In previous posts, we've talked about where to hunt, when to hunt, and how to prepare for your hunt. Now it's time to get down to brass tacks. What should you hunt for?
The bottom line is, if you get out in the forests during the right time of year, you may very well see dozens of varieties of mushrooms. How do you know what to harvest, and what to merely photograph?
When my son Nathan and I lead hunts, invariably, within the first mile, team members are quite excited to find some very fascinating-looking mushrooms. "That's so cool!" they shout. "What is it?"
My stock response is: "I don't know. Don't eat it."
Most of the time, actually, I do know. It's some variety of Amanita, or perhaps a Russula. If we're lucky, it will be a Bolete, or possibly even a Chanterelle, in which case I congratulate the finder and show them how to harvest it. But most of the time, it's one of the dozens of varieties of mushrooms that are pretty, but we're not actually looking to harvest. We may have a half dozen or a dozen mushrooms that we are looking for. With the rest, we take pictures.
So, what are we usually looking for?
In the fall, the main mushroom of choice here in the Pacific Northwest is the Golden Chanterelle. There are some other varieties of Chanterelle, such as the White Chanterelle, but they are much rarer. Given the right conditions, Golden Chanterelles spring up like beacons out of the moss. Nathan and I just today finished a hunt in the Tiger Mountain area, and we found dozens. Most were poking out of a soft, low mossy loam, in partial shade and partial sun, usually on slopes at the 1,500-2,500 foot elevation. Some were near streams, others were not.
The Golden Chanterelle has some wannabe copycats, but the shroom itself is pretty distinctive and hard to miss. (The gold against green background jumps out at you much more readily than a brown morel sitting in a group of pine needles and pine cones!)
The mature Chanterelle looks like a golden flower. The distinctive, graceful gills run from low down on the stem, all the way up to the fluted edges under the cap. They have a certain firm and fleshy consistency. In good condition they are never slimy. After a little experience, they are simply unmistakeable.
Their flavor and fragrance is slightly fruity, like ripe peaches. They are a wonderfully unique mushroom, and here in the Northwest, in the right conditions, they grow in great abundance.
We were also keeping our eyes open for other kinds of mushrooms. Yesterday, we were lucky to find sulphur shelf (so-called "chicken of the woods") growing from a dead cedar log. You have to be a little careful with sulphur shelf growing out of cedar (as opposed to other hardwoods, such as oak), because some people are sensitive to the particular chemical composition that occurs in this combination. But we've harvested and eaten chicken of the woods before, found in rotting cedar here in the Northwest, carefully, with no ill effects. Honestly, it tastes just like chicken (with a cedar-ish aroma! nice!), and can be substituted in dishes such as chicken cacciatore.
We also found some oyster mushrooms growing out of rotting logs, which are also common here.
And we were keeping our eyes open for many other varieties which might be found this time of year: lobster mushrooms, lion's mane, hedgehogs, boletes, and others. Though most of these will be found later in the fall season.
One of the great benefits of hunting wild mushrooms is the exercise you get! Yesterday Nathan and I logged nearly 11 miles in the forests of Tiger Mountain State Park, and my Fitbit told me I had climbed the equivalent of 85 flights of stairs! The day's activities burned 4,000 calories and in my meals I consumed only half that amount. But we kept well hydrated and were careful to keep electrolytes on board.
I arrived home late afternoon, looking forward to soaking my aching bones in the spa. Even if you don't find mushrooms, traipsing around in the woods looking for them is generally very good for you!
Well, when we got home I contributed my share of the catch to my son, who is an excellent cook and is going to make something very tasty out of them. He's thinking about a Chanterelle stromboli, or perhaps something involving a duck that he's had waiting in his freezer. Whatever it is is guaranteed to be wonderful. I'll let you know what he decides, and perhaps even cajole a recipe out of him for you!