August is a month of mushroom magic in Minnesota. Mushroom “roots,” known as mycelium, do their work decomposing wood and transporting nutrients underground all year. But this is the season during which mycelium push up fruiting bodies—what we recognize as mushrooms.
I have been fascinated by the simple but profound fact that mushrooms take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide, the exact reverse of how a tree “breathes.” Last August brought a turning point in my perception of mushrooms.
I learned to recognize chanterelles: the apricot smelling, golden orange colored, sublimely delicious mushroom abundant in summer. Floored by the flavor, I learned a half-dozen other edible mushrooms, from the flamboyant chicken of the woods (it really does taste like chicken), and the almost Dr. Seussian-shaped bear’s-head tooth.
After learning from books, the guidance of a couple of seasoned foragers, and with the internet in my back pocket, I foraged through the woods around my home and then ate my way through baskets full of new discoveries.
I will repeat the requisite warning: Many mushrooms are poisonous, and eating wild mushrooms without proper identification can be deadly. But with a little guidance and observation, the August woods are a gourmand’s feast.