I have been thinking that this obsession is going to limit my friendships every fall unless I drag a few more of you into my way of thinking so here is my little list of Why I Love Mushroom Hunting and Why You Should Too.
1. Own Your Urge to Forage.
Those of us who have it know it: that itch, that urge, that compelling drive to go out and look at Value Village one more time, or walk the tidal line for a seaswept shell, or find a penny with a metal detector. There are treasures out there in the woods, especially if you like to eat mushrooms and the joy of mushroom hunting is the splendid disguise that mushrooms have, their cleverness that means you could walk right by them and then find them on the way home.
You know all the hoopla about Geocaching? Well, mushroom foraging is like geocaching without technology, following the clues in the seasons, the hills, the sunny side of a valley, the rainshadow? If you read the clues and keep close to the ground you will find them, eventually, with luck.
2. They Taste Good
If you don't like mushrooms, I won't convince you. But many wild mushrooms are far tastier than the store buttons and I like tasty things. Enough said. I am not going to go all foodie on you now.
2b. And They Are Cheap(er) if You Find Them
If you've tried to buy chanterelles or matsutake or porcini (fresh or dried) you know that they are almost always pretty expensive. Most of us aren't going to buy a $30 a lb matsutake to grill on the BBQ. So, learn to hunt mushrooms and you can try one.
2c. And its Eating Local.
Which is pretty important and trendy these days.
3. Mushrooms are Sexy
The scientific names of mushrooms are very interesting sometimes to the point of being R-rated. As you know, all Seattle culture finds its way to the coffee shop at some point. This morning, I was in a coffee shop with Wren (3) and the woman in the couch next to us looked up sharply when I asked him whether he could see the mushrooms volva. She gave me a piercing glance and returned a rigid gaze her book as if to prove she was not listening so I said it again "You see, amanitas have a nice big volva".
Then there are the clitocybes - including the aforementioned Blewitt (or clitocybe nuda). I mean, how often can you use big words like that with a preschooler?
2. They Inspire Creativity
Mushrooms are beautiful to draw and photograph and if you are a stitch and bitch type, they dye textiles rich organic shades. If you prefer the fiber arts you can always make little felt mushrooms and sell them to Waldorf families via Etsy. Could it be that Steiner's Europeon roots made him a big fan of the little mushroom?
Wren has become my best student as shown by this very realistic drawing of an amanita which he did after we had looked at the Easy Key to Common Gilled Mushrooms. He calls it his Mushroom Drawing.
|Amanita Muscaria aka "Mushroom" |
Warnings and Disclaimers
If you are careless you can die.
This is said too much in the US but its true, there are poisonous mushrooms out there and, particularly in countries where millions of people forage for mushrooms, people die from eating them by mistake.
Lethal ones are in the vast minority but I know that won't make you feel much better if you haven't a clue what a safe and tasty one looks like. For me, I figure its like someone said to you before an international trip: "There are problems with violence in [insert description of foreign place]." If you are the type of person who, on the basis of this information, decides never to leave US shores, you should probably not collect and eat wild mushrooms. However, if you could keep alert and change plans to avoid said location, you should be fine. Join a mushroom club, gather with experts, use a few guides and don't eat it because it might be alright. Be sure.
Succeeding at Foraging Leads You into Food Preservation Issues
If you succeed in finding mushrooms, be prepared to get into dessication, bagging cups of sauteed mushrooms for freezing and perhaps pickling and bottling. This is not always the same skill set as the avid mushroom hunter, so if you feel that this is not your scene you can bring your mushrooms to me and I will help you eat them.
Actually, this whole "I will help you eat them..." thing is a bit of a dark joke in mycology circles because it goes to the heart of mushroom hunting ---> most people want most delicious mushrooms for their pot or they want to be the ones who can exhibit largesse and share them. Both are rather selfish pleasures and if you've crawled around in the woods all day with a scant haul in edibles you don't feel that there is enough to go around... so:
Mushroomers Are Possessive and Sneaky
In the first few years of mushroom learning my feelings were hurt a few times when I asked someone "Where did you find that?" and they sniggered and made some joke or gave a location about as specific as "on earth somewhere."
It is not a joke.
People do not share their mushroom spots because (property rights aside) its like having a perennial vegetable garden growing in the woods. If you find a mushroom somewhere, its worth checking again in a few weeks to see if more have grown. Its definitely worth checking it next season. This is particularly the case with the most prized edibles like some boletes and chanterelles which return with their bounty each fall. Still, I think that mushroom foragers should make this more clear to novices otherwise it sounds mean. Face it. You are being mean. Lets role play this:
Jane emerges into the campground from the forest with a collecting basket full of boletus edulis. I am a novice who is on her first foray.
Me: Wow! What are those? Can you eat them?
Jane [rotating around to make me forget the direction from which she came]. They're boletus edulis. They're delicious.
Me: Where did you find them?
Jane: In the area... [she laughs and bobs her head in a vague way]
Jane covers them up and quickly puts them away into her car. One specimen is seen on the ID table at the end of the day.
I would much prefer this:
Jane: Its a SECRET. Its MY PRESSSHISSS SECRET. I own this mycelium because I FOUND IT and it took me many years and my SECRET relationship with boletes to know where it was and even then I have to travel out here a few times every fall to check on it so DON'T LOOK AT ME or my boletes. Don't TOUCH them. Don't look at them possessively or I will have to shoot you with antifungals FROM MY EYES.
You know, that way we know how we stand and can develop a suitable sneakiness ourselves. Instead, the novice shares all his wisdom. At the last PSMS meeting a new member came in with a huge box of boletus edulis and said where he had found them, exactly. Jaws were dropping, but they should not have been.
Generosity is really a lot more fun in a community so we have to practice to guard our tongues, speak in generalities and walk North to travel East.
Lets get together and hunt mushrooms next year!