I have always been interested in mushrooms. I often go on scouting missions in the jungle or areas around my farm. There are a few edible mushrooms in Hawaii and I have been only able to find a couple of them. One which is most plentiful is called Wood Ear or auricularia cornea, and even a novice can identify.
I first noticed these peculiar mushrooms on fallen branches in my orchards. They are brown, rubbery in texture and slightly resemble ears. My friend, Kula, pointed out in Hawaii people call them Pepeiao “peh-peh-ee-ow” or ears. They are often seen growing along with a white, coral shaped fungus called tremella fuciformis. Most often they are found after a rain in the cracks of dying or recently dead tree branches and trunks. In Hawaii, one can find them on the windward side and the Hamakua Coast on the Big Island in wet areas.
One book that has been very helpful to me to identify mushrooms is called Mushrooms Of Hawaii by Don E. Hemmes, Ph.D., and Dennis E. Desjardin, Ph.,D. I often take this book with me out into the jungle or conifer forests as a field guide.
It is very likely if you find one, you will find Wood Ears in abundance near by. Look for fresh ones without holes or decayed edges. Keep in mind that garlic snails, flat worms and semi slugs are often found on them. Be extremely cautious by examining and discarding any with slime trails from slugs or with visible slugs because they are known as carriers of a particularly nasty parasite called Angiostrongylus cantenosis which causes rat lung worm in humans if ingested. Cooking food will kill the parasite.
Search on recently fallen branches or dying branches in trees. Wash off any dead wood, dirt or debris and let air dry. You can use them right away in soup, stews, eggs or stir fry dishes. In addition, you can set them in the sun for a day or two and they will shrivel up and dry quickly for storage. I have a jar in my pantry that has a long shelf life which I can rehydrate at any time.
If you happen to spot the white jelly mushroom or tremella fuciformis it is particularly choice and delicious. I like to saute them in butter then mix it with other foods.
Tremella fuciformis and wood ear soak up other flavors but they have a unique quality that will add a crunchy texture to your dish.
Another Hawaiian mushroom to look for is Pycnoporus cinnabarinus. It grows on dead branches and is bright red-orange. Too tough to eat but it can be used as a mushroom tea or dye. Its spore print is white. P. cinnabarinus is antimicrobial has been studied to show both anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
These mushrooms are easy to identify and find. They may be the mushroom that starts you on a forage for more locally grown fungi. Keep in mind that there may be permissions and permits for collecting. In addition, when collecting always leave a behind a few so that they will reproduce again.