Cleaned lobster mushroom chunks on a cutting board ready for slicing
Lobster mushrooms can come home from the field sporting a lot of debris, but they clean up nicely with a little knife work. (Michael Foster/WDFW)

Gourmet edible mushrooms popping up for fall

Hit the woods for nature’s bounty this month and beyond

By Michael Foster/WDFW

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the right spot in one of the damper areas of state this month, you might find that mushroom season is well underway with some of a forager’s favorites emerging from the moss.

Below you’ll find a starting point for working with some of the more common, easily identified edible mushrooms you might find so that you can introduce them to your dinner table. Keep in mind that some of the mushrooms detailed here can fetch anywhere from $10-$45 per pound at the grocery store, so you can feel good about providing one of the finer things in life for your family and friends courtesy of mother nature and a hike.

Safety First

Since this is an introduction to mushroom hunting, a few words on safety are needed:

A cloth sack of chanterelles sits on the forest floor with a large chanterelle in the foreground.
When you find a productive area, it’s not uncommon to leave with several pounds of chanterelles. These were part of 3 lbs picked in an afternoon outing. (Michael Foster/WDFW)
  • Confirm your identification: Find a good field guide at your local library or bookstore and learn the ropes of identifying mushrooms to make sure what you have is definitely the edible you think it is. If you have a friend or family member who is knowledgeable on the topic, show them the specimen before eating. Many areas have mycological societies welcoming new members where you can safely learn identification. Before long you’ll be confident in making your own identifications, but when in doubt, skip harvesting. While many toxic mushrooms will cause discomfort or gastric distress, some cases of poisoning are fatal.
  • Study surroundings: It can be easy to get lost when mushrooming because you’re often leaving trails and roads behind, so be aware of your surroundings. Often described as a treasure hunt, mushrooming can be exciting when you find a productive patch and before long you can wander far from known territory, carried by each new mushroom you spot. It’s a good idea to hunt uphill from roads and trails where possible so you can easily travel downhill to your starting point. As with any outing into the woods, leave your hike plans with someone, pack the 10 essentials into the forest and dress for conditions. Additionally, mushroom season overlaps with many hunting seasons, so it’s always a good idea to wear blaze orange/pink or other bright colors for visibility.
  • Start small: If you’re new to harvesting wild mushrooms or just trying a new one, start by trying a small portion. While the edibles listed here are perfectly safe, if it’s new to your system, you could have a mild adverse reaction and you’re better off then if you only ate a small amount. The same goes for if you find you’re allergic or a misidentification was made in your harvest.
A pair of chanterelles on the forest floor with a slug nearby
Chanterelles have distinctive false gills that look like forked folds or wrinkles that run part way down the stem. (Michael Foster/WDFW)

Chanterelles

We’ll start with perhaps the most common edible mushroom you might encounter: the chanterelle. This delicious mushroom is usually yellow in color but can range from nearly tan to a light yellow/orange. It’s usually found in mature conifer forests, with a preference for Douglas fir. It can range in size from no bigger than your finger to a mushroom the size of your hand and it usually has an irregular cap.

Chanterelles are collected in a game bird hunting vest, with several more piled near the stock of a shotgun.
It’s easy to add a little mushroom hunting to many other outings when the time is right. These chanterelles were picked along the way during a grouse hunt. (Michael Foster/WDFW)

If conditions are right, it can be found as early as late summer and as late as early December, but autumn is really the high time.

It is set apart from many other mushrooms because it doesn’t have the gills found on the underside of the cap of some mushrooms.

Rather, it has false gills that look like forked folds or wrinkles that run part way down the stem.

A pan of chanterelles cook on their way to being pickled.
There are many ways to prepare chanterelles. Here a pan of the mushrooms cook on their way to being pickled. (Michael Foster/WDFW)

When you’ve brought some home, get as much debris off the mushrooms as you can (some prefer to bring a stiff brush into the woods to do this as they collect) and get a skillet ready. Like most mushrooms, you’ll want to remove the excess moisture from them to make them palatable before really cooking and seasoning. Put your sliced mushrooms in a hot skillet with a little salt and no oil and the moisture will “weep” out. Some people like to keep that stock that collects in the pan for flavoring soups, but once it mostly evaporates or is removed is when to hit the mushrooms with some butter, salt, pepper, garlic, and maybe some onion. The simple approach often works well with chanterelles and once cooked they can be added atop salmon, beef, or nearly any meat for a delicious meal. Other culinary options abound, from deep frying to pickling to adding them to a variety of dishes.

Several hedgehog mushrooms are positioned on the forest floor to display the fine teeth under an irregular, cream-to-tan-colored that help identify the mushroom.
Look for fine teeth under an irregular, cream-to-tan-colored cap to help identify hedgehog mushrooms. (Michael Foster/WDFW)

Hedgehogs

The hedgehog or sweet tooth has a cream-colored to tan or buff irregular cap with distinct “teeth” on the underside where many mushrooms have gills, hence the name. It’s also found on the floor of conifer forests in the fall, sometimes very close to patches of chanterelles.

This mushroom has firm, white flesh that is usually left alone by insects (a normal part of mushrooming is finding that some small insects have gotten into some of your haul but the hedgehog fares much better on this point than others).

If you bring home a cloth sack of these treasures, prepare them and pair them much the same way you would chanterelles. Their firm flesh make them stand above chanterelles to some aficionados.

An excited mushroom hunter shows off her impressive lobster mushroom.
Lobster mushrooms can grow to impressive sizes in the right conditions. This lucky forager found this specimen on the edge of an abandoned forest road, and it weighed nearly a pound by itself. (Michael Foster/WDFW)

Lobster mushrooms

The lobster mushroom is a fascinating one among the edible mushrooms because it is actually a parasitic fungus attacking another fungus species, producing a remarkable result. The parasitic fungus attacks a species that is typically passed over by foragers, usually a russula species, and turns it into a firm, red-orange mushroom that has the look of a cooked lobster shell and can have a seafood scent.

Cleaning this mushroom can be a little more involved, but your best bet is to simply slice off dirt-caked or soft spots rather than wrestle with brushing off the sometimes significant amount of dirt and debris that can come with this treat.

Found on the floor of conifer forests, this low-growing mushroom also enjoys gravel soils and so can be found on the margins of forest roads. It’ll start popping up in late summer but can be found in the fall.

Once ready to cook, they come out of a cast iron skillet tasting great like chanterelles and hedgehogs, but unsurprisingly, there are many recipes out there for using this mushroom in place of lobster meat.

A cluster of orange-red chicken of the woods mushrooms grow from a conifer stump.
The prolific chicken of the woods mushroom will surprise with its vibrant colors. (Michael Foster/WDFW)

Chicken of the woods

Breaking away from the cap-and-stem kinds of edible mushrooms, we come to a striking bracket fungus called the chicken of the woods. This vividly colored mushroom stands out in the forest with its groupings of yellow, orange or red brackets with surprisingly bright yellow undersides. Its coloration earned it some other common names, including sulfur bracket for that blazing yellow color.

Found on decaying conifers, the chicken of the woods can be very prolific with one stump sometimes yielding several pounds of fresh mushrooms.

What’s better is that since they grow up off the forest floor, they’re often quite clean right at the time of harvest. This mushroom can be found starting in late summer but can hang on into the fall.

Some people do have an adverse reaction to chicken of the woods and odds of that are thought to increase with specimens growing on cedar stumps, but many people find no digestive difficulties no matter what tree it’s growing on.

In the kitchen, this mushroom is prepared in much the same way as chicken and is used as a replacement for poultry in vegetarian dishes or as a supplement to chicken in a variety of dishes.

A cauliflower mushroom grows from decaying wood on the forest floor.
The cauliflower mushroom will seem to grow from the forest floor at times though it’s actually attached to decaying wood below the surface. (Michael Foster/WDFW)

Cauliflower mushroom

The cauliflower mushroom is so named because of its large clumps of tan or off-white curly branches resembling leaves. The structure is reminiscent of cauliflower florets though others say it looks like a coral or even a brain.

Whatever you think it looks like, this mushroom can get big and is useful in the kitchen. It’s not unusual for the clumps of the mushroom found growing from decaying wood to reach 5 lbs or more. It is also known to sometimes grow from the same log or stump for more than one year.

When it comes to dinner, after breaking down, cleaning, and boiling the pieces of mushroom, the flesh resembles a firm egg noodle and can be used in much the same way.

Lasagna noodles can be replaced with layers of the mushroom pieces, or you can make a lasagna that simply features a layer of the mushroom pieces in addition to the noodles. It also makes a great addition to soups, and unlike some other mushrooms, it will hold up well in the freezer after being cooked.

A large bear’s head tooth fungus grows from the side of a fallen tree.
This big bear’s head tooth fungus was found just a stone’s throw from a trailhead parking lot. (Michael Foster/WDFW)

Bear’s head tooth fungus

Another unique looking mushroom that grows in often sizeable clumps from decaying wood is the bear’s head tooth fungus. This time though, instead of looking like cauliflower or brains, this mushroom resembles an array of tiny white icicles hanging down from a series of branches.

The only lookalikes for this mushroom, like the lion’s mane, are actually edible members of the same family.

The bear’s head has a slight taste of seafood, so it is often used as a replacement or supplement for seafood in dishes, including a crab-free “crab” cake. It is also very good in stir-fries, but it should be used as soon as possible because the flavor will start to break down faster than in other mushrooms.

Oyster mushrooms can often be found in the same area year after year. (Michael Foster/WDFW)

Oyster mushrooms

While all these fungi are common to the fall season, the oyster mushroom can be found at nearly any time of year if conditions are right. It can still be found at times in the fall, but it is often at its most prolific in the spring.

The oyster mushroom is a distinctive white to gray or light brown tender mushroom that can commonly be found growing from decaying alder trees. If the conditions are right, one log can produce several pounds of mushrooms that are great sautéed and served over meats, among other uses.

The oyster mushroom can appear in the same area year after year, if not the same log, and one log can produce mushrooms again later in the year. There are few lookalikes to the oyster mushroom in Washington, and fortunately the main one, the thin and fragile angel wing mushroom, is not toxic, it’s just less palatable and robust than the oyster mushroom.

Happy hunting

This list of edible mushrooms is just a portion of what’s out there, but we hope it helps you get out to explore the outdoors near you and make use of some great all-natural foods for the dinner table. There are also numerous options for cooking with each one of these mushrooms, so there could be something to please even the finickiest eaters. Good luck and stay safe in your foraging!

Share your outdoor adventures for a chance to win outdoor gear!

Send us your best photos of how you spend time outdoors! Your photos may be featured on WDFW’s Facebook and Instagram to celebrate the variety of ways people enjoy outdoor lifestyles and to inspire others to spend time in nature.

Enter our monthly photo contest now through December 2021 for a chance to win a Cabela’s gift card! Each month has a new theme and a new winner.

Participating is simple:

1. Visit WDFW’s Life Outdoors webpage now through December 2021 to find out the outdoor recreation theme for the current month: https://wdfw.wa.gov/life-outdoors

2. Submit pictures of you, your friends, or family participating in the month’s featured outdoor recreation theme on WDFW’s website: https://wdfw.wa.gov/share

3. When submitting your photo, select #LifeOutdoorsWA in the category section. In the description area, tell us a little about your experience.

4. On the last Friday of the month, a winner will be selected and featured on WDFW’s Facebook and Instagram. Winners will also be contacted via email to receive their prize.

When sharing your photos on social media, be sure to use #LifeOutdoorsWA!

October’s photo themes:

Grilling for Seafood Month

Mushroom hunting

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