When I first became interested in foraging, I hastily joined the Minnesota Mycological Society, which is the oldest mycological society in the United States. This isn’t why I chose it, of course. I chose it because we lived in St. Paul at the time.
I learned two things really quickly, the first was that a mycological society can throw an interesting potluck event and secondly, the foragers weren’t there to share their knowledge, but to share rare and strange specimens they may have found and to argue about categorization.
All I cared about was which mushrooms I could safely eat and how to find them.
I did manage to learn about the few types of mushrooms that you could safely eat because they had no dangerous twin that was ready to kill you. Like the chicken of the woods, named because it tastes and has the texture of chicken and it lives in the woods, on trees.
A few weeks later I went out for lunch with my co-workers in Minneapolis.
We pulled into the parking lot of Columbian restaurant and on the tree before me was the biggest chicken of the woods you could imagine. We ordered lunch and I was thinking only of this mushroom. I asked the staff if I could take the mushroom and while they said yes, their eyes said “it’s your life, crazy man”.
Fast forward to Nuremberg, years later. We meet a new friend for lunch at a restaurant called Bar Celona in the charming medieval city center on the river Pegnitz. Our table was under a tree and on that tree was a beautiful and shapely little chicken of the woods.
I looked around hesitantly at the other patrons eating their 8 euro buffet and I break off a modest amount of the mushroom and wrap it in a napkin for later. Our new friend doesn’t speak much English, but she did manage to tell me to “not eat that.” I assured her it was fine, and I don’t think she was too worried about my health, but what the other people around us would think of the strange foreigner coming to a restaurant and plucking mushrooms off of the tree in the courtyard by the river.
That next night we ate the foraged mushroom in a simple rice dish with fresh dill and tomatoes from one of the tiny Nuremberg farmers markets.