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Mycology is the study of fungi, which includes mushrooms and yeasts, and if you're unfamiliar with the mushroom, it's time to get familiar with them. Mushrooms are some of the most incredible living things on earth, and you can find plenty growing right here in the city. They've cured diseases, have some of the most sophisticated root systems on the planet, possibly offer solutions for climate issues, and taste amazing in risotto, is there anything they can't do?
Don't be disheartened by the end of summer because that means Ontario mushroom foraging season is officially upon us! Wild mushrooms thrive in the fall, and many culinary species crop up in droves after cool, autumnal rains.
There is something so wholesome and romantic about the idea of mushroom foraging; putting on a cable knit sweater and boots, grabbing a little basket, and traipsing around a forest floor looking for chanterelles, puffballs and oysters (while simultaneously trying not to get poisoned). Mushroom foraging is not a pastime of "ye olde" but is an active agricultural pursuit that loads of people still do! Some of your favourite Toronto chefs forage for their own mushrooms and other edibles, like chef Justin Cournoyer of Actinolite Restaurant (who takes foraging to completely different levels; we're talking soil butter) and Chef de Cuisine Reem Kamal-Al-Deen of Café Belong who looks at her own backyard at Evergreen Brickworks for culinary inspiration. If you want to go a bit further, Executive Chef Jason Bangerter's menu at Langdon Hall in Cambridge is a forager's dream, with many ingredients picked from the property's 75-acres.
Before you begin your foray into mushroom hunting, there are dangers associated with mushroom picking in Ontario. Unfortunately, mushrooms are super intelligent, and many poisonous varieties have developed to mimic their edible cousins in appearance. There are a handful of mushrooms that are great for beginners to hunt, like the lobster mushroom that don't have poisonous counterparts. You need to consult a professional or guide before tasting anything anyway, and you also have to clean and cook your established 100% not poisonous mushrooms, thoroughly before consumption.
For those on the hunt for magic mushrooms, although Canada is currently growing to understand the medicinal benefit of psilocybin and psilocin (i.e. the magic mushrooms), and they have been used historically for treatment in Indigenous communities (who have centuries of inherited knowledge to lean on), currently under the CDSA the possession, sale, and consumption of unregulated magic mushrooms are illegal unless they are being administered by healthcare professionals.
If you yearn to be alone in the forest to independently forage for edible mushrooms, there are some excellent beginner resources specific to the Ontario world of fungi you can use. The Mycological Society of Toronto is a great source for any level of interest specific to the city, although you'll probably have to register for an account. You can also pick up a copy of Wild Edible Mushrooms of Ontario: A Field Guide, How to Forage for Mushrooms Without Dying: An Absolute Beginner's Guide, and the Peterson Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America.
If you feel more comfortable going with an expert guide, there are plenty of places to attend group foraging events. You can go on scheduled forays with The Mycological Society of Toronto, click on their events calendar or give them a call to learn how to register. Puck's Plenty in Stratford comb the Avon Forest (1 hour, 45 minutes from Toronto). Edible Wild Food also host regular events in and around Toronto. Wild Muskoka Botanicals (2 hours, 25 minutes away from Toronto) have several mushroom identification and foraging classes still available for the 2022 season.
After you're done collecting your mushrooms and have referenced them with your field guides THRICE to make sure you haven't picked up something poisonous by mistake, be sure to cook them using one of TasteToronto's excellent mushroom recipes, linked here. If you would like to try wild mushrooms but don't feel comfortable rummaging around a forest, Forbes Wild Foods offers dried wild mushrooms you can order and cook at home, and they're also an excellent group of people to talk to if you're curious about foraging in general.
Whether you fry them with garlic and olive oil, turn them into leisurely teabags, or simply find the little guys adorable, this could be the start of your journey in hobby-mycology! Guaranteed when you bring up your newfound mushroom facts at the next dinner party you'll be the most fungi in the room.