Mushrooms are now to be had in the forests near Mt. Rainier. (Not in the national park, unfortunately ... you can't hunt there. But in the national forests like Gifford Pinchot, learn the licensing and hunting regulations and get out there!)
I haven't yet visited outlying areas (like Tiger Mountain, where I frequently hunt Chanterelles and Sulfur Shelf; or the Olympic Peninsula), but I've heard reports that they are going well in these places too.
(Photo at left: It's hard to take time for a lunch break while surrounded by mushrooms!)
Thanks to abundant rains, a wide variety of very interesting mushrooms are springing up. I was out two weeks ago (before the most recent deluge) and found lots of Golden Chanterelles, and also early Ramaria (coral mushrooms).
Lobsters were also still going, but nearing the end. The "pro" hunters have been through and gotten most of the good ones already, but there are still a few out there left for harvesting
If you haven't yet tried lobsters, there's a reason they are prized. We are discovering that if you dehydrate them (and they dehydrate well), the seafood flavor actually intensifies after you rehydrate them. Use them in soups, stews, and any dish where you would like a lobster flavor.
They are sufficiently prized that the dehydrated versions often sell for upwards of $100 a pound. Dehydrating them naturally diminishes their weight by 80 or 90% (like all mushrooms, they are mostly water), but in season they are large and plentiful. Just be sure to check that they are firm and uneaten by worms. And cleaning them is a bit of a task.
To dehydrate, I clean and then cut in chunks about 1 or 2" in size. I lay them out in sheets (pieces should not touch each other) in a dehydrator set at about 120 degrees or so, and let them dehydrate fully, about 24 hours. You can then bag them up in regular quart or gallon-sized ziplock baggies and store them for years before rehydrating.
Chanterelles also dehydrate, but not nearly as well, as it affects consistency and doesn't improve the flavor. In my opinion, the best way to store Chanterelles is to dry saute them (see this blog post for a recipe and further instructions), then freeze the sauteed mixture in ziplock baggies.
There are nearly 500 different varieties of Ramaria, or coral mushrooms. A few are fairly toxic (causing severe gastrointestinal distress), but I don't believe these typically occur here in the Pacific Northwest. In the forests where I hunt, a beige version of Coral Mushroom typically starts about the time Chanterelles start, and is nearly the same coloration as the Golden Chanterelle. I've tried different methods of preparing them (pickling and sauteeing), and I think I prefer sauteeing because the texture is fairly crisp and pleasing. The flavor is decent, but nothing to write home about.
Also, all Ramaria have a tendency to cause diarrhea in many people, so my recommendation if you are going to start is to start small and slow. I started by pickling a jar and trying a piece about an ounce (an inch or two in diameter) in size. I let it settle for two days, found no ill effects, so two days later I tried a piece the same size and sauteed in the same manner I dry saute Chanterelles.
The trick with all wild mushrooms is to make sure they are cooked thoroughly, so that any bacteria hiding in their crevices is eliminated. I've read that more people are sickened by eating good edible mushrooms raw (or undercooked) than are sickened by eating toxic mushrooms, though I'm not sure about the statistics behind this claim.
You should see many other varieties beginning to pop up in the woods at this time of year: oysters, angel wings, sulphur shelf (chicken of the woods), maitake (hen of the woods), parasols (I have a bunch of these growing in maple leaf cultures in my back yard right now .... they are wonderful!), boletes, hedgehogs, etc. I haven't seen boletes or hedgehogs yet, but I would keep my eyes open for them because they began to fruit last year about this time. And they are both favorites.
This Saturday should be a great time to hunt, as the weather is predicted to be quite nice here in the Northwest, following our recent deluge. So get out there! (Unfortunately, I will be in Pennsylvania ... hopefully hunting there! Their climate and season is very similar to ours.)
Do drop me a comment to this post and let us all know what you find, okay?