As the Spring dawns upon us so do the mushrooms! Known as a season of new beginnings and growth it is that time of the year again when flowers, herbs, and mushrooms bloom and sprout. While there are a variety of mushrooms that pop up during the spring season, some of the most common edible mushrooms to look for are morels, oysters, and boletes.
Morels (Morchella spp.) are possibly one of the most revered and celebrated mushrooms of North America. Not only are they delicious they are extremely hard to farm and therefore only found in the wild due to the complex and symbiotic relationship that they have with trees. Morels grow from as early as late April till about the middle of June and are usually found in temperate regions under hardwoods and conifer trees or nestled around garden edges, along wood chips or compost. Their sponge like honeycomb appearance attracts all kinds of mushroom enthusiasts, foraging chefs, and nature lovers. Morels are so popular due to their meaty texture and earthy, toasted flavor. They have a distinct taste and are usually served either sautéed or deep fried and accompanied with chicken, fish, cheese, and a glass of wine. Morels are packed with nourishment as they grow in rich soils that are packed with vitamins and minerals. Generally, morels contain a significant amount of Copper, Vitamin D, Zinc, among other vitamins and minerals.
Unlike morels, oysters (Pleurotus ostreatus) are one of the most common cultivated mushrooms but like morels, they also grow naturally on and near trees in temperate and subtropical forests around the world especially during the spring season. Oyster mushrooms have a mild texture, they have broad fan-shaped caps with gills lining the underside and can be found in clusters of small mushrooms. Like other mushrooms, oyster mushrooms can be sautéed, stir-fried, braised, or grilled and are often found in a variety of cuisines especially in oriental recipes. When foraging for oyster mushrooms look for mushrooms that are bright and have a springy texture and avoid those that are wilted and have dark spots as this may be a clear indication that they have started to go bad. Oyster mushrooms grow in huge numbers if the conditions are favorable, and once you spot a cluster you will likely find several more in that same vicinity.
Last, but not least the Spring King (Boletus rex-veris) is also an edible mushroom found in Western North America from May to June. Spring Kings also known as spring porcini tend to grow near fir or pine trees and in areas that have a moderate amount of moisture such as the Cascade Mountain Range or in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Morphologically, Spring Kings are robust and have thick fleshy caps with a sponge-like surface underneath instead of gills. The cap is typically pink and brown and begins to turn darker as the mushroom matures. The stems are thick and creamy in color. These mushrooms are a chef’s favorite! They have a subtle taste, a meaty texture, great aroma, and excellent nutritional properties.
As with most mushrooms, there are a variety of oyster, morel, and poisonous bolete look alikes these include the Jack o’ Lantern, the Deadly False Morel, and the Satan’s Bolete. Exercising caution when foraging is highly advised regardless of experience!