The Wild Wild Mushrooms of the New Amsterdam Market


Bear’s head mushrooms look more like polar bears than brown or black bears.

With all the rain and general dampness, It’s been the best year in memory for hunting wild mushrooms upstate and in the fungus-friendly areas of New England. Not only are the varieties more profuse, but the specimens are bigger — even reaching humongous in some cases.

The mushroom stall will be open till 4 p.m. today, and will be open two further Sundays at the New Amsterdam Market in the South Street Seaport.

Today for the first time, the New Amsterdam Market is mounting a wild-mushroom booth staffed by the Wild Food Gatherers Guild of Fairlee, Vermont. For the home cook or chef accustomed to rummaging through boxes of button, oyster, porcini, and shiitake mushrooms — with the occasional foraged chanterelle thrown in, but only if the season’s right — the advent of this booth has proved an amazing event. Perhaps never in the culinary history of the city have so many varieties been available, and having them all in one concentrated space is unprecedented.

According to the chalkboard, the varieties available include scented corals, lobsters, sea shrimp, oysters, honeys, bear’s head, hedgehogs (sweet tooth), chicken of the woods, hen of the woods (maitake), pig’s ears, sheep, white matsutake, chanterelles (yellow foot), and blue alb. As you see, whoever did the naming long ago must have thought of mushrooms as a substitute for fish, poultry, and meat.

Pig’s ear ‘shrooms do indeed look like porcine parts.

For obvious reasons, this is called a coral mushroom.

Partly due to its orange coloration on the top side, the chicken of the woods mushroom, when torn in strips and sautéed in butter or olive oil, looks and tastes exactly like chicken.

The ‘shrooms sell for $25 a pound, which might sound like a lot, except that the product is in most cases extremely lightweight. Indeed, the pricing scheme allows you to sample any number of mushrooms for the same cost, encouraging you to try unfamiliar types. Most of the mushrooms will be unfamiliar to the average shopper.

The Wild Food Gatherers will bring their foraged products twice more to the New Amsterdam Market this year, on the last Sunday in October, and the last Sunday before Thanksgiving — on October 30 and November 20, respectively. See you there!

Snow shrimp have a fishy taste, according to one of the foragers.

See if you can match up the rest of these mushrooms with the names on the chalkboard.

This one should be easy!

This one’s more difficult.

This one has a grayish-bluish tinge.

And this one resembles an animal.