Hiking Can Net You Some Unique and Flavorful Meals
Getting out in the woods can be a blast. One of my favorite places to do so is White Water Canyon just outside of Cascade, Iowa. It's a beautiful area to hike AND cave. But there is even more these amazing natural areas offer to the keen eye... FOOD!
That's right food. Sustenance. Life affirming flavors that just can't be found anywhere else. Foraging takes a keen eye and some serious knowledge, so I wouldn't suggest it to just anyone. And as I mentioned to my 8-year-old son while out looking for morel mushrooms, "Not everything that looks like food, is food."
So firstly, it's important you know what you are looking for when out in the woods. We have foraged in this area many times for things like, wild blackberries, black-cap raspberries, mulberries, and of course Morels. On this occasion we did not see a SINGLE morel on our hunt through the area. What we did find was the nasty knock-off known as False Morels.
They look very similar except for a few things. Long vertical striations on the cap, and a stem that joins under a slight flap of the mushrooms cap. These are the main differences in physical appearance, but the side effects of eating one.... Yikes. False morel mushrooms contain the toxin gyromitrin, which can cause severe illness, that takes anywhere from six to 48 hours after consuming to show, according to poison control. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, muscle cramps, bloating, and fatigue.
Here's what you're really looking for...
As I mentioned though, we didn't find any of these. What we did find were these and in a rather large abundance.
Golden Oyster Mushrooms are considered a delicacy of sorts in areas outside of the United States, in fact most are unsure how the fungi even made it here. Golden oyster mushrooms are actually native to the hardwood forests of eastern Russia and northern China, as well as Japan. They're a popular edible mushroom there and take well to cultivation, so it's no surprise that mushroom cultivation companies started selling them to grocery stores, as well as in grow kits for people at home.
And boy are they tasty. First off you can eat them raw, but they just don't taste super good that way. These mushrooms grow on hard wood like decaying elm and oak, and they take on the "woody-flavor" of what they are growing on.
The real treat is when they are sauteed in butter with a little salt and pepper. They can even be breaded and fried just like the morel. The flavor pay-off is like eating a hand full of cashews. Deliciously-nutty and so WORTH it.
If you find these yellow delicacies, take the chance on them. My go to is to add them to a home-made ramen or into any Asian inspired stir-fry meal. People have even been known to put them on pizza, into soups, or just bread'em and fry them up. The great thing is they are easy to spot, usually grow in huge clusters, and can be easily found through out Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Next time you're feeling adventurous, maybe give them a try. Whether you forage them while hiking or try them from your local grocery store; the imported ones are just as good, just not as fresh.