BAR HARBOR — It could be considered a new food frontier if it wasn’t as old as dirt.
Mushroom foraging seems to be on the rise and this season is producing lots of bounty.
“It’s an exceptionally good year for mushroom picking,” said Willow Cullen Torrey, who owns the business FineFungi: Mushroom Identification and Cultivation. “I think some of the mushrooms are kind of excited after the dry summer.”
Maine is a prolific state for fungi finding and more and more people are looking to join the fun. Chicken of the woods, hen of the woods, chanterelles, morels, matsutake, bears head tooth and boletes are just a few of the edible mushrooms that can be found here.
But finding something to eat doesn’t always have to be the focus, Cullen Torrey said.
“There’s always plenty of mushrooms out that are not edible but are interesting to learn.”
“Now I’m at the point where I can identify most mushrooms that I find,” she said, but she cautions: use more than one resource, when possible, to double-check an identification.
While wild mushrooms can fetch a nice price for edible varieties and some have medicinal properties, there are many that can cause serious health problems. A few can be fatal.
That’s the most common advice experienced foragers share: always double- and triple-check that what you’ve collected is safe before eating it. They advise carrying at least one guidebook — two is better — and making sure you have permission from land owners before beginning to forage.
“Be respectful of where you’re walking and what you’re walking on,” said Cullen Torrey.
“Take what you need and leave the rest,” is what Daryl Dejoy asks of wild mushroom hunters. Now in his 60s, Dejoy learned how to hunt for wild mushrooms when he was five years old from his Italian grandfather.
That was the advice his grandfather passed on and is an essential element of the survival of mushrooms. Spores are needed for the fungus to proliferate.
Dejoy has shared his knowledge with friends over the years but often finds their thirst for the treasure outweighs the element of sustainability that leaves some for everyone.
“I’ve known people who have just let trunk loads of mushrooms rot,” he said, adding that he had recently found 10 hen of the woods mushrooms on an outing. “I took one. I’m going to be cooking it tonight.”
Cullen Torrey and other foragers recommend going slow and taking your time while out looking for mushrooms. There are several sites on Facebook for those hunting mushrooms where one can find support in identifying their find. Cullen Torrey gives tours around the Mount Desert Island area.
There is a Maine Mycological Association and there are many, many books on the subject.
“Don’t be afraid of mushrooms,” said Cullen Torrey. She adds there are none in this area that are dangerous to touch. “There is plenty on the island, depending on the year. There’s even more on the outer islands.”