Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Walking the Walk

Basket of Inedible Mushrooms
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Here are the fruits (of the forest) of the official mushroom hunt I finally went on on Saturday (after endlessly posting about wild mushrooms and not getting off my duff to go look for any).

Pretty ding-dong pathetic. What you see in the basket are three inedibles. I had very high hopes for the hunt, I admit. I had pictured myself being shepherded around by knowledgeable codgers and envisioned myself coming home with a basket brimming with chanterelles and other choice edibles. My experience was nothing like that. Nearly everyone who showed up didn’t know (slippery) jack about mushrooms. The two or three knowledgeable codgers who led the hunt were spread very thin. Being the kind of person who emanates a mantra that goes something like "Please ignore me; I do not exist," I waited patiently for about half an hour, hopefully clutching my basket, before finally attracting the attention of one of the codger-experts—only to have my hopes dashed as a cursory inspection revealed that my basket contained nothing but loathsome toadstools like the Hollow-Stemmed Tamarack Jack (Suillus cavipes) and the Scaly Chanterelle (Gomphus floccosus).

After several hours of fruitless hunting and not getting the kind of at-my-elbow expert guidance I had hoped for, I was feeling discouraged, dejected, and demorelized. I knew that I’d probably had unrealistic expectations. But I guess I’d just been so excited about the idea of finding wild edible mushrooms for, oh, about the last quarter century that now that I was out with people who actually knew what they were doing, I just couldn’t help feeling very, very let down by my lack of success.

A few of the other people did find some great stuff including the couple I was hunting with. Despite being complete novices—unlike me they don’t even own a single a mushroom field guide—one of them found a rare Blue Chanterelle (Polyozellus multiplex) and the other found several White Chanterelles (Cantharellus subalbidus), both of which are choice edibles. I can only take comfort in the fact that I correctly identified them for the the couple with my field guide and that my IDs were confirmed by the knowledgeable codgers.

At about 1:30 PM, the hunt leader declared the trip officially over. I felt I had to somehow salvage the day.* There I was on the west side of Mount Hood on a stunningly beautiful, clear autumn day. We don’t get that many of those. I could take a hike. That would make me feel better, and who knows? I might even find some mushrooms.

I drove to one of my favorite trailheads and set off. There were mushrooms all over the place! Far more than I’d seen in the supposedly mushroom-rich part of the forest I’d been in earlier in the day. Before I'd taken even a few steps on the trail I saw what looked like a Zeller’s Bolete (Boletus zelleri), which is “esteemed for its edible qualities” according to one of my field guides. Go me! I meandered down the trail stopping every time I spied a mushroom. I’m sure I looked like a total fungus geek with my basket and my field guide and my woolen knickers, Wellington boots, and deerstalker cap. OK. I wasn’t wearing woolen knickers and Wellington boots or a deerstalker, but my behavior was indistinguishable from that of a person who would be so attired. I took lots of pictures.

Raft of Mushrooms

I have no idea what the above are, but I’ll tell you one thing: There were a lot of them.

I kept on along the trail and didn't turn back until it started to get dark. On my way back, I found what I believed was an edible chanterelle. Finally!

The next day, B and I went on a hike in the Columbia River Gorge. Supposedly, we were going so that we could gawk at the bigleaf and vine maples that turn lemony yellow at this time of year, but for me it turned into another obsessive mushroom quest. I’m sorry to report that my eyes were scanning the ground far more than the golden treetops. Eventually my stop-and-go hiking pace exhausted B’s patience (something that is never in abundant supply as it is) and he hiked ahead and told me he’d meet me back at the car. Highlights of what I saw included another chanterelle, an earthstar (not edible but very cool and something I’d never seen before), and massive quantities of what may or may not have been Honey Mushrooms (Armillariella mellea), which my old college roommate and fellow mycology buff says are her absolute number-one favorites. (Edit: Instead of going straight to bed last night after writing this post, I spent a good 45 minutes looking through my mushroom guides and I am now certain that they aren't Honey Mushrooms. They are probably the Sulfur Tuft [Hypholoma fasciculare]—an extremely bitter mushroom that "is reported to have caused deaths in Europe and the Orient" but only gastric distress in North America according to the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. Good to know. I believe I will be giving the Sulfur Tuft a wide berth.)

I spent entirely too much time this weekend hunting mushrooms and when I wasn’t hunting them I was obsessing over them (e.g., even dreaming about them, for crissake) or poring over my four guidebooks and inspecting the ‘shrooms I had collected. (I didn’t pick many, as I am still a novice and there’s no point in picking stuff that you’re not going to eat or not going to have time to study.) Consequently, I got almost none of the normal weekend chores done and am now feeling all out of sorts and behind. That still didn’t stop me from taking time out this evening to go to an Oregon Mycological Society class to have some experts verify the tentative identifications I’d made of the samples I collected. I must take a moment to boast: I had three different species and I correctly identified them all.

Let’s also not forget the shiitake mushroom chassis. Here’s what it looked like yesterday.

Mushroom Chassis (One Week Old)

(This is what it looked like only a week ago.)

Most of the larger shiitakes on the chassis, along with the two chanterelles I found in the woods, are currently residing in this spinach-leek-mushroom quiche I baked tonight (after getting back from the mushroom class).

Spinach-Leek-Mushroom Quiche

Why I am baking quiche and writing a blog entry right now is beyond me, quite frankly, as it is after midnight and I still have a little bit of work (paying work that is due in a few hours) to finish before I can go to bed. The only possible explanation is that I am out of my mind.

Note to LeLo: I put a mushroom pun in this post just for you. Did you find it?

Note to anyone else who made it to the end of this post--congratulations!

*I realize now that even though I didn't find any edibles during the official hunt, I did actually learn quite a bit about what not to pick, so in retrospect I'm very glad I went on the hunt.


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