fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Forest Floor Bounty

If you know where to look, the forest floor of the Cascades is a veritable mycological carpet — that is, it's covered with delicious, edible mushrooms.

Of course, the first thing you think of when talking about 'shroom hunting is that you absolutely have to know what you're looking for (or be with an experienced mycologist who knows what's what) because the forest is full of the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good are yummy and full of minerals and can be sautéed in butter and served up as an amazing dish, with garlic, shallots and such, says expert mycologist John Teem of Talent, leader of a recent 'shroom hunt around the foot of Brown Mountain, in the shadow of Mount McLoughlin.

Literally feet from exiting the cars, the dozen members of the expedition find telltale "mush-rumps," where delicious chanterelle fungi are pushing through the surface, offering their prized flesh for dinner. There are two varieties in this area — formosa and subalbidus, or white chanterelle.

Steven Scolom of Talent busily skins off the dirty exterior of his chanterelles with his knife. He says he learned this skill hunting 'shrooms with his grandfather in Switzerland and promises to cook some up as a demonstration for the group's lunch.

Chanterelles have an apricot aroma with a peppery edge and, says skilled mycologist Mike Potts of Talent, it's often best to dry-sauté mushrooms for five minutes until you see the water boil out of them, then add butter or oil — or else you get a slimy mess.

Potts' encyclopedic picture library of this region's mushrooms, very helpful in finding the good ones and avoiding the bad and the ugly, can be viewed at www.flickr.com/photos/29798416@N08/collections/72157621294080174/.

Teem points out that to pick 'shrooms for personal use on Forest Service land, you need a permit and should cut 'shrooms in half, rendering them unfit for remarketing. On BLM land, you don't need a permit, he says.

A few feet on, what looks like a nasty, aging cow pie is in fact a Dyer's Polypore, a dark, unappetizing parasite that loves to bore down to the roots of noble pine trees and kill them, Teem says. It might do the same to you if you eat it, so don't. However, it's good for making dyes, especially purple and yellow.

With plastic milk carton handles fixed to belts (top cut off) and field guides and knives in hands, the shroom stalkers are now bringing in handfuls of strange-looking prizes, calling on the identification skills of Teem and others.

Here's a honey mushroom snared by Debbie McKeever of Ashland, who says mushroom hunting is a good excuse for getting out in the woods. She hopes to find huckleberries, too, and in the spring her eye will be peeled for big, tasty portobello mushrooms.

The finding of a cortinarius, or webcap — it's dangerous to eat most species of it — gives rise to a discussion of the difference between mushrooms and toadstools, with Teem settling the matter by saying "a toadstool is a mushroom you have a problem with."

"The (webcap) could be toxic enough to be fatal," says Teem. "No one can get away with eating this."

By contrast, many mushrooms have medicinal properties and some, including cordyceps (available in capsules), can "kill cancer," Teem says, adding that he ingests it daily and "I don't believe I'll ever get cancer."

Aga Dobiecka, who learned mushroom hunting with her family in Poland, finds a Pluteus, or fawn mushroom, which is sometimes edible but "mediocre" in taste. A scaly or false chanterelle turns up — Teem says it's edible but will lead to a concentration of heavy metals, including lead, so avoid it.

Mushroom hunting always seems to lead to dark "myco-humor," with tall stories about those laid low by their ignorance of 'shrooms, faith in the wisdom of seemingly educated friends or just bad luck.

"You can't do this (mushroom hunting) without laughing about death," says Teem, after a joke about dyeing with mushrooms. Get it? Dyeing? It could be color dyeing or the Last Supper.

Describing how to sauté 'shrooms separately, to make sure they're done right, then adding them to veggies or putting them on toast and consuming with white wine, Potts says, "It's a killer dish!"

Teem, who is on a poison-response team, tells the story of a local couple who followed the advice of a friend, eating a small part of a mushroom growing in their yard and waiting two days to see if anything bad happened. It didn't. They cooked up the whole patch and soon were in the hospital with necrosis (death) of the liver, leading either to organ transplant or death.

But don't be scared. Be educated. 'Shroom stalking is fun, and it's good eating — and it's easy to identify the fairly common tasty species, such as morels, portobellos and chanterelles.

The weather at this time of the year tends to be ideal for 'shroom hunting, says Teem — rain every couple of days, with daytime clearing, high humidity and fairly warm nights.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

A tiny mushroom, strobolurus, grows on a Douglas fir cone. They are considered too small to be edible. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Jim Craven