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For the adventurous mushroom enthusiast, October and November are favorite months for mushroom hunting season beyond the produce department of grocery stores and supermarkets.

Shady wooded areas, old tree stumps, logs and leaf debris are the favorite territories for mushrooms to grow.

Entire books are devoted to finding mushrooms and classifying the good, the bad and the ugly of the fungi world.

Authors Johnny Action and Nick Sandler wrote "Mushroom" (Lyons Press, 2001, $29.95), which is still considered "the bible guide for mushroom hunters around the world."

From their use for medicinal properties to their value as a prized ingredient used for feasts for kings and queens, mushrooms have a place in history and folklore.

But for most mushroom lovers today, the tiny plant that shuns sunlight is best loved as a kitchen ingredient for special recipes.

One of the favorite framed photos of Guy and Sue Wappel of Valparaiso is a colorful photo of Guy's parents Ed and Lorraine Wappel at the family farm in San Pierre surrounded by wild mushrooms.

While Lorraine is still smiling and talking about mushroom memories, Ed died at age 86 in October 2006. And at his funeral visitation, which happened to be the midst of mushroom season, there were large fresh mushrooms on display nestled among fall hardy mums and the array of floral arrangements.

"Dad loved to mushroom hunt every season," Guy said.

"Part of the thrill was just finding the mushrooms and knowing the best places in the woods to find them year after year."

Even though Guy said he doesn't continue the family mushroom hunting tradition, because his children Derek, 14, and Julie, 12, aren't mushroom fans, Guy's older brother Larry Wappel Sr. and sons Larry Jr. and Eric still love the mushroom hunting hobby once shared by their grandfather.

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Their favorite finds are the large, massive mushrooms called "Sheep Heads" or "Hen of the Woods." These large, coral-like mushrooms are popular for their "earthy" flavor and lendability to a variety of recipes that use fresh mushrooms.

Sometimes called "the witch's vegetable" and "the poisoner's preferred tool" because mushroom poisoning can be difficult to identify, fungi consumption has led to several infamous historical untimely deaths.

In A.D. 54, the emperor Claudius died after eating mushrooms fed to him by his wife Agrippina. Pope Clement VII died from consuming the same variety in 1534.

And Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI died after being fed poisonous mushrooms in 1740.

In reality, only 1 percent of all mushroom species are poisonous, although certain varieties are hallucinogenic or may cause mild discomfort associated with stomach aches and vomiting.

Gene Matzat, Purdue Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources based at the LaPorte office since 2006, advises everyone to never pick or eat any wild mushroom without knowing the variety or if it is safe to consume.

And if in doubt, he says stick to mushrooms found in the produce department of any supermarket or always consult the local agriculture extension office before eating wild mushrooms that have not been identified as safe to eat.

The most fatal enemy of the mushroom hunter, according to Matzat, is the mushroom variety called "the Destroying Angels" in North America and "the Fool's Mushroom" in Europe. Their technical name is Amanita bisporigera, and they are pure white, highly toxic and result in death. He said they can be mistaken for the edible varieties like "button mushroom," "meadow mushroom" or the "horse mushroom." Even more confusing, "young" Destroying Angels grow enclosed in a solid white universal veil or "halo" and can be mistaken for edible "puffballs." It's only by slicing them in half "longitudinally" that reveals the internal mushroom inside, as opposed to the solid "white meat" of puffballs.

"I always repeat the old saying that there are two types of mushroom hunters," Matzat said.

"There are 'old mushroom hunters' and there are 'bold mushroom hunters.' But you'll never see many 'old, bold mushroom hunters,' which are the ones who take chances. They are no longer alive to tell their tales."

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