Saturday, October 24, 2009
We're deep into fall now and here in the Pacific Northwest, that means mushrooms. Strangely, the hunting bug didn't really hit me until just last year when it was revealed to me that the coveted chanterelle, the golden queen of all things 'shroom, actually grows right here on our little rock...if you know where to look.
As Michael Pollan hilariously details in the final section of his Omnivore's Dilemma, the elusive chanterelle is a master of hiding, and those that hunt it are equally masterful at keeping its dark secrets hidden. Up against deadline for his book, he begged seasoned foragers in vain to take him - even blindfolded - on a mushroom hunt, any mushroom hunt.
As fun as foraging for the ultimate seasonal treat can be, however, more generalized hunting for interesting fungi can be great adventure as well. Armed with our trusty guide, gloves - very important because many varieties are highly toxic - and a bag for carrying any discovered golden loot, we set off into trails spongy with decaying leaves and wet from recent rains.
Few things are more fun to do with your kid. Mushroom hunting gets you out into nature, provides the thrill of a treasure hunt, and turns out to be educational for everyone in the bargain. Sleuthing for mushrooms in the recesses of a damp woods, earthy and primal, in mist or dappled sun or even pouring rain when the scents seem almost overpowering - it's the original northwest playground.
Hunt for chanterelles and other fungi in wooded areas with lots of native vegetation and some, but not much, natural light. Away from the beaten trail and just after a rain are your best bets. Bring along a good guide with lots of photographs and detailed descriptions. Don't eat anything you cannot absolutely, positively identify - this is another reason chanterelles are uniquely exciting to find. They are not only delicious, but extremely distinctive, making them a safe choice for sauteing once you get home.
If you find a chanterelle hideout, check it every autumn, and don't tell anyone. Except maybe me.