Mushrooms are defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as," Any of various fleshy fungi of the class Basidiomycota, characteristically having an umbrella-shaped cap borne on a stalk." Wild mushrooms are nature's recyclers; they feed on fallen logs, grass trimmings and dead leaves. Types of wild mushrooms in Iowa include both edible and poisonous kinds; only mushrooms identified as safe by an authoritative source like the state of Missouri website should be consumed.
The Common Ink Cap
Search for the edible Common Ink Cap close to tree stumps in Iowa between April and September. The characteristic light gray cap measures up to 3 inches across and droops down around the stalk. Its official name comes from drawing ink produced by boiling the gills of mature inkcaps. Its unofficial name, "Tippler's Bane,' derives from the fact that it can only be safely eaten if no alcohol has been consumed within the last few days. When taken with alcoho,l it produces an exaggerated "hangover" effect. Try cooking Inkcaps by lightly sautéing in butter and seasoning with freshly-ground black pepper.
The Fairy Ring Champignon
After a couple of days of fall rain in Iowa, the small light brown caps of edible Fairy Ring Champignon mushrooms shoot up overnight and form circles on lawns, feeding on grass clippings. The appearance of Fairy Ring Champignon mushrooms is attributed to the activities of dancing fairies in folk legend, but science shows the spores or seeds spread out in a circular shape from the first mushroom, in a pattern that continues each year, sometimes for decades. To encourage rings to form, spread a light coating of sawdust in the desired location, since it's a favorite food of these mushrooms. The caps will dry nicely for future addition to soups and stews when threaded on a string and hung away from strong light in a well-ventilated location.
The Morel Mushroom
Wild Morel mushrooms are found in Iowa during April and May in damp areas, often near hardwood trees. Edible Morels grow up to 6 inches tall, with light yellow-brown and gray-brown caps closed over the stems. Great care must be taken to avoid the false Morel, with its reddish-brown color and open cap, when searching for the edible variety. Morels are great favorites with cooks, possessing a flavor described as nutty, meaty and creamy. To cook Morel mushrooms, try sautéing with butter and seasoning with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
The Oyster Mushroom
Edible Oyster mushrooms grow in fan-like layers on fallen logs, stumps and the trunks of living trees and are most common after rains during summer and fall. The caps are 2 to 8 inches wide, colors vary from white to dark beige and stalks are very short or nonexistent. They look, smell and taste like the shellfish, oysters, and can be served in a similar manner, lightly braised with seafood seasonings to accentuate that particular flavor.