Foraging Ringless Honey Mushrooms
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
October 25, 2020
Greetings from the food forest ~ Wade Boelter
Thank you for joining us in NE Alabama,
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be well-grounded enough to identify and harvest mushrooms from the woods to your supper table? Living on a wooded acreage along a pond and stream it's been a long desire of mine to have that knowledge and confidence.
Last year in fall I saw these beautiful mushrooms taunting me to discover if they were safe for our dinner table. Lacking the knowledge to identify, I simply ignored them and soon they disappeared by growing out of season. I read all the warnings about not picking a mushroom unless you can identify it and the importance of having a mushroom forager with you to identify that it is safe to eat. After all, just one bite of the wrong mushroom will send you to an early grave.
A year later while feeding horses I was elated to see that the mushrooms grew up in the same location and looked succulent for the picking. The only wild mushrooms that I’ve been familiar with are “Chicken of the Woods” and “Morel’s”. The mushrooms at hand were not the familiar so what are they?
I first had the inclination to learn about foraging mushrooms 4yrs. ago here in NE Alabama. My ambition motivated me to join a facebook group “Tennessee Mushroom Identification”. The group is easily accessible with a phone in hand giving me the ability to post photos while in the field and the comments appear as good science. The group has a disclaimer as the forum consists of mushroom identification from Tennessee and is not a group that is based on mushroom consumption.
Today is my day! Finally I have a specimen to share photos of for identification! Taking photos quickly I then submitted them to await a response. Meanwhile back up at the house our friend Dan who is a retired Forester was helping my partner Jon drop a pine tree here at our home of wooded acres along a pond and stream.
I showed my photos to Dan but he did not recognize the mushrooms and being that he is from New York State he was only familiar with the Morels. He expressed a desire of always wanting to learn about mushrooming but just never found someone to teach him. Dan, of course stressed caution as digesting the wrong mushroom can be poisonous and in some cases deadly. We were now busy with downing the tree. I sent my photos to our friend Sheston up in MN asking if she could search the internet to identify the mushroom. The day was going to be busy so the more assistance the better.
While taking photos & video of the tree going down Sheston was the first to respond with information from her search inquiry. She thought it could be the “Ringless Honey Mushroom”. Shortly after her response I received a comment from the facebook group “Tennessee Mushroom Identification” that it was Armillaria but they needed a photo of the stipe (Stem) to differentiate the species.
After sharing a photo of the gills, I now realize they wanted a photo of the mushroom stem or “stipe”.
I strongly recommend that anyone who forages mushrooms first educate themselves with mushroom anatomy. After all, how can we identify a mushroom or ask questions to a group if we do not know the anatomy right? Furthermore explore the biology of the mushroom with insects and its relationship to the ecosystem. You might be surprised by your findings.
It was then the general consensus that the mushroom I have is the “Ringless Honey Mushroom” - Armillaria Tabescens.
I was warned that it should be taken in a very small amount at first. Apparently some folks are sensitive to it and react with a stomach ache. Other folks are reportedly able to eat it like wolves. It’s recommended that you cook it well to lessen a chance of reaction and not eat it raw.
Given the green light to go harvest nature's bounty, off I went with a bucket for my very first mushroom collection. Jon and Dan hollered behind me, “Are you sure you know what you're doing?” I hollered back, “Yes, I’ve got this!”.
Out in the field I picked only the smaller young to midsize succulent clumps of Ringless Honey Mushrooms. I brought a full bucket of them home to the kitchen and cut the tops off discarding the clumps of stems.
We have bamboo rice steam trays that I use for drying fresh herbs. I put my mushroom tops inside. Now looking back I should have put the mushrooms I could not eat immediately directly into a food dehydrator or at the least, I should have harvested less. We just do not have much space in our refrigerator and I thought leaving them on the counter would cause no harm until I could research weather or not I could dehydrate them.
Dan and Jon were now back up at the house and pretty surprised to see that I already had the majority of the mushrooms cleaned, topped and in trays.
They were quite curious as to the process as much as they were about making sure I knew the identification of the mushroom and its anatomy. Dan was most interested as he has wanted to forage mushrooms in Alabama. Jon was not a fan when I was explaining that some folks get a mild stomach ache as a reaction to eating too much too soon. Cook the mushrooms well and consume them in small quantities to find out if they agree with you or not. The next question was... “How long would it take to find out?”. I told them that more than likely a person would know within 45 min to an hour after eating them - after all, I had my teenage years of exploring magic mushrooms for comparison. “Yes, I will be the first one to eat them and then you will know how it goes”.
Later that evening I found a recipe online and put it to the test. Google it and you will find exactly what you're looking for. I chose a recipe that screams Sour Cream. Since I already had my mushrooms capped, the only other prep was chopping onion. The ingredients I used were butter, mushrooms, onion, a little flour, a bit of sherry, chicken stock, then add your sour cream and season with dill. It’s a reduction and is super simple. The recipe has a copyright.
The Ringless Honey Mushrooms were so good in this very savory reduction. Immediately what comes to mind is eat this over steak, asparagus, mashed potatoes or over broccoli. I had this as a small side because we did not have any of the things I thought it would go well with. Jon warmed up the leftover hot dish for the main course.
I then relaxed and waited to see how it would agree with me. Jon did not have the soup and waited eagerly to see what would happen next.
It was probably about an hour or more later that I passed gas and belched. That was it. That was all that happened. More of that continued on and off through the evening.
The following day prior to dinner I asked Jon if we could have Pork chops and mashed potatoes so that I could have more of my sauce. He approved, prepared my request and it was delicious! I loved it and had a healthy serving. It was so savory on meat and potatoes with that mushroomy sour cream combination.
Later that evening while relaxing on my bed in pajamas, watching TV and editing some photos from my IPad; I found myself belching and passing gas. This seemed to continue intermittently through late night. During sleep I found myself waking up desperate to force out a large belch. Now thinking I must have just ate too much of the sauce I returned to bed with a restless sleep.
The following morning (two days later from mushroom harvest) Jon and I were going about our normal Monday morning routine of breakfast cereal and coffee. I started wiping up the counter and moving things around from the busy weekend. The thought of dehydrating the leftover mushrooms came to mind as I envisioned how beautiful the capped mushrooms looked in our bamboo trays.
I went to the trays and opened them up to get another look at the beauty of the large round golden plump mushroom caps nestled in safely from nature's bountiful harvest…..
To my horror I found disintegrated brown slimed sludge worse than a black smashed rotten banana and more like runny snot or something found in a shitty diaper. I proceeded to pick up the top tray shouting, “Oh No, My Mushrooms!”.
The gooey substance dripped through the slotted tray like ectoplasm from the themed “Ghostbuster” movies. I didn’t have my glasses on. I took a closer look fighting back the smell of earth vomit noticing fruit flies fluttering about like black dots with wings. I started feeling lightheaded and before I could grasp my next breath Jon was at my side shouting, “Look at all the Maggots!”. The bottom of the tray is moving and alive. It’s now a sea of waving maggots through the brown sludge….. In shock with what I bore witness to, I sat the tray down, put the cover on it and immediately went back to bed pulling the covers up over my head hiding under a blanket. My eyes would never be the same again. I kept replaying over and over again what just happened in my mind.
Bamboo Rice Steamers
The images of that delicious dinner now turned into the freak show of thinking I ate mushrooms filled with insects and fly larvae! I felt like a cartoon with quotation awks, eeks and gags over my head.
After a moment, reality started slowly sinking in allowing me to pull the covers down to just my shoulders where I could sit up and cry out, “Jon! Please get those trays out of the house”. I then ran my fingers through my hair hearing Jon holler back a complaint asking why he always gets the crappy jobs. I yelled back, “Because you drove EMT for ten years!”.
While Jon dumped out the bamboo trays of maggots I sat on my bed in my pajamas shouting every curse word I could think of at the ceiling. Holding my throat to fight back the gagging and coughing with intermittent screams to images flashing back in my mind of what I ate the past two days and what I just witnessed; I braced myself. Now fighting back by Vigorously rubbing the shivers off the top of my head and shaking the goose bumps off my arms, I just couldn’t get the images out of my mind. The smell remained and a flavor was in my mouth just thinking about it.
Trying to calm my nerves I went to the fridge and grabbed a beer and then another. It seemed like a good idea as it could only help wash the memories out of my state of being.
When would this story end? Cutting it short I’ll add later that day after lunch my lower intestine had an explosion that made me wish my colonoscopy had a future date rather than having happened last week. After all, it wouldn't hurt to be scoped to make sure maggots were not crawling around inside me after two days of delightful Honey Mushrooms.
Read and learn more about Ringless Honey Mushrooms at your own will. I found some interesting articles on health benefits. I’m just very happy to discover something new in Alabama. I think it's cool to have a food forest.
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Peace and love,