On my blog break, I also signed up for a mushroom foraging class at a local nature center. After a video presentation and some guidelines on harvesting mushrooms, I took my basket and knife and I followed the instructor into the woods.
We were charged with collecting any mushroom or lichen we could find, digging them from the soil to preserve the bottoms if possible. I later learned that these brightly-topped mushrooms are russula.
We started out in a big group, but eventually broke into small sets of two or three people. The folks I walked with were friendly and we would call each other to see clumps of mushrooms so each of us could gather a bigger variety.
When we got back to the meeting place, the youngest member of our group had managed to find some very toxic Amonita.
This is terribly out of focus, but I did find the tiniest specimens of the group. There is actually a third impossibly minuscule mushroom by my thumb.
We grouped the mushrooms by type and then spent time with guidebooks trying to classify them based on features of the stipe, cap, gills, coloration, remnants of the universal veil, and so on.
When you cut mushrooms you can find out other things about them - if they secrete a milky substance, for instance, or if they stain another color when sliced or bruised.
With each identification, I'd ask the most important question: "So, is that one edible?" Apparently this slug thought so.
At one point when I asked about edibility, Whitey (the mushroom expert) handed a piece of one to me and said, "It won't hurt you, but it's listed as 'intensely bitter.' Taste it." I did, and it was. He handed me another mushroom and said, "Taste this one, it's bitter in a different way." I said. "What, am I the official taster now? How do I know this one won't kill me?" So he popped a big chunk in his mouth and started chewing it, expressionless. I tried a piece. I will not be adding any of those to my salad anytime soon.
My personal haul from the foraging trip. I still have only a rudimentary idea about how to identify mushrooms, but I will sure be noticing them on my walks from here on out.