Fall Mushrooms: Armillaria Tabescens

On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, about the time we go back to school one begins to see these reddish brown to tawny clusters of mushrooms everywhere; on the lawn and on the edges of woods. Armillaria Tabescens.They are almost bouquet-like. If you pull them up you will see that they are in fact grown together at the bottom. The technical term- attention Scrabble lovers- is cespitose. They grow from buried wood, and when picked young they are delicious; with a mushroomy flavor that seems a pit caramel-like to me. They grow in huge quantities and can be frozen, canned in a pressure cooker, and dried. Here is a small laundry basket with one cluster.

armilariella tabescens (10)

Time to put the fear of God in you. Now, this is a variety that is easy, to me, to identify from a photograph, but but that’s me and I’ve been doing this for a very long time. You might think it looks the same a a Jack O’Lantern, which is poisonous, or a Big Laughing Jim, which tastes bitter and will apparently make you giggle. So before you go mushroom hunting, read The Audubon North American Field Guide to Mushrooms, or Peterson’s Mushroom Field Guide. I grew up with the former, and find the book physically durable- mine still has the puppy chew marks from my dear old Lab now dead. Try to find a mentor. My father taught me, but he learned from a book and we were very cautious. Some of our Russian and Ukrainian neighbors have more background in mushroom foraging and others. Bottom line: Never take a chance. A yummy mushroom is not worth your life. The lethal dose for a Death Cap, which is a big white pretty mushroom, is a cubic centimeter. The only way to save your life is a liver transplant.armilariella tabescens (5)

OK, now if you decide to forage ahead, and you are totally sure this is what you have, check that the caps are fresh and young. This photo shows a cluster that is right in the middle- not the baby size but not too mature. If they have deposits of powder on them, they have sporulated and won’t be as tasty. If they have  nice little caps that are still curved under, they are probably yummy. They are beloved by tiny little white worms, which, while not poisonous to you, are kind of gross. Split a cap down the middle and look for little holes. I am guilty of not worrying about one or two holes if I don’t actually see the worms, but generally I just get them as quickly as I can and process them right away.

Here is a photo of armillaria tabescens cooking down in a cast iron pot.armilariella tabescens (1) So good!

My favorite way to preserve them is to slowly brown some onions in salted butter, cut the caps off the clusters which I have harvested whole, rinse them quickly, drain well, and cook them down. I salt them a little, and eat them with egg noodles, rice, etc., then freeze what is left. (Once in a while I get the quantity to pressure cook them in Mason jars, as I know that anything in my freezer may be lost in an extended power outage.) They become succulent and rich, but reduce much in volume, so harvest a lot, and process immediately. They won’t wait.

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