Our first big hunt of the Fall season took place yesterday in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (at the 2,300-foot level, north of Mt. St. Helens). My brother Don and I drove the Shroom Mobile (fondly named Jedediah, after the famous explorer) up into the national forest Thursday night and camped. We were then able to get out early in the morning ... right as the first raindrops began to fall!
Despite the rain, we conducted a total of three forays into the forest, an average of two hours each. We were joined by new hunters (with kids! The youngest I've ever had out into the woods, that was fun) on the second foray.
We found LOTS of interesting mushrooms. I've labeled my share of the ones we kept on the first and third forays, below ...
1) Several varieties of coral mushrooms. Lots out there right now, for the taking. I only brought back two specimens, to show off. Many people enjoy eating these, but I've decided not to risk it because most varieties of Ramaria (and there are many varieties ... note the difference in color and texture) can cause a severe laxative effect in some people.
2) Lobster mushrooms. At their peak right now. In the Northwest, plain white (and boring) Russula brevipes are frequently infected with a parasitic ascomycete fungus called Hypomyces lactifluorum, which balloons it into a large size, turns it bright red, and makes it taste like lobster. (What a shame!) Seriously, these are prized particularly in Asian cooking for their shellfish-like flavor. My son Nathan loves to make Tom Kha (a Thai soup) from lobster mushrooms. Very tasty. They dehydrate and rehydrate well.
3) Along with the large dark King Bolete in the center, I was most proud of these rare White Chanterelles. I've only found them once before in this area, and the large one is a beauty. Like their golden cousins, tasty eating, too.
4) Boletes! The edible ones (such as these varieties, which are primarily King Boletes) are wonderful, and frequently known to restaurant-goers as "Porcini." And we found the biggest one I have ever seen, which is evident in the large photo of me right after picking, but note how quickly (in the photo above, taken later the same day) the cap has turned black. The mushroom was quite ancient, the stipe woody and thick at the base and difficult to cut through. I didn't see any evidence of worms or maggots (which love boletes), but when I clean it I'll look carefully. If it's well cooked, a few obviously will only add protein and nothing harmful, but I don't think anyone but a fish cares for the thought of a mouthful of worms.
My brother gave me his boletes because he'd never tried them (and I was happy to accommodate him), but he then found one remaining in his collection (which was substantially larger than mine, I must admit) which he decided to try. And he immediately called me and demanded that I return the ones he had given me! Tough luck, I told him, in this case possession is way more than nine-tenths of the law.
5) Golden Chanterelles, and there were lots of beauties. This is mostly what my brother was focusing on, so he let me have other weird things so he'd have room in his basket. I'll dehydrate most of mine for Cream of Chanterelle Soup later in the winter. (My next blog will be a video blog on how to dehydrate mushrooms and create this wonderful concoction from rehydrated Chanties, so stay tuned!)
6) Puffballs, known in Latin as Lycoperdon ("wolf fart") because of their tendency to exude a puff of greenish-brown smoke (laden with millions of now-airborne spores) when you step on them or squeeze them. Nearly irresistable. But, when young, the firm white flesh is said to be quite tasty. I have never yet tried them but will probably do so later today and will report back. We found lots, but these were the youngest and freshest.
7) Coltricia perennis. Finally, there were lots of these beautiful, ivory-ringed polypores growing out of decaying wood on the ground. (See photo below.) I wasn't sure what they were, so I collected a few to bring home and identify.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, at least, I believe this is THE BEST moment of the year to be out hunting! Spring has its morels (and I've also found boletes in the Springtime), and the edges of winter has its own benefits (various shelf mushrooms continue, and I love Hedgehogs), but right now the numbers and quantity of shrooms out there is absolutely stunning. So, when the football game (or whatever) isn't on, be sure you are getting out there and getting some good exercise ... or you'll blink and miss it!