Maine's Other Lobster

2016 has been a doozy of a mushroom foraging season.. Drought conditions have made for some pretty low-key mushrooming expeditions this summer. A handful of chanterelles here, a dry chicken of the woods there; mostly just the dried remains of last years flushes. For most mushroom species the summer of 2016 will go down as one of the worst seasons in recent memory, however, I have rarely seen one species look as beautiful as it has coming from the Maine woods this past month.


Lobster mushrooms don't have the legions of fervent aficionados that Porcini and Chanterelle mushrooms command, but they are equally delicious. A classic accompaniment to seafood dishes, mushroom risottos, and all foods Italian.


Lobster mushrooms are actually two different fungi, one parasitizing the other. Hypomyces lactifluorum is a parasite that grows as the signature orange skin on two otherwise inedible species, Lactarius piperatus and Russula brevipes, rendering them delicious. There have been anecdotal accounts that Hypomyces lactifluorum may potentially parasitize a poisonous mushroom species instead of it's normal hosts and create a mushroom that looks like an edible lobster mushroom that is actually poisonous. This is unlikely and has no research to back up the postulation. Lobster mushrooms have hundreds of years of documented edibility and they are generally considered a great mushroom for beginner foragers. There really is nothing else in the woods that they resemble!

Lobster mushroom caps are always irregular, a side-effect of the parasitizing fungi warping and manipulating its host, gills are non-existent and are instead a ridged surface that won't bend or move with touch. The inner flesh of a fresh specimen when cut is almost always pure white. They do tend to brown a bit when old or rotting, and sometimes have an orangey hue. Check out David Spahr's website to help with identification. He's a Maine mycologist that has a wonderful book on wild mushroom identification in New England called 'Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada.' Always remember the mushroom forager's primary rule: when in doubt, throw it out! Aren't 100% sure what it is? Don't eat it!

I'm curious if any of you out there have had experiences foraging for this mushroom. How did you cook it? Anybody made a dish with wild Atlantic lobster and lobster mushrooms? Have you found any other mushrooms this season in the dry Maine woods?

Close to all the lobster mushrooms I've ever collected found their way into two quintessential mushroom dishes. In the fall I love to make wild mushroom risotto, there is something therapeutic about spooning wild mushroom broth over simmering arborio rice. I tend to make my risotto with lobster mushrooms, black trumpet chanterelle, and porcini. I almost always use dried mushrooms for risotto. Unfortunately risotto is about the last meal I want to make in 90 degree weather, so I have a good fall back recipe that's simple and quick and uses only a few ingredients. I simply sauté fresh sliced lobster mushrooms with a couple tablespoons of butter until they have browned slightly, add some dry white wine, garlic, and whatever fresh herbs I have growing in the garden, and spoon it generously over a grilled white fish like halibut! It's great with a chilled wild-rice salad or farro.

Dried lobster mushrooms are found in most specialty or natural food stores and are also quite tasty!

Follow me on Instagram to see lots of mushroom pics! @northsporemushrooms

Collecting Wild Rose Petals and Making Lassi

It was a few years ago, while ambling along the back roads of Mount Desert Island, that I stumbled upon an estate sale of a florist that had closed it's doors decades earlier. The shop was housed in a tiny one-room building beside a residence and appeared like it was relegated to the status of a junk drawer for the past half-century. Lucky for me, the owners of the property were liquidating the scientific beakers, cataloging shelves, and other botanical knick-knacks that had once been the property of the business. Amongst the treasures that I found in that visit was a box of books on plant cultivation dating back to the late 1800's, sold to me for only a few dollars. Unsurprisingly, one plant held dominance over the content represented in that box.

Here is a quote taken from one of those books, written in 1893, titled 'The Rose: a Treatise':

"...The coming rose, The very fairest flower, they say, that blows, Such scent she hath."

It's true. No flower's scent has an affect quite like rose. Why else would it be the plant most associated with love and longing? Though rose's visual and olfactory allure is renowned, there are many cultures around the world that equally value its culinary and medicinal properties.

Beach Rose growing on an island in Southern Maine.

Beach Rose growing on an island in Southern Maine.

Though the many species in the rose family (Rosaceae) found in florist shops the world over are wonderful, we in Maine have a wild species that is equally divine. Along coastal Maine in June and Early July you'll find plenty of Rosa rugosa, commonly known as Beach Rose and one of my favorite edible flowers. This is the same species that produces rose hips later in the summer. It has a brief flowering period that perfumes the air this time of year and is commonly found growing along shore paths and beaches all along the Maine coast, though it is common adorning gardens inland too. Beach Rose is actually an invasive, brought to New England in the late 1800's by way of Europe, though the rose is actually native to Eastern Asia. That said, it naturalized in this region over a century ago and is now part of the charm of coastal New England.

The ideal way to collect rose is to pinch the petals with all five fingers and gently tug. If the flowers are mature they will easily release. They are incredibly delicate and as such need to be treated gently once harvested. I prefer harvesting into a wide shallow basket, though a paper bag will work as long as you quickly put them in a dehydrator or on a screen for drying upon returning home. As with any foraging, make sure to leave most of the flowers alone. Beach rose is usually abundant enough that you can harvest and move on without changing how the bush appears. Sustainable harvesting leaves plenty of flowers for the pollinators and ensures the health of the plant and abundant rose hips later in the season.

I dry most the rose petals I collect each season using an Excalibur dehydrator set to its lowest heat setting, this helps maintain the color and delicate flavor of the petals. Though with the low heat setting it may take up to a day and a half to fully dry them. The dried petals make a great addition to tea blends and are used in a range of Middle Eastern and Indian dishes, pairing particularly well with fresh mint in yogurt sauces for flavoring grilled meat. I store my rose petals in loosely packed mason jars and keep them out of the sun.

I always save a few handfuls of fresh petals for a delicious yogurt-based drink called a lassi. Lassis are an Indian beverage that are traditionally made sweet or salty and incorporate different fruits, nuts, and spices depending on the particular sub-region of India that they being made in. I make mine using all Maine-grown or produced ingredients and prefer the tang of small batch whole milk yogurt.

The following recipe makes a refreshing summer treat that's healthier than a milkshake.


The Maine Beach Rose Lassi

makes 2-4 servings

3.5 cups Fresh Rose Petals (loosely packed)

10 ice cubes

1 - 2 Tbs honey, diluted into 1/4 C of warm water (I like a lassi that is a little less sweet and use only 1Tbs of honey, people with a sweet tooth may prefer more!)

2 cups Unsweetened Whole Milk Yogurt

Optional- A few fresh strawberries may also be added.

Blend all ingredients until smooth, adjust for sweetness, and drink immediately or keep chilled in the fridge for up to a day.