Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mushroom hunting

It's raining in Northern California! I am not exaggerating much when I say that we haven't seen real good rain storms for close to two years. Last year we had a horrible drought, where it only rained a couple of times in the winter, and it was pretty wimpy rain when it did. As a result last year's mushroom season wasn't. We didn't even get green grass until March, let alone any mushrooms.

This year so far, we've had a couple of nice soakings, so it was time to go out and look. Today was a lovely fall day for a walk in the woods... Wait. No. Actually it was cold, foggy, and a little more than spooky.
Welcome to Middle Earth, I am Treebeard.
I will trip you with my giant roots.
And my minions will feast on your flesh. (When you are alone in a foggy forest,
you can totally imagine the cute little mule deer are after you).
I am not afraid! I am armed with my fancy Swedish mushroom knife. 
According to the various books, blogs, and local members the MushroomTalk mailing list, the chanterelles should be everywhere, and finding them is just a matter of locating the nearest Coast Live Oak, since they like to grow under them. Since mushrooms are small, and Coast Live Oaks are big, one should looks for the oaks first, and then look for mushrooms nearby.

Look at this lovely oak grove. There should be chanterelles everywhere!
Pounds of them! Right???? Why aren't they here?

And that is, in fact, true. Every chanterelle that I have found has been in a close proximity of an oak. Unfortunately the reverse in not true, there are many many oak trees in the Santa Cruz mountains with no chanterelles. On my walk I encountered many lovely oak groves with should be teeming with chanterelles. They were teeming alright, but not with chanterelles. With these obnoxious little brown things.
I don't know what this is. It's some stupid little brown mushroom. It's everywhere
and it is giving me false hope.
The process of foraging chanterelles in Northern California is roughly as follows. You walk along peering intently at the ground for a speck of yellow. After a few minutes you get dizzy and get a headache.
Do you see the mushroom? Right. Nether do I. Because it's not there.
You see a flash of yellow, and your heart skips. You bend down, only to discover that it was a leaf. You stare at the ground some more. Another flash of yellow, another ray of hope, another leaf. Another flash of yellow... well, at least my quads are getting good exercise.

Once in a while, if you locate the correct live oak tree, and stare at the correct patch of ground under it, you see this:
One of these yellow spots is not a leaf. Can you
tell which one? Ow, my eyes are bleeding.
Even more exciting is the hunt for the "subterranean" chanterelles. In places where the leaf litter is very deep, the mushrooms don't often poke through at all. They just create a raised bump, affectionately known as a "shrump". If you thought "is it a leaf" game is exciting, the "what's under the bump" game is even more fun. It's kind of like opening a present. What's under there? A juicy chanterelle? Some other mushroom? A pissed off gopher ready to bite off your finger? Add to it the feeling that you are walking on a mine field (omg, what if I an squashing a chanterelle right now!!!), the excitement is unbearable.

Win! This guy was completely covered, and only meticulous
poking at every suspicious looking bump in a known chanterelle-
producing area was the reason I even found it.
Unfortunately, for every chanterelle-containing bump, most are either just leaf clumps, or contain some useless inedible mushroom like the various russulas. 

Not win! But pretty. This is a russula. 
In the end, unless you know some really good spots (which I don't), mushroom hunting is more of a walk in the woods with an occasional random reward than an actual food-gathering operation. I did get enough for a meal, I did get some good exercise, and maybe next time I'll find the motherlode of all chanterelle spots. Or maybe I should just teach one of my dogs to hunt them for me. I even know a good  class for that.
Yes I could have gotten mushrooms from Whole Foods in a tenth of the time it
took to find these. It's the principle of the matter though!

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