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Mushrooms and Toadstools
Difference between mushrooms and toadstools
Actually there is no difference between these two words. The only difference is individuals who like to call the edible fungi ‘mushrooms’ and the inedible fungi ‘toadstools’.
All refer to different kinds of fungus that grown on trees, on the ground, on rotting logs in the bush during a specific time and conditions during the year.
Any mushroom collector knows you have to have rain for the mushroom to grow; it has to be in a moist and fertile place.
How to Identify Mushrooms
The very best way to identify a mushroom is not only look very closely to the way it is put together, the color, whether it has gills or a sponge like under the cap.
I tried to identify the dozens and dozens of mushrooms that grow in British Columbia by doing a spore test. Unless you go to an expert you need to educate yourself in identifying mushrooms.
This is very carefully picking the mushroom, pulling off the cap and laying this on white paper with the gills or sponge down on the paper. You will get a variety of colors and designs, with this spore test along with the physical description of the mushroom, should identify what variety it is.
I spore tested dozens for weeks, there are so many different mushrooms. Until I could look at a mushroom and easily identify it, I did spore tests.
This allowed me to know which mushrooms we could eat and which ones we should
There were four different classifications that I put my mushrooms in.
- Those we could eat, there was no danger eating
- Those that were dangerous and should not be eaten
- Those that can or could cause some kind of discomfort to humans, these I avoided
- Those that closely resemble each other, the good edible and the not good or inedible, I stayed away from.
Mushrooms reproduce from the spores it puts out. If you see a mushroom and you think by stamping it out will kill the mushroom, it doesn’t. It generates millions of spores to be reproduced. You can see a physical spore from the ordinary meadow mushroom that looks like a puffball. If it dries up, and you squish it, you can see the puff of these spores out of the mushroom. Each mushroom sends out millions of these spores so that at least some will land in the proper habitat to be able to reproduce.
Spores will come in every color, from white to very dark black, there will be pink, yellow, orange, purple, brownish almost every color in the rainbow. They are beautiful to see and very distinctive. The spore test will decide exactly what mushroom family it belongs.
You will need a good mushroom book that has the color picture of mushrooms that shows a good description and what the color the spore will be and where the mushroom is found.
There are five areas of a mushroom that you look at to identify it.
- The umbrella top or cap, type of flesh, under the cap, you look for gills or sponge
- The stem
- The root or cup
- The spore picture and color
- Where you found it
Then you look at the top of the cap to see if it is smooth or has warts.
Make a note of where you found the mushroom, what was it grown in or around or under.
You look at the stem for what we call a veil, as the mushroom grows into a larger mushroom this veil breaks and becomes a ring.
The root of the bottom of the mushroom will be like a cup and should pull out of the ground very easy.
There are some mushrooms that I did not take a spore count because they are very distinctive.
The coral, brain-like and elfin-saddles. These are very distinctive.
Stay away from the fly amanita mushroom and any mushroom if it has wart like spots on the top of the mushroom. Some amanitas do not have warts, always do a spore test first. The amanita is a poisonous mushroom and not to be eaten. The early Europeans used to use the fly amanita to catch flies. They chopped the mushroom into small pieces and put these in a bowl of milk and left it for a while, it attracted the flies. This is how the amanita became known as the ‘fly amanita’. They are a very beautiful mushroom, but dangerous – stay away from them.
Every mushroom has a Latin name along with the accepted name that is recognizable. I will be using the common name in this article.
I cannot list all the mushrooms that are edible, where they are found and the color of the spores. All this information would take a lot more space for the detail that is needed. In fact each mushroom deserves an article of it’s own.
Mushrooms have different colors, different textures, some cook up to less than you want and others will not. Mushrooms will have different flavors, but all will have that distinct mushroom taste. The mushrooms that grow in the wild seems to me to have more taste than the ones we purchase in the grocery store. Some you can eat raw, but I suggest you cook or roast the wild mushrooms.
If you are a mushroom hunter, always try the mushrooms first to see if you can eat them. Some people have a reaction to certain mushrooms even though they are good edible mushrooms. First cook a small batch and eat just several spoons full, wait for 24 hours, if you have not had a reaction, they are good for you to eat. I suggest this for anyone who is trying a new mushroom. A reaction can be an upset stomach, headache, diarrhea, you can feel faint, if you have any symptoms, do not eat.
One of my favorites is the chantarelles, they fry up nice and do not fry away and the amount you start with is what you will finish with. Another favorite is the shaggy mane and inky cap that grown along the sides of gravel roads. This is an excellent mushroom and is very good for mushroom soup. You must pick these when it is still young, if older they will get inky and melt into a black mess.
Along with the shaggy mane on the roadside you will find the inky cap, this is a good mushroom, but it matures extremely fast and melts into a black inky mess. So if you see this one, pick very young and don’t wait to cook it, cook it immediately.
We also had the very popular matsu-take (armillaria family) that sells by the gram in Japan, but I find this mushroom chewy. At certain times during the year, we had dozens of pickers throughout the bush, picking this mushroom.
Corals are excellent to eat. They come in all different forms; all that I have seen and tried are good. Meadow mushrooms and boletus are good, but the boletus is hard to find young enough without the bugs, so I don’t eat them. They are a big mushroom, very fleshy, good to eat and buggy.
The morels are a good mushroom and good to eat, but some of them resemble the false morels which can cause you distress and you have to know the difference. I suggest unless you know for absolutely sure, stay away from the morels. There are so many other good eating mushrooms, it’s better not to take a chance. If you don’t know which they are – don’t eat them.
How to Cook Mushrooms
Mushrooms are versatile and can be fixed in a lot of different ways.
One of the ways I found and was able to use them later was to fry them up with onions in butter and freeze them in batches that could be used for later.
When mushrooms are in season, that’s the time to pick, and if you are an avid mushroom picker, you will pick a lot of mushrooms in a short time, so you won’t be able to use them all. You need to find ways to preserve them for later use.
Another good way is to dry them. When you pick mushrooms, be very careful and not pick a lot of dirt or any of the dead bark or moss. You should not wash the mushrooms; you wipe them with a paper towel. Mushrooms have a tremendous amount of liquid, you don’t need the added water when cleaning.
Some mushroom pickers say to wash them in cold water, or soak them in salt water. I do not do these methods. If you do have a mushroom with a lot of grit on it, you can rinse that off, but I do not submerge my mushrooms in water, nor do I peel any of the mushrooms.
I use both the cap and the stem of the mushroom. I cut the root or cup off. I slice into bit size pieces, fry in butter with onions that have been sautéed a bit first. You fry mushrooms just a little. Some mushrooms can be chewy, you will learn this the more you pick wild mushrooms and use them.
Use mushrooms in soup, over steak, in sauces, gravies, fry with onions, green peppers.
Using mushrooms is only limited to your imagination, the options are unlimited. There are a number of good mushroom recipes on the Internet, try them out or ‘what recipe can you come up with’?