I've Officially Gone "Mushroom Crazy"
Updated: Jan 8
In 2019, it was my first time finding and identifying many of the Pacific Northwest's classic mushrooms that are considered gourmet edibles. I spent much more time hunting for mushrooms than any other year prior... and went a little "mushroom crazy," quite frankly!
Mushrooms have something very mysterious and magical about them, and they're often good at hiding under dirt and leaves, or with good color camouflage. It is all too easy to walk right by them without noticing them, but I find that once my eyes and my focus are calibrated to pay attention to them, mushrooms begin to appear absolutely everywhere. This is how it started out.
Late last summer I was doing volunteer trail work, when someone pointed out a small, spiky Bear's Head fungus growing on the end of a log. Before that, I was blissfully oblivious to mushrooms. After that though, I couldn't stop seeing mushrooms everywhere. In that same week, I found a lot more Bear's Head, golden and white Chanterelles, Chicken of the Woods, King Boletes, Shaggy Manes... and who knows what else was around that I just didn't lay eyes upon! Since then, you could say that I've been a little addicted to mushroom hunting.
Later into the season, it was my first time finding Lobster mushroom (which is actually one fungus parasitizing another fungus), plus Hedgehogs, Yellowfoot Chanterelles, and the western Matsutake/Pine Mushroom. One of the most intimidating to identify has been the Matsutake, for sure. It took months of self educating via books, YouTube videos, and a few online forums and articles, until I could finally make a confident ID of a Matsutake--the mushroom whose lookalikes include the toxic "Death Cap" Amanita.
Finding any specific kind of mushroom involves a little luck, patience and intuition, but it can help a lot to learn about their preferred environment and which regions they're known to grow in. Some fungus prefer to grow near certain kinds of trees; some species grow out of decaying wood, while others prefer disturbed soil; and so forth. Once you know this info, you have an idea of where to start.
If you're thinking about eating any species of wild foraged mushroom, learning how to identify its lookalike species is equally as important, because mis-identification can result in illness or death. This may be very intimidating, as it should be, but it was less intimidating to learn that you generally can't get sick from only lightly touching or taking a whiff of a mushroom, not even the infamously poisonous ones... in fact, certain textures and odors can be key traits for identifying many species, so feel free to poke or sniff a tad, if you feel so inclined.
Out of all that I've tried this year, my favorite fungus to eat (straight out of the pan!) is the Bear's Head, Hericium abeitis. It has no poisonous lookalikes, but it has a handful of close relatives within the genus Hericium which all have a similar appearance, like Lions Mane. All it needs is some dry sauteeing to cook out the excess moisture, then butter and salt toward the end to crisp the edges--absolutely delicious! It tastes like fried calamari or crab meat perhaps.
Naturally, I have also experimented with a handful of wild mushroom recipes from my findings, including risotto, soup, pizza, and even... candy? Check out the picture gallery below to review some of my fungal findings and culinary adventures from the second half of 2019!
(1/8/2020 Note about the image gallery: the host of this site has made changes to the blog format, and my captions aren't showing up anymore! This will be remedied soon!)
This past autumn left me especially excited to try making a few specific dishes in the future, like some traditional Japanese recipes with the Matsutake mushroom, or a homemade batch of Italian oil-and-vinegar marinated King Bolete mushrooms!
In 2020, I am eager to find and identify the following mushrooms for my first time:
- Candy Caps / Lactarius rubidus
- Blewits / Clitocybe nuda
- Black Trumpets / Craterellus cornucopioides
- Cauliflower mushroom / Sparassis crispa
- Reishi polypore / Ganoderma oregonense
- "Bleeding Tooth" in its bleeding phase / Hydnellum peckii (inedible)
... and surely many others. :)
Do you like to look for wild mushrooms? If so, do you have a favorite mushroom? What is YOUR favorite mushroom dish to eat? Let me know! Thanks for reading, and happy adventures!