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Fungophobe or fungophile? Fall is a mushroom hunter’s delight in the Pacific Northwest. If you are not a mushroom lover, then you better stay out of the woods. Are you a hopeless fungophile? Then you better stay out of my woods!
Mushroom season ignites all five of the senses: hearing, smell, sight, touch, and taste. You may be wondering, how do you hear a mushroom? The pitter-patter of autumn rain alerts a true fungophile that the dirt dwellers are awakening from dormancy. Bursting forth from the ground, each variety of mushrooms expels an identifiable scent, from peppery to deeply earthy to light and colorful. Just as intriguing are the rainbow of colors in the fall varieties: ruby red amanitas, orange flamed witch’s butter, sunshine yellow chanterelles, greenish tinged porcinis, blue-green anise mushrooms, purple blewits, and striking violet shrimp. Crayola could have a new marketing enterprise; the normal clientele base would not be happy.
Believe it or not, fungophobes, not all mushrooms are slimy. Witch’s butter, yes. Maybe the slimiest of them all, but then there is the delicately firm (I realize this is an oxymoron) chanterelle, spongy boletus, spiky hedgehogs, and inflated puffballs, to name a few.
Taste is the obvious, the reason we foragers tie the laces on our hiking shoes, gather our baskets, knives, and guidebooks, and walk in circles. Each variety delivers a striking blow to the palette. Richly diverse in flavor, and highly valuable in minerals, wild mushrooms take an ordinary meal to gastronomic fare.
Common Sense Mushroom Hunting
A sixth sense that I would like to add is common sense. Not all mushrooms are edible, and no wild mushroom can be eaten raw. Never eat anything you have not identified with one hundred percent confidence. Some varieties will put you on a gastrointestinal rollercoaster, while others are pure poison. If you have read my previous article, False Versus Edible Morels, then you are keenly aware that I am guilty of mis-identification. I am an adventurous person who takes calculated risks, and unverified wild mushroom sampling is not a gamble anyone should take. The adage speaks to be true: there are old mushroom hunters; there are bold mushroom hunters; however there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.
Several user-friendly mushroom guidebooks are on the market. Buy one specific to your region. For a pocket guide, I use All That the Rain Promises and More, by David Arora; a companion to the bigger volume Mushrooms Demystified. Even better than a guidebook, join a mycological society where regular outings and gatherings are part of the trade.
Check back soon for the next set of articles that will focus on particular species of wild edible mushrooms, including: key features for identification, locations, and tips for harvesting and preparation. A few highlights will include: chicken of the woods, chanterelle, and porcini, and perhaps more seasonal surprises, like my prince charming.