I've been fascinated by mushrooms since I was a child. With a careful eye, a walk in the woods can reveal countless varieties of beautiful fungi. I have been observing, photographing, and identifying wild mushrooms for a decade now, but it was only four years ago that any made it into the hands of chefs. I owe it all to truffles. In 1988, the University of Georgia identified a species of truffle, Tuber lyonii,  growing in young healthy Pecan orchards. Being a long time mushroom nerd, I went out every year during season and looked for them. It took 3 years before I found my first Pecan Truffle. The day I found it, I found 3 small truffles... the next day I found almost two pounds! My reception from local chefs was amazing. Soon after those first truffles, mushrooms became my entire direction.

       They can be as deep as 3" underground, but can also sit right on the surface!

    They can be as deep as 3" underground, but can also sit right on the surface!

       While Pecan Truffles come in various sizes, they rarely get much bigger than a golf ball. This one is a real prize. You can see where the truffle's "skin" is breaking open, releasing its famous aroma.

    While Pecan Truffles come in various sizes, they rarely get much bigger than a golf ball. This one is a real prize. You can see where the truffle's "skin" is breaking open, releasing its famous aroma.

       A stack of freshly unearthed truffles. The aroma when they first come out is indescribable.  

    A stack of freshly unearthed truffles. The aroma when they first come out is indescribable.  

    Georgia has many species of choice edible mushrooms. For the last 3 years I have collected over 300 pounds of Chanterelles during season. These mushrooms are very common during summer months. Walk by a river under some oak trees in June and you have a fair chance of finding delicious golden food! 

       Some beautiful Chanterelles coming up in pairs. The mycelial network of Cantherellus is often old and can be huge, making Chanterelle "patches" stretch seemingly forever. They like healthy hardwood forests near water.

    Some beautiful Chanterelles coming up in pairs. The mycelial network of Cantherellus is often old and can be huge, making Chanterelle "patches" stretch seemingly forever. They like healthy hardwood forests near water.

       Even though I have harvested over 300 pounds each season for years, I will always be excited for a good haul. I covered several tables that night!

    Even though I have harvested over 300 pounds each season for years, I will always be excited for a good haul. I covered several tables that night!

        Me crouching in the background... this is what I look like all Summer long.

     Me crouching in the background... this is what I look like all Summer long.

       Chanterelles come in a variety of sizes and colors. 

    Chanterelles come in a variety of sizes and colors. 

   A nice spread of quality Chanterelles at the farmer's market.

A nice spread of quality Chanterelles at the farmer's market.

       Lactarius paradoxus is a type of "Milk Mushroom" that excretes fluids when it's handled. The contrast of the vibrant mushroom's colors with it's bright staining fluids make it one of the most beautiful mushrooms for the plate. They are typically fried, but work well in simple sautes as well.

    Lactarius paradoxus is a type of "Milk Mushroom" that excretes fluids when it's handled. The contrast of the vibrant mushroom's colors with it's bright staining fluids make it one of the most beautiful mushrooms for the plate. They are typically fried, but work well in simple sautes as well.

    While I encourage everyone to learn a few mushrooms and collect some of your own food, it is worth mentioning that some wild mushrooms are very dangerous. Never eat a mushroom that has not been properly identified by an expert! Be cautious, but don't be scared. While not all mushrooms are safe to ingest, they are all safe to touch. You don't need to be a mycologist to confidently learn a few certain varieties. Some choice edible mushrooms do not have "look alikes" (similar looking mushrooms), such as the Lion's Mane or Chicken of the Woods. They are easy to ID because there are not any that look like them. A lot of valuable mushrooms are more accessible than one might think. All that said, collecting mushrooms is a skill that s best learned by observing someone with experience. Georgia has many good edibles and these are just a few of my favorites:

       This is Strobilomyces floccopus, or the Old Man of the Woods mushroom. It is a very flavorful mushroom without any close look-alikes. They can be grilled into a mean mushroom burger. Also known as the Black Bolete, they are a popular seasoning for finishing salts. 

    This is Strobilomyces floccopus, or the Old Man of the Woods mushroom. It is a very flavorful mushroom without any close look-alikes. They can be grilled into a mean mushroom burger. Also known as the Black Bolete, they are a popular seasoning for finishing salts. 

       The famous Morel mushroom. While they are not nearly as prolific in Georgia as other states, the foothills of the Appalachians in North Georgia have been know to have them fruit in big numbers. The Morel's hollow structure, delicious flavor, and meaty texture make it a favorite for both hobbyist and chefs. They are common throughout Europe and North America during Spring months.

    The famous Morel mushroom. While they are not nearly as prolific in Georgia as other states, the foothills of the Appalachians in North Georgia have been know to have them fruit in big numbers. The Morel's hollow structure, delicious flavor, and meaty texture make it a favorite for both hobbyist and chefs. They are common throughout Europe and North America during Spring months.

       A few years I have been lucky enough to find rather large amounts of  Wood Blewits, or Lepista nuda. Other years have been a complete bust. Blewits have a beautiful texture with a familiar umami flavor, but have a unique floral element I've never experienced with any other mushroom. They are a somewhat common Fall mushroom, but be advised: they do have a common look-alike. The violet Cortinarius species can fool even experience Lepista hunters.

    A few years I have been lucky enough to find rather large amounts of  Wood Blewits, or Lepista nuda. Other years have been a complete bust. Blewits have a beautiful texture with a familiar umami flavor, but have a unique floral element I've never experienced with any other mushroom. They are a somewhat common Fall mushroom, but be advised: they do have a common look-alike. The violet Cortinarius species can fool even experience Lepista hunters.

       Ooooooohhhhhh Hericium erinaceus, the Lion's Mane Mushroom. These delicious, strange looking mushrooms can get bigger than basketballs! They particularly like Water Oaks during Fall, and though they are fairly common to see, they are notoriously difficult to collect. This one was about 7' up the tree, but I've seen them over 50' up countless times. Their firm texture and unique flavor are reminiscent of crab meat! I like to slice them into 1/2" steaks and grill them. Read more about it on my "Farming" page,  but these mushrooms are excellent for your health. They are particularly good for your brain!

    Ooooooohhhhhh Hericium erinaceus, the Lion's Mane Mushroom. These delicious, strange looking mushrooms can get bigger than basketballs! They particularly like Water Oaks during Fall, and though they are fairly common to see, they are notoriously difficult to collect. This one was about 7' up the tree, but I've seen them over 50' up countless times. Their firm texture and unique flavor are reminiscent of crab meat! I like to slice them into 1/2" steaks and grill them. Read more about it on my "Farming" page,  but these mushrooms are excellent for your health. They are particularly good for your brain!

       This is a young cluster of Armillaria tabescens, the Ringless Honey Mushroom. The largest living organism on Earth is a species of Armillaria fungus, spanning several square miles in the Pacific North West and into Canada. These mushrooms are very common in urban landscapes in Fall, but I do not ever recommend collecting from these habitats. Mushrooms are notorious for absorbing herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. They can be found in dry swamp beds in large numbers. They cook a bit slower, acting as great additions to soups and slow cooker recipes. Their clusters can be small enough to balance on a finger or large enough to take both arms to carry.

    This is a young cluster of Armillaria tabescens, the Ringless Honey Mushroom. The largest living organism on Earth is a species of Armillaria fungus, spanning several square miles in the Pacific North West and into Canada. These mushrooms are very common in urban landscapes in Fall, but I do not ever recommend collecting from these habitats. Mushrooms are notorious for absorbing herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. They can be found in dry swamp beds in large numbers. They cook a bit slower, acting as great additions to soups and slow cooker recipes. Their clusters can be small enough to balance on a finger or large enough to take both arms to carry.

       Hedgehog Mushrooms, Hydnum Repandum. Their taste and texture are similar to Chanterelles, but instead of gills underneath, these mushrooms have "teeth." These teeth make this mushroom an exceptionally good sponge for butter in the frying pan.

    Hedgehog Mushrooms, Hydnum Repandum. Their taste and texture are similar to Chanterelles, but instead of gills underneath, these mushrooms have "teeth." These teeth make this mushroom an exceptionally good sponge for butter in the frying pan.

       A closer look at the "teeth" underneath the Hedgehog Mushroom. I get strange looks when I tell people I'm hunting Hedgehogs.

    A closer look at the "teeth" underneath the Hedgehog Mushroom. I get strange looks when I tell people I'm hunting Hedgehogs.

       The Chicken of the Woods mushroom. Their common name comes more from their firm texture than their flavor, but if you can collect them early enough, they taste very lemony and just. like. chicken!  They come in late Summer and last until Fall. Fairly common throughout North America, with particularly large specimens in the Appalachians. They do not have any close look-alikes! They love Live Oak trees in Georgia. They are great grilled, fried, sauteed, and stewed. There are no wrong ways to cook this mushroom. 

    The Chicken of the Woods mushroom. Their common name comes more from their firm texture than their flavor, but if you can collect them early enough, they taste very lemony and just. like. chicken!  They come in late Summer and last until Fall. Fairly common throughout North America, with particularly large specimens in the Appalachians. They do not have any close look-alikes! They love Live Oak trees in Georgia. They are great grilled, fried, sauteed, and stewed. There are no wrong ways to cook this mushroom. 

       Auricularia auricula is the Wood Ear, or Cloud Ear mushroom. It grows on wood and looks like an ear! This mushroom is cultivated en masse in China and is a common ingredient in most sweet & sour soups. They do not have much flavor of their own, but they have a very unique texture and absorb other flavors well. They are a great addition to soups and stir-fries. 

    Auricularia auricula is the Wood Ear, or Cloud Ear mushroom. It grows on wood and looks like an ear! This mushroom is cultivated en masse in China and is a common ingredient in most sweet & sour soups. They do not have much flavor of their own, but they have a very unique texture and absorb other flavors well. They are a great addition to soups and stir-fries. 

        The Lactarius indigo, or Blue Milkcap, is a very distinct edible mushroom. Like their close cousin the Lactarius paradoxus, they are traditionally fried, but also good sauteed. Despite their brilliant color, they are kind of difficult to spot among flood debris in dry creek-beds. The "milk" these mushrooms exude when damaged is a vibrant blue!   

     The Lactarius indigo, or Blue Milkcap, is a very distinct edible mushroom. Like their close cousin the Lactarius paradoxus, they are traditionally fried, but also good sauteed. Despite their brilliant color, they are kind of difficult to spot among flood debris in dry creek-beds. The "milk" these mushrooms exude when damaged is a vibrant blue!   

       Laccaria laccata, or Amber Bell mushroom. These firm little mushrooms love south Georgia's Slash Pine forests during the Winter months. They need to cook a little longer than most mushrooms their size, but work amazing in slow cooker recipes and soups. They're quite good and very hearty, but their small size make it trouble to get much weight together.

    Laccaria laccata, or Amber Bell mushroom. These firm little mushrooms love south Georgia's Slash Pine forests during the Winter months. They need to cook a little longer than most mushrooms their size, but work amazing in slow cooker recipes and soups. They're quite good and very hearty, but their small size make it trouble to get much weight together.

       A great cluster of young     Oyster mushrooms. You can read more about Oysters on my "Farming" page. They are a very flavorful mushroom terrific in almost any dish. A simple saute with garlic, onions, and butter is an unbeatable dish! Oysters like very wet conditions in Fall and Winter months. They are one of the most common cultivated mushrooms.

    A great cluster of young Oyster mushrooms. You can read more about Oysters on my "Farming" page. They are a very flavorful mushroom terrific in almost any dish. A simple saute with garlic, onions, and butter is an unbeatable dish! Oysters like very wet conditions in Fall and Winter months. They are one of the most common cultivated mushrooms.