The Adirondack Autumn Oyster
by Mary Thill
For the past week and a half every dog walk has turned into a mushroom walk. It began November 1, when oyster mushrooms were literally thrown in my path. High winds snapped the trunk of a sickly young maple, the breaking point apparently weakened by a cluster of springy, tawny, stemless mushrooms with a slight green tinge around the edge.
I filled my jacket pockets. This summer had been a bust for oyster mushrooms (for me, anyway), so the windfall was welcome. I never really looked for mushrooms this late in the year, but the find opened my eyes. Every day since, I’ve found small clusters—sometimes only two—of smallish, brownish-to-yellowish oysters growing on the trunks of maples and birches, yellow and white.
These days the mushrooms are frozen hard, but it doesn’t lessen their quality. Sometimes they grow inside hollow trees, sometimes under loose bark, but most often in plain sight at eye level or too high to reach. The trees are all standing, most dying rather than dead, but a few are topless snags. Most have no other type of mushroom growing on them.
This post, frankly, is a brag more than a how-to. If you are going to forage wild mushrooms, consult a field guide and, even better, an expert. Since autumn oysters were new to me, I looked them up and took a spore print to help confirm the identification (see top photo; the light marks indicate whitish spores, the dark areas are watermarks where ice melted). These appeared to be Panellus serotinus, late fall oysters. More important, there don’t seem to be any poisonous lookalikes in this region. The first day, I ate only a small piece to see if I could tolerate it. Honey mushrooms, which are edible, give me a stomachache, so I wanted to make sure this mushroom agreed with me. It did. In fact, I prefer the calamari bounce and thickness of autumn oysters to the flimsy, pale summer oyster. Try them stir-fried in olive oil with salt and pepper as an accompaniment to eggs, vegetables, potatoes.