We’re in the midst of mushroom season in Kansas, and they’re one of our favorite wild plants on the trail.
If you’re in Lawrence the second Saturday of every month from April to October, you can go out with the Kaw Valley Mycological Society and hunt for mushrooms. The following Wednesday, you can check out what was collected and learn more about the mushrooms of Kansas.
And if you want to head out on your own, here are 5 Kansas mushrooms you can eat with cooking recommendations.
As a disclaimer, mushrooms can be toxic and easily confused with many that look alike, and this should not be used as an authoritative identification guide. Be confident that you know what you have before biting into a wild mushroom. When in doubt, throw it out. Use a field guide, like the one published by University Press of Kansas to help you.
One of the most popular and well-known wild mushrooms in Kansas as well as one of the first of the season, morels can be found in wooded areas, particularly near creek beds and dead and dying trees. The surface will be deeply pitted and the inside will be hollow.
To cook: Clean them by soaking them in cool, slightly salty water and rinse them thoroughly.
Then saute in butter or olive oil for about 5-7 minutes. For a gourmet twist on the flavor, saute some minced garlic for a few minutes in the olive oil before adding the mushrooms.
Frequently found in forests near mature, living trees and growing out of the ground (not from the trees themselves), these mushrooms are a uniform bright yellow or gold color with wavy tops and smell fruity – a bit like apricots. You can typically find them in Kansas from mid-June to October.
To cook: Popular with gourmet chefs around the world, chanterelles need to be carefully cleaned to remove dirt with a small brush or cloth, using water if necessary. Avoid soaking. Eaten raw, they have a peppery aftertaste and can be used in green salads, but they taste better cooked.
Saute them in butter or oil for a few minutes – they should be lightly browned and still firm and they can then be paired with sauted green beans or with scrambled eggs and chives. They’re also a good topping for grilled chicken and steak.
If you end up with a lot of chanterelles and you can’t cook them up in a few days, you can dry them in the oven (be prepared for a strong smell in the kitchen) overnight on low heat.
Maitake or Hen of the Woods
Growing along the base of oak trees, these mushrooms are characterized by their overlapping growth. A pale or dark brown on top and white underneath without gills, they have wide, flat fronds and you can find them in Kansas in the late summer and fall.
To cook: Take the time to thoroughly clean the mushrooms, and remove the core of the stem before cooking.
Pan roast them in olive oil for a few minutes after they turn golden brown and then add fresh rosemary and a dab of butter and some salt and pepper and cook for about another minute. Drain off any excess oil before serving them up.
They can be frozen fresh, but don’t thaw them before cooking. Toss them straight into the pan from the freezer.
These white or gray mushrooms grow only on trees, often on elms or willows. It has a broad, fan or oyster shaped cap and firm white flesh. They can smell a bit like anise if harvested from a tree. There are some lookalikes, so be careful. You can find them in Kansas in late October and November.
To cook: Cut off the stem and run them under water quickly to flush out any bugs or dirt in the underside crevices. These mushrooms are ideal in stir fries as they cook quickly.
Cook them in hot sesame or peanut oil with minced garlic and ginger for a few minutes, and then add some chicken broth and soy sauce and simmer for a few more minutes, and then serve over rice.
They can also be dried and stored – they dehydrate quickly. Rehydrate by soaking them in boiling water for 15 minutes.
With a funnel like shape, these small gray and black mushrooms can be found in moss and near oak trees and other hardwood trees. They have a fruity scent, and they are close relatives to chanterelles. Find them in Kansas through summer and early autumn.
To cook: Clean by dunking them several times in cold water and squeezing them dry.
Saute in butter and then serve them with cooked pasta and topped with parmesan cheese and fresh chives.
What are your favorite wild Kansas mushrooms? Share those along with any favorite recipes in the comments below!