AKA: Velvet foot
OK folks, I’ve been rudely awakened from my winter hibernation by having both arms firmly twisted. It seems some folks want another mushroom of the month. Have a look outside; everything is white and frozen. There are no mushrooms fruiting! However, if you absolutely must have your wild mushroom fix hit the trails during the warming periods. The typical fruiting period for velvet foot is October through May.
Hike the trails through deciduous woodlands and look for fallen softwood (tulip poplar, elm, willow, etc…, NOT pine, hemlock or firs). Look for small (1-2 inches), tawny yellow-reddish, clustered, slimy caps fruiting on the deadwood. The gills are white to yellowish and attached. The stipe is tan to almost black at the base, tough, and quite velvety. Collect the clumps and trim off the base. The slimy caps will pick up dirt from everywhere so, the less dirt in your basket the better. You’ll understand when you start cleaning them. BE VERY CAREFUL; do not pick mushrooms with a ring on the stipe. It doesn’t take but one deadly Gallerina to ruin your day (life actually). Velvet foot has white spores and no ring; Gallerina has a ring and brown spores. Be very sure what you have collected. It is not very difficult to tell them apart, but “when in doubt toss it out”. Newbies should have their find checked by a more experienced person.
Ready to eat your bonanza? I hope you picked a basketful because you need it. Hold each mushroom by the stipe and carefully peel off the slimy cuticle. (This is common practice with slimy capped fungi as the slime has been known to cause gastric upset.) Then remove the tough inedible stipe and prepare however you like. If you cleaned a hundred or so you might have enough to taste.
I never collect velvet foot just because of all the work and the tiny reward. This is the time of year I depend on all my preserved fungi. Remember all those preservation tips throughout the year? I’m eating dried morels, frozen cauliflower and chicken of the woods all preserved from last years finds.
If you just must taste this mushroom have a look for Enotake in your favorite oriental food market. It’s the same mushroom grown in a controlled unnatural environment that causes them to look very different from their wild brothers.
Not up for the velvet foot challenge? Just hold on, spring is just around the corner. We could be finding morels in as little as 6 weeks!
Field mycologist and long standing member of the Asheville Mushroom Club