Foraging

It had to have been the oyster mushrooms. It couldn’t have been from holding hands as we walked through the rain-soaked February woods, slipping and laughing as we hunted this delicacy.

It had to have been the oyster mushrooms. It couldn’t have been from holding hands as we walked through the rain-soaked February woods, slipping and laughing as we hunted this delicacy. It certainly wasn’t from the hot bath afterwards to remove the chill … or the gentle kisses to the back of the neck during this soak. Certainly not cooking together in the warm kitchen, awash with the scent of the mushrooms sautéed in butter with baby spinach, a dash of salt and a splash of cedar-infused vinegar next to farm-raised heritage pork chops.

The glass of wine (maybe three) with the fantastic supper? No, that didn’t cause it. Nor did cuddling with you under a fuzzy blanket in front of the fire, being fed chocolates from a heart-shaped box as more rain struck the window and a cold wind howled in the night outside …

No, it had to be the oyster mushrooms’ fault I fell in love.

Strange that the most aphrodisiacal wild Texas food grows during the gloomiest season of cold and storms. Temperatures in the 50s trigger the flush of these cream-white mushrooms from the soaked wood of dead trees. They seem to prefer upright trunks over fallen logs and have a habit of growing high up out of reach. These amazing treats appear fast and die away even faster, turning from white to gray, then dissolving into brown/black goo, so hunting them after the second day of heavy rains is best.

Their name comes from their shape, texture and flavor, being somewhat similar to that of the shellfish oysters. This leads to their claims of being an aphrodisiac, too. They’ll be found growing near to each other, even to the point of being fused at their base. The stems of oyster mushrooms will be off center of the caps, nearer to the tree. Their false gills run from the edge of the underside of the cap down into the stem, where they fade out. Cutting the cap in half will reveal that these gills grow directly out of the cap with no seam or line separating the two parts as found in mushrooms with true gills.

Raw, they have a somewhat fruity smell, similar to apricots. Leaving the cap gills-down on a piece of black paper overnight will reward you with a whitish-violet spore print in the pattern of the gills and spreading out across the paper as the mushroom tries to impregnate it, thinking it’s wood. This spore print color is one of the keys used to identify mushrooms.

Careful study is always required with mushrooms, but they’re worth the time and effort. Think of any new, mysterious mushroom as a potential love ready to entice you — but that, sadly, could possibly hurt you if it’s actually a secret monster. Never be hasty in mushrooms or love.