There was magic in the air when an enthusiastic group of curious foragers gathered at NAIT to participate in Alberta Wild Mushrooms: From Field to Plate, a new course offered through NAIT’s Continuing Education.
The course started with an interesting and humorous presentation on the identification of edible (and not-so-edible) wild mushrooms led by Martin Osis, President of the Alberta Mycological Society. Students were introduced to a cross-indexed key to be used in conjunction with a locally published field guide, Mushrooms of Western Canada.
Mushrooms like warm and rainy weather. Noting the parched conditions in the surrounding area, Martin suggested the group head an hour and a half west, towards Cynthia, where the mushrooms were plentiful.
Savvy members of the group secretly marked the location on their cell phone GPSs, then fanned out in the forest in search of the delectable denizens.
A few minutes into the foray, I spotted my first ‘shroom. The group gathered round to share my discovery, a large overgrown Russula. My first lesson in harvesting was learned: “collect only firm fresh mushrooms for the table.” We left my worm-eaten specimen hanging on a tree branch for squirrel food.
My next discovery was the prized coral mushroom, much revered for its delicate and delicious flavour. There was nothing delectable about my next find though – a beautiful large white mushroom. Although it looked yummy to me, I was informed by our leader that it was the “grandmother of all poisonous mushrooms,” a deadly White Clitocybe. Thankfully, I didn’t have to churn to learn!
After an hour or so of messing in the moss, the group had gathered a copious quantity of wild mushrooms. Russulas topped the list, but the baskets also included green lobster mushrooms, shaggy parasols, redtops, milk caps, oysters, and a smattering of not-so-edible varieties.
After sorting through our harvest, the group returned to NAIT’s culinary kitchens to clean, cook and sample our bounty. Students were introduced to some classical mushroom recipes, including Mushroom Duxelles and Fresh Chanterelles and Leeks Linguine.
What a day and what an experience – a true walk on the wild side. Identifying and collecting wild mushrooms provides a fascinating learning journey. Mycology provides an opportunity to connect with nature and increase epicurean knowledge. Besides – it’s free food!