Do you have a favorite Fiddlehead Patch that you go to in the Springtime? Well, if you do, go back to it in late September and early October and start hunting for Late Fall Oysters (Sarcoma serotina. Previously known as Panellus serotinus).
Where there are Fiddleheads, there is often Alder trees growing. And just not any Alder trees…mature Alder trees that are either growing, dying or dead. It is these mature dead and dying Alders that produce the most Late Fall Oysters. Late Fall Oysters can be found on dead and dying Birch as well, but the Birch must be near or in the wet areas where there are fiddleheads.
You can find Late Fall Oysters on Alder trees in other habitats too, but the key features that makes it common across all areas, are that 1) the area must have moisture and 2) have dead or dying Alders or Birch. Sometimes I find Late Fall Oysters near lake shores, for example.
Also, it doesn’t seem to matter what kind of year it has been…hot, dry, rainy, etc…Late Fall Oysters will always appear. In what quantity and quality though will be the question.
After listening to mushroom experts, the mycelium of different fungi’s do not have to flush (create the fruiting bodies) every year. The mycelium network can go for years without producing the fruiting bodies that we see, observe, and sometimes pick. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case for Late Fall Oysters…they seem to flush year after year, no matter what. It probably does help that up here, in northern BC, every autumn is wet and cool. Winter is coming. It’s one mushroom I can rely on year, after year.
If you have a fiddlehead spot and there are very few Late Fall Oysters or none…look at the trees. They probably are still healthy and vibrant. I’ve been in areas that looked like a perfect habitat for Late Fall Oysters, only to find no Late Fall Oysters; it’s due to lack of moisture and/or no dead and dying Alder or Birch.
Wonderful examples of Late Fall Oysters
Late Fall Oysters do not have a significant taste to them. Most people would describe them as having an “indistinct” taste. They are right. The texture is a bit rubbery too. I don’t mind the taste nor the texture. I find they lend themselves well to Asian cuisine and pretty much take on the taste that you give it.
Also, they are simply great battered and deep-fried (what isn’t though!)
Not to mention, when mushroom hunting is winding down here in North Central BC because the cold is starting to make other mushrooms die and decompose, this mushroom persists till a few frosts have set in. I have picked Late Fall Oysters even when they were frozen to the Alder trees. If you do this, bring hand-warmers!
Oh, one more thing to note…watch out for Stinging Nettle! Stinging Nettle is often found in these damp, wet areas. Sometimes, I have encountered Stinging Nettle up as high as my face when I walk into these Late Fall Oyster patches. Watch your step! Also, when you are sweeping the dead ferns off of low-to-the-ground Alders to uncover Late Fall Oysters, you can brush your hands against Stinging Nettle. It is a good idea to wear rubber or vinyl gloves of some sort.
It’s worth the extra caution though! What’s awesome about Late Fall Oysters are that they can grow in abundance! You can gather pounds and pounds worth in a short time. Normally, they are quite waterlogged when you pick them as they normally get rained on throughout the fall. Your harvesting basket can get heavy quite fast, so bring multiple baskets just in case your first one gets to the point of being too heavy to put more in.
One more thing I must say is that they are pain-in-the-butt to clean. Often, remnants of ferns and leaves are stuck to them. Plus as you are picking them, vegetation and various seeds from other plants fall into your basket. Mushroom picking for Late Fall Oysters are done normally in dense vegetation! Luckily, in most fiddlehead spots, Moose have made little pathways throughout the fiddlehead patch. I try to follow the animal paths as much as possible.
Sometimes in the past, I have been asked “why I sell my mushrooms for so much money”. First of all, they are “wild mushrooms”. Just the nature of getting out there with your own vehicle and gas, costs money. Secondly, there is the matter of my time. Sometimes it can take minutes to hours getting to various mushroom spots. Thirdly, there is the actual time of picking mushrooms. If you are in a place where there is dense vegetation, it makes it that much harder to pick! Lastly, one must clean said mushrooms to make it presentable for sale to the public. It’s effort! Sometimes, a lot of effort.
Anyways, when you go pick your own Late Fall Oysters, you’ll see for yourself. The fiddlehead spot you knew of in the Spring has been transformed with dense, dying vegetation of Stinging Nettle, Cow Parsnip, Goat’s Beard, Ostrich Ferns, Lady Ferns and sometimes, False Hellebore. It’s still worth it though!
One of my most favorite things to do with Late Fall Oysters is to make: Mushroom Jerky.
Their rubbery texture lends themselves to that jerky-like chew. Plus, they take on the taste that you give them. I have made this jerky and shared it with others and they did not know that they were eating mushrooms. They knew that there was something a bit different, but they couldn’t place their finger on it. “This is really good! But what meat is it?” they would ask.
Mushroom Jerky is a great vegetarian and vegan option to a jerky-like snack.
If you are not a jerky fan, you can dehydrate them for future use. They dehydrate well and rehydrate well. Or you sauté them and freezer pack them for later use.
Here is my Mushroom Jerky recipe. This recipe can be used for other mushroom varieties like other true Oyster mushroom varieties, Blue Chanterelles, and Yellowfoots for example.
Note: this recipe will make about 9-10oz of mushroom jerky…not a lot after picking 4lbs! If you have a second dehydrator, perhaps consider making more, or do another batch after the first batch. I normally do as my family eats it like it’s going out of style.
Mushroom Jerky Brine
- 2 Cups of Soy Sauce
- 1 Cup Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 cup Brown Sugar
- 2 TBSP Hot Sauce
- 1 Tbsp of Garlic Powder
- 1 heaping tsp of Onion Powder
- 1 heaping teaspoon Ginger Powder
Pick 4-5 lbs. of Late Fall Oysters and clean them the best way you can. Do not worry about washing them in water and getting them water-logged, as they will get waterlogged when you blanch them.
After cleaning them, pick out the thinner ones. If you have a Late Fall Oyster that has a large or thick base, cut that base off (save those thick parts to batter and deep fry for later!).
You want thinner mushrooms as they will dehydrate more efficiently and give you that jerky-like chew.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
As you are waiting for your pot of water to boil, prepare your brine and place brine a 4L container (I find an ice cream bucket works well).
When the water is at a roiling boil, place mushrooms into the boiling water. Once the water starts to boil again, time it for 30 seconds then pull it off the stove. Be careful that the water doesn’t overflow as the water will get quite ‘foamy’. That is normal.
Strain the mushroom through a colander and rinse mushrooms with cold water.
Let sit for 10-15 minutes to help drain excess liquid. Shake the colander every few minutes to help release more water.
Place mushroom in brine and let sit 8-10 hours in fridge.
Strain the mushrooms and place the mushrooms on the dehydrator trays, making sure you leave a bit of room between each mushroom.
Dehydrate your mushroom at 140 degrees until mushrooms have lost all their moisture and are chewy and bendy/pliable. My batches can take anywhere from 12-18 hours.
When finished, take your mushroom jerky off your trays, and store them in an airtight container and store in a cool-dry place. I like to add those little moisture wicking silica packs to my containers.
Honestly, your jerky probably won’t last very long, especially if you share with others!
Enjoy the ‘fruiting bodies’ of you labour!