All your life you’ve been told that there is no free lunch.

Don’t believe it.

It’s right there, available to anyone who knows what to look for, and it’s not really a secret, either - a genuine free lunch, one you’d have to pay extra for in a restaurant, but now it’s free!

We’re talking really, really delicious here, and all it takes is a few minutes, a little ‘boning up’ on the subject, and knowing where to go.

Simple?

Almost.

What we’re going for is wild mushrooms, which can be found practically anywhere – even within cities – if you know where to look.

Now, I’m not going to describe the differences between edible and non-edible mushrooms because you can find all that information online or at the local library – and that’s free too!

Once you know what you’re looking for and where, you can simply take a walk and gather your free goodies.

Mushrooms grow in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and only a small percentage are non-edible – still, don’t go looking until you know what you’re looking for – exactly.

Some folks look at mushroom gathering as a way of getting their exercise and enjoying a pleasant change of scene while ending up with a treat, since sometimes you’ll be looking close to home, sometimes in the middle of the woods, maybe out in a pasture somewhere, or you might find your own private mushroom El Dorado somewhere else (which you’re going keep secret, of course),

Why, you can find them growing out in the open, or beside trees, and even sprouting from them, in dozens of different shapes, different colors, different flavors, but wherever you find that gold mine, you’re in tall clover, so to speak.

And what a payoff!

Just picture yourself sitting down to a tempting breakfast of scrambled eggs and sautéed mushrooms with buttered toast and coffee. What a great way to start your day!

Or, how about a generous helping of mushrooms sautéed in butter with a dash of salt and just a smidgeon of garlic as a side order with your dinner steak?

And don’t miss breaded, deep-fried mushrooms. Yum!

Yep. Definitely worth going after.

Mushrooms grow wild just about anywhere in the world with obvious exceptions like arctic zones, volcanoes and such, and you’ll discover that appearances, types and flavors can vary with location. Best of all, since you found them yourself the price is right – far, far less than those ‘tame’ mushrooms available at most grocery stores, delicatessens and specialty shops. Wild ones usually have better flavor, and you’ll probably end up with all you want, not just a restaurant’s single serving - free!

Starting is easy enough. Check out one of the library’s reference books with large full-color life-size photographs, and you’ll find that some of the most unappetizing-looking examples can be the most delicious. These books will tell you exactly what they look like, the most likely places to look, and even when they’re in season, with lots of surprises along the way.

Did you know that you can find them in abandoned buildings, farmlands, mines, and even remote building sites that have been ploughed over years ago?

You can find then in the brush, in deep forests, on bare hillsides and pastures, and even in an unexpected corner of your own back yard within the city – and when mushrooms decide to sprout, they can grow in great numbers, so bring your appetite.

Timing? After a Spring rain followed by a warm day is a good time to look, but they can grow anytime from Spring all the way through late Autumn.

There are so many varieties of harvestable edible mushrooms that a person doesn’t have any reason not to hunt for them.

Just be sure to use chigger spray or mosquito repellent and bring a bag to hold your discoveries.

What to do when you get them home?

Rinse lightly in cold water, separate the stems (you can dry them to add to homemade soup later), shake water off, and if you just can’t wait, sauté the caps immediately and enjoy the feast.

Okay. We’ve got you started, so all you have to do is get the information, then get out there and look.

However, if you happen to be out there seeking your Free Lunch and notice someone else walking slowly and looking carefully at the ground, that’ll probably be me, searching for breakfast.

Look somewhere else. I got here first.

— Newton columnist Mike Morton writes weekly for the Kansan.He can be reached at m24r24fm8445@att.net