie,

      I was surprised at how many types of mushrooms we saw that morning. It is fascinating to scour the forest floor looking for them and you certainly need to have an expert with you before picking and trying any types other than the Chanterelles (which were quite obvious).

      I hope we can do another trip with Alan during another season to compare our finds.

      Gwen

  7. 7

    Lizzy (Good Things) — August 10, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

    What a wonderful post! I have memories of foraging for mushrooms with my parents many, many years ago… but haven’t been since. We have deadly mushrooms here in Australia, so one has to be very careful. I liked seeing the mushroom identification vans in Budapest at the open air markets! Love your blog, I shall visit again.

    • Gwen replied: — August 12th, 2013 @ 8:58 am

      Hi Lizzy,

      Thank you for your comment and I hope you do visit again.

      It is a bit scary to pick a wild mushroom and think about eating it, so professional help is always advised. There are so many types of mushrooms that look similar to others, so it’s best to be sure. Alan had a book with him and this really is something that’s best left to experts.

      Gwen

  8. 8

    Bruce — September 3, 2013 @ 8:26 am

    My name is Samuel Offei Bruce from Ghana and am a student of Ejura Agriculture college. I love to be ya friend and also be your student I hope to here from you. this is my number +233545565379

  9. 9

    Daniel — January 9, 2014 @ 11:33 am

    Thanks great post! I wouldnt normally read an article on mushrooms but last week myself and my wife were surprised to see a mushroom in our garden that looked as if it belonged in a science fiction movie. It was around 6 inches high with a crown diameter of around 7-8 inches. Also it must have grown to this size in a matter of weeks as we had not noticed it when it was smaller. Is this normal?? It appears from your article that most mushrooms are not poisonous…Anyway we told the children not to touch it and within a few days my wife saw a squirrel take the top off and run off with it! All we are left with is the stalk.

    Happy mushroom hunting!

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