I went to check out my favorite oyster-mushroom log at the University of Wisconsin’s Picnic Point, and the oysters had hightailed it. They had been replaced by velvet stalks, Flammulina velutipes, cold-weather specialists. We started seeing those more than a month ago, but now it seems they’re taking over the woods.To say these little guys have “slimy” caps is to describe a range of goo from merely clammy to as if some slugs came and had an orgy on it, which slime comes off on your hand. The mushrooms are otherwise charming, with a rich red-orange-rust-brown cap, white gills and a thin dark velvety stalk … they cluster on wood. Which is some consolation for them being so insubstantial compared to the oysters that came before them. Upon cooking they whimper and disappear into other flavors. But hey, better than no mushrooms at all, right? I have assured them they’ll do fine in a pate. While I was there I got me some late fall oysters—Panellus serotinus. Pretty easy to recognize, they looked like oysters but firmer, sturdier, with a stubby lateral stalk; a subtle olive-greenish brown cap with violet tints; decurrent light gills. Unfortunately, Arora says its appearance, like that of velvet stalk, “is usually a sign that the mushroom season is almost over.”
Ain’t over ’til it’s over, though. I’m still finding (and, as a neophyte, being flummoxed by) plenty of fungi.