Our first mushroom foray

Monday, July 13th, 2009
First Foray

We attended our first mushroom foray this weekend, the Annual Victor Gambino Foray held this year at the King's Gap Environmental Center near Carlisle, PA. This is an event of the New Jersey Mycological Association, which we joined just last month, and we are so glad we did. We both thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and had our appetites whetted for learning much more about mushrooms.

We arrived Friday afternoon in time to go out on the first of several short forays. We and two others drove to the foray location at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Our passengers included Dorothy, Frank and Lance, who, we learned in conversation, lives on Maryland's Eastern Shore and was friends with old friends of mine, John and Mary Alice Dennis. We all collected a few mushrooms to take back to the lab set up in one of the buildings at King's Gap. There they would be identified, arranged by family, genus and species, and left on display throughout the weekend. Someone from another car warned us that they would likely be stopping abruptly on the return trip, if they were able to find the large edible they had spotted on the way in. Sure enough, as we were speeding along the highway, the lead car slammed on the brakes and pulled over. Everyone jumped out of the car and dashed into the woods, returning a few moments later with the prize mushroom in hand. We didn't know at the time that we would be sampling that same mushroom the next day at the culinary demonstration. Back at the lab, Terry showed us a small log bearing some Panellus stipticus and told us that  the mushroom is bioluminescent. We took it back to our room to check that out for ourselves. Dinner, Dorothy's slideshow bioblitz contest (Fran's team "won" with NO contribution from her!), and huddling in our closet (our room had too much light) to enjoy the glow from the Panellus stipticus capped off our first day.

After breakfast on Saturday there were several forays planned. One group went to Colonel Denning State Park, but Paul and I opted to stay close to the center. He went with a small group down to the pond, and I went with Walt and Patrick down to the creek just behind the center. Paul found a Fistulina hepatica, an edible that we would get to sample later that afternoon. I found some Craterellus fallax, but there were too few to contribute to a dish. One of my other finds was a yellow jacket's nest. I didn't realize they were yellow jackets because their coloration was not what I am used to and because the nest was in a hollow stump whereas I've only seen yellow jackets nest in the ground. Anyway, I got too close trying to get a photo of the activity around the nest, and the things turned and attacked me. Fortunately I reacted quickly and only got three stings, but they were nasty ones.

Back at the center, Bob set up a kitchen in one of the pavillions and we helped prepare the Laetiporous sulfureus (chicken of the woods) and Fistulina hepatica (beefsteak polypore). The rangers and other staff at the Center came for a sampling as well. Delicious. As the crowd wanting a taste of Bob's culinary creations grew, I started looking in the area around the picnic table and found a very small, delicate blue growth on a large twig. Lance identified it as Physarum bivalve, a slime mold. Who knew there was such a thing as a slime mold? Dorothy snapped a macro photo of it with her pocket digital camera that showed the clam-like shape of the mold in this phase of its life.

Paul and I spent some time in the lab, looking over the shoulders of Dorothy and others who were collecting spore prints and examining intently, with lens and with microscope, the specimens awaiting identification. I took a look at one of the polypore mushrooms through a microscopes. I nearly screamed (OK, I really did scream) when the heat from the microscopes light warmed up the mushroom, and a tiny insect came rushing out of the pore. It looked monstrously large, magnified a hundred or so times.

That evening after dinner Walt Sturgeon gave a wonderful presentation on boletes. Most of the talk went over our heads, to be sure, but we did pick up some facts that may stick with us.

The next morning after breakfast, and after Paul and I had collected some of the abundant blueberries on the slope behind the Center, everyone headed over to the lab to browse the display tables, where all the identified specimens were arranged taxonomically. People took turns speaking about different species that they had some particular knowledge of. It was very informative and interesting.

We were not ready to see the weekend come to a close. On the drive out we stopped near the pond that Paul had visited on Saturday and we walked around with our eyes open for mushrooms we could take home and identify with the help of books and online resources that Dorothy, Terry and others had recommended. Yes, we are hooked on mushrooms and are eagerly looking forward to the next event.

See photos.