Spring Oysters growing on a small poplar tree.

Spring Oysters

Ahhh. Springtime in Maine. The sounds of bird chirping, the glistening morning dew, and the smell of anise. Wait…what? Did he just say the smell of anus?

No, no, no — the smell of anise. Y’know? Black licorice. Sweet and spicy. That’s what Spring Oyster mushrooms smell of.

Being one of the first edible mushrooms that are available in spring in Maine, Spring Oysters (Latin name: Pleurotus populinus) have come to symbolize the beginning of a prosperous year of mushroom foraging.

While I only own a single acre, I happen to be surrounded by 6,800 acres of public preserved land known as The Kennebec Highlands. I literally walk to the end of my driveway, cross the road, and I am entering into these woods.

Here on this preserved land (and in other nearby preserved lands), I have foraged and hunted for a variety of foods, including Spring Oysters.

While walking with my wife in the Kennebec Highlands this spring, we stumbled upon a grove of small poplar trees and instantly noticed mushrooms growing on some of the trees.

One whiff of the mushrooms and there was no doubt in my mind — we had found oysters!

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Tender, young Spring Oyster mushrooms.

We gathered them up and hastily made our way for home.

Days earlier I had harvested some young Dryad’s Saddle mushrooms from a different location and these oysters were to make a lovely addition to our mushroom feast.

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A handful of young Dryad’s Saddle mushrooms.

I battered and fried the Dryad’s Saddle. The Spring Oysters, I tossed into a hot cast iron skillet with some venison backstrap pieces from the doe I had harvested in the fall.

The meal, while boring to look at (due to it’s lack of color variety), was absolutely scrumptious. Surprisingly, the battered Dryad’s Saddle were the spotlight. It reminded both my wife and I of battered clams bellies. Whether that was due to the method of cooking or to the mushroom itself was not quite clear, though I lean more to the prior than the latter.

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Battered Dryad’s Saddle w/ Pan-fried Venison and Spring Oysters

Weeks passed and I found no more Spring Oysters, until one night, while taking a quick after-dinner stroll in the woods, I stumbled upon a broken Poplar tree. Half of it still stood, while the other half lay on the ground in pieces.

On one of those pieces (approximately 4 ft long) there grew, from every which way, large, white Oyster mushrooms. They were gone past and ridden with bugs, but I was nevertheless thrilled.

This log was coming home with me.

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I picked it up, exited the woods, and walked down the road to my property. There I set the log in a damp, wooded patch alongside my driveway. While I would not eat these Oysters this year, come next spring I would almost surely be guaranteed a meal or two of delicious Oyster mushrooms. And I wouldn’t have to venture farther than a few steps to get it!


Spring Oyster Soundtrack: Helloween – “I Want Out”

After being cooped up all winter, you start to go a little crazy, wondering if you’ll ever see spring or if the insanity will get to you first.

This song from German power metal band Helloween perfectly describes that restlessness.

“I want out – to live my life alone.
I want out – leave me be.
I want out – to do things on my own.
I want out – to live my life and to be free.”

There is a triumphant feeling to spending a spring day outside in the woods, after barely escaping the physical and mental prison of the winter. No stuffy office and no stupid rules — just total freedom in the forest!

Turn up the metal and get to the woods. Freedom awaits you.