'Shroom hunter

Mushroomers say just a little more precipitation will help this year's fall season boom
Louis Jeandin displays some of the chanterelles for sale at his booth at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market in Medford Thursday.Bob Pennell

Louis Jeandin placed a tray brimming with succulent chanterelle mushrooms on his stand at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market in Medford.

"For me, this has been a record year," observed the Phoenix resident as he continued to prepare for customers. "We had a lot of mushrooms late in the spring. Summer was dry but we are catching up now.

"Just a little more rain now please," he said.

Indeed, after a wet spring created a mushroom crop that fruited into early summer, the fall mushroom season in southwest Oregon looks like it is about to, well, mushroom.

While there are reports of the edible fungi already flourishing this fall in the Oregon Coast Range and higher elevations in the Cascade Mountains, mushroomers say a little more precipitation is needed to create a good crop in the Rogue, Applegate and Illinois river valleys and surrounding foothills.

But most avid mushroom hunters like Jeandin, a native of France who began avidly hunting mushrooms locally about five years ago, aren't too anxious about divulging their favorite hunting grounds.

"We are secretive," he said, speaking with a rich accent. "When I'm picking mushrooms or digging for truffles, I spend a lot of time. It is not to share with anybody else. That's the way it is. I make my livelihood out of it. But it is a passion more than a job."

He travels to the coastal mountains at least twice a week in search of mushrooms he sells at weekly farmers' markets in Ashland, Medford and Grants Pass. He also ships fungi to restaurants in places such as San Francisco, New York and Phoenix, Ariz.

But many other mushroom hunters seek the fall-fruiting fungi, such as mouth-watering chanterelles, matsutakes and hedgehogs, out of love for the hunt and the taste.

"I used to pick wild mushrooms commercially — now I just do it for my own table," said former Oregon Coast resident Floyd Williams, 64, who now lives near Ashland.

"I love the different flavors you find in mushrooms," he added. "I like the chanterelles, the milky caps and the hedgehogs in the fall."

The chanterelles come in both black and purple, he noted.

"And I like the candy caps, too," he said, explaining, "They are part of the milky cap family of mushrooms. They smell like maple syrup. You can bake with them. Very good.

"Fall hunting is good, but it all depends on rain," he added.

Over in the Illinois Valley, Eric McEwen, an avid mushroomer for 15 years in the local area, also is waiting for more rain.

"It was looking really good going into late summer — the ground moisture is really high," McEwen said. "There is plenty of potential for a good season. But we need one or two rains to really get it going here.

"There is some fruiting going on toward the coast and up in the Cascades now," he added. "This fall should offer a nice long season if we don't switch to cold and dry. Right now, the next good rain (forecasted) is about 10 days off."

The lack of demand for mushroom-gathering permits this fall on both the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest reflects the dry season, officials agreed.

For instance, the BLM district has had no request for commercial permits to pick mushrooms yet this fall. Although the number for the forest wasn't available, it was also believed to be low.

"It has been fairly dry in the lower elevation — that has put a damper on mushroom growth," observed Jim Whittington, spokesman for the BLM district whose lands are generally in the lower elevations.

"But, based on the long-range forecast, we can expect to have a fairly wet winter," he said, adding that would likely boost the fall mushrooms if the rain resumes in the coming weeks.

Forest spokesman Paul Galloway agreed.

"Given the fact there has not been a lot of precipitation yet, there just hasn't been a lot of demand for permits," he said. "It's really all dependent on the weather."

There is generally more mushroom permit demand in the spring, although that demand has dropped off in recent years, they noted.

But Williams, an organic gardener and collector of carnivorous plants, said the current weather makes for pleasant mushroom hunting.

"I like Indian summer but it does mean a slow chanterelle season locally," Williams said. "But they are already growing gangbusters on the coast.

"They just like it cooler and a little wetter," he said. "The chanterelles are under the trees. When the frost comes in, the first one doesn't get them. But when the frost gets strong enough to be under the trees, that is the end of the chanterelle season."

But there is also the fall matsutake season, he noted.

"You usually get into matsutakes before Thanksgiving," he said, noting the season varies depending on the location.

In any case, he planned to be mushrooming this weekend.

"And I'll definitely be bringing back mushrooms," he vowed.

Jeandin also planned to be hunting mushrooms throughout the weekend.

"In Europe, learning to identify mushrooms and looking for them is part of the childhood and the adult life," he said. "I am from the Alps. When you go hiking, you naturally look for them."

His favorite fungi?

"I don't have one," Jeandin said. "It is like your cheeses — you like them all."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.



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