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About five years ago, a strange new mushroom popped up in my gravel driveway. It was the shape of an egg, and all the squirrels in my yard went nuts over it. (So to speak.) They were nibbling holes in it, so I could see the inside.
But on the outside it was soft, and feathery. The mushroom itself was white, but the tips of the features were brown. And where it was injured, it stained a maroon-ish red.
I soon learned it was a "Shaggy Parasol." This refers to any one of three actual species: Chlorphyllum rhacodes, C. brunneum, and C. olivieri. In the agaric family, Found in North America, Europe, and Southern Africa, the Shaggy Parasol is a prized edible (with two caveats, explained below).
That same year, I started a maple leaf pile in a small space in the woods behind my back yard. I had a bigleaf maple which dropped tons of leaves every fall, so I moved them out to this pile, where they decayed.
And the next year, Shaggy Parasols began to pop up in my maple leaf pile! Dozens of them ... and in subsequent years, hundreds.
I did some more research on the Shaggy Parasol. It is delicate and doesn't last more than a few days before it is attacked by worms, so you have to catch it quickly. The caps are what is eaten, as the stalks are thin and fibrous. And it has a nearly identical cousin, C. molybdites, which is responsible for the majority of poisonings in this country each year. People harvest C. molybdites, thinking it is the prized Shaggy Parasol that it so resembles.
Even though C. molybdites typically don't grow here in the Northwest, here's only one surefire way to tell the difference, and that's to do a spore print. If it drops white spores, it's the edible Shaggy Parasol. If the spores are green-ish, it's the toxic C. molybdites.
I tested the shrooms in my maple leaf pile, and to my delight they confirmed to be the edible variety of Shaggy Parasols. But as Wikipedia will tell you, Shaggy Parasols also contain a small amount of toxin has to be cooked out, and even when it is, some people are quite allergic to the residue. So they always advise testing first by consuming a small amount, then increase the dosage if you suffer no ill effects. (Good advice when hunting any exotic mushroom.)
Get Out Your Umbrellas ... Today is Parasol Day!
Shaggies typically spring up in late September or early October, so I always start checking my culture about now. (It's September 17 as I'm writing this.) Last night, we had a good, soaking rain here in the Northwest, the first one in many days. So this morning, as I picked my way among the dripping foliage, I was delighted to see a crop of Shaggies just beginning to pop up. They will be followed, no doubt, by dozens more in the days to come! Each year so far, my crop has doubled in size.
But, they don't last long, so I'm going to harvest and cook them as they mature. I harvest by carefully grasping the cap in one hand and the stipe (or stalk of the mushroom) in the other, then twisting until the cap breaks free. I leave the stipes in the ground like little poles, and try not to disturb the mycelium below if I can help it.
The parasol flattens out as the Shaggy matures. I've read they can reach a diameter of about 7 inches, but I try to harvest them when they're still umbrella shaped (as in the photo above) and about 4 inches in diameter.
Other types of mushrooms also have been popping up around the edges of this pile, which I've been mostly ignoring except to pluck them out and toss them away, lest they take over next year's crop.
Just to be doubly certain, before I prepare the caps I do a spore test of sorts, letting the caps sitting (gill side down) on a glassy black surface for 8 hours or so. When you pull them away, you will see a dusty white sporeprint. If it's greenish ... beware!
Storing and Preparing Them
Shaggy Parasols dehydrate very well and I've read here that they only improve with age, so you should let them sit for a year or two. After you've done your spore print, and given them a good cleaning (not with water; use a brush, as you would with most any exotic mushroom), you can pop them in the dehydrator, either whole or cut into strips. I set the temp at about 125 degrees F; they should be done in 18-24 hours. (The caps are velvety soft and tend to come apart easily if you do the latter, so I'm dehydrating my crop this year whole.)
I store them in quart-sized freezer baggies in a dark pantry. The unique flavor of the Shaggy Parasol only intensifies as you rehydrate it in hot water. You can cull the first bath and use it to flavor soups, etc., then re-soak if you want to draw some of this flavor off the shrooms themselves.
Next it's time to cook them. First, they may need to be cleaned. As with most exotic mushrooms, they do better with a brush cleaning than by soaking with water. (Also, as you let them sit for the spore prints, if they are infested with worms as they have a tendency to do easily, you should see some of these drop off and crawl around.)
I've found several links that share how to prepare Parasol Mushrooms well. After rehydrating in warm water, slice into strips and saute in butter. The cooking mushrooms turn brown and meat-like, and are good as a meat accompaniment with almost any rich sauce. Good as an accompaniment with most red meats, and pair with a nice red wine.
I'm looking for a few folks who will help me test the viability of my culture. For a limited time I'll send you a packet of the mycelium-packed rotting maple leaves, which you can bury in your own maple leaf pile, in a shady damp spot (not on grass), in hopes for a crop next fall. This is an experimental offering for me, so it's for a limited time and quantity, but I'll give you your money back (except shipping) if you don't get shrooms next Fall. See this link for more information.