If you are the first generation of any kind of Eastern European, then you know what secrets I am about to divulge… The secrets of the mushroom picking.
As a child, I learned that my elementary school peers did things like movie nights and mall trips to spend family time. Not me, not my Polish family: foraging for mushrooms was our family time.
Mushroom picking season is typically late summer through early fall. During mushroom season, on weekends, we would wake up at 0400 in the morning to hit up a mushroom picking spot at the end of Long Island – a two hour drive one way.
If we left too late, we were sure to find some other Eastern European’s car parked at the side of the road, already foraging for mushrooms. And if it was Zielonki season, forget about it. We would wake up extra early for that.
It didn’t end there. Once home, we would have to meticulously clean the mushrooms we foraged. The good ones would end up marinated in jars, and the so-so ones would be dried to make soup at a later time.
I’m going to tell you some mushroom picking basics and general guidelines, with pictures. But please, please, please, do not eat a mushroom unless you are 100% sure that it is one of the mushrooms I have identified below.
I’m not saying these are the only edible mushrooms out there, I’m just saying a lot of mushrooms look a like and can fool you into thinking they are edible. The poisonous ones are often the prettiest.
- If the bottom is spongy, or pored, it is probably edible.
- If the bottom is lined (like portabella), take caution.
- If you put the tip of your tongue to the bottom and it burns, its poisonous.
- If it looks poisonous, it’s probably poisonous.
- Most mushrooms like to hide under wet leaves, pine needles, or other fallen tree particles, and right near the bottoms of trees.
- Be weary of the mushroom that stands alone.
Gąska Zielonka – Man on Horseback or Yellow Knight
Zielonki are one of the exceptions of mushrooms with lined bottoms that are edible (and DELICIOUS). These are available only during a very small window of time and they like to grow in a very specific environment. As you can see in the picture, they like a sandy, pine-needly, kind of area. They grow low, usually hiding under the sandy pine needles, and in bunches. It is rare to spot one alone. Their color is like the yellow-green Crayola crayon, with a little sandy dirt on top.
Maślaki – Suillus or Slippery Jack
These guys are slimey. They have this gooey overcoat on the cap that, if you can look closely, comes down the stem a few centimeters. They have that hi-shine look, and a spongy, or pored bottom. These also grow in bunches, and they like a nice, moist environment, typically near pine as well.
Kozaki – Birch Bolete
These are also pretty delicious. They are called “kozaki” because they look like the Cossacks from back in the day. These mushrooms like to grow fat and tall, but they grow in families. With a white stem and rich orangey-red hat, they are difficult to miss. They are pored, and as their name suggests, can be found in birch forests.
Podgrzybki – Bay Bolete
These are your pretty basic edible mushroom: spongy bottom, darkish brown hat, white stem. These guys like regular old woods, coniferous trees, the usual. They can be found alone, like this one here, and in funky shapes, but they can also be found in numbers.
Kurki – Chanterelle
These, like Zielonki, are also a rare commodity. As the picture shows, they enjoy a mossy, moist environment mainly in coniferous woods, but they also enjoy the company of both birch and beech trees. They are not typically difficult to spot as they grow upright with impressive posture and their color is unmistakable. Chanterelle mushrooms, however, have a striped bottom, rather than pored.