I grew up in a family of mushroom foragers. It truly was a thing in the Basque Country – still is. Everyone I knew did it. Does it. Watched the weather for days, hiked for miles, returned furiously frustrated at the lack of funghi, always kept an ear open for by-passer conversations to see if they found something…. It is a big thing. I simply followed along. I walked behind my dad with a wooden stick in hand and wicker basket in arm. I really couldn’t tell you much about the different varieties but I remember the gigantic boletus that we sometimes found and the edulis. There were other varieties, their English names escape me. Gibelurdinak, in Basque. There was a level of excitement and even tension about the entire event that I loved, not to mention the beautiful hikes in the forest and time spent with family. It is always with the passing of time that I can appreciate how those days have shaped me.
Now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, mushrooms have entered my life with intensity once again. It is also a big thing here where mycology enthusiasts can head to the Olympic peninsula or the Cascade mountains to get their fix. I recently went out into the forest with Langdon Cook, author of the award-winning book “The Mushroom Hunters: On The Trail Of An Underground America”. I photographed a story for Conde Nast Traveler about it also.
Although I grew up around mushroom hunting, I learned many tips from Langdon particularly concerning to this area.
1 – What to bring with you: A wild mushroom field guide. Langdon recommends David Arora’s “All that the rain promises” . It’s important to wear comfortable, waterproof hiking boots and layered clothing. Even a walking stick. The successful mushroom hunter should be ready to hike for miles. A bucket or basket to gather the mushrooms (never store mushrooms in plastic bags – they need to breathe). A pocket-knife to cut the mushrooms and a brush to clean them. Map, compass, water and snacks.
2 – Learn about tree varieties as many edible mushrooms have mycorrhizal associations with trees. Trees and mushrooms exchange nutrients and water – they need each other to prosper. For example, the Pacific Golden chanterelle and Douglas fir have this relationship.
3 – Learn about the mushrooms seasons in your area. In spring morels are coveted mushrooms but the exact month and date will depend on your location, so go out in the forests often. In summer there are chanterelles through much of the country. Porcini and matsutake tend to be in the fall and again depend on location. You can even hunt mushrooms in the middle of winter in Northern California. In our hike we found hedgehogs (hydnum rapandan), yellowfoot (craterellus tubaeformis), bear’s head (hericium abetus) and admirable boletus (boletus mirabilis).
4 – Field cleaning. Once you have picked the mushrooms, you want to make sure you remove any dirt, needles or leaves from them. Dirty mushrooms share dirt making them hard to clean afterwards.
5 – Cook wild mushrooms thoroughly. Porcinis can be eaten raw, shaved in a salad for example, but the rest should be thoroughly cooked.
6 – Most wild mushrooms should be consumed within 5 days. Hedgehogs last longest in the refrigerator, up to 7 days, but porcini and yellowfoot are delicate mushrooms that should be consumed within 2 to 4 days. To preserve them, to cook the mushrooms in a pan and freeze them with their juices. They can also be dehydrated and reconstituted in water when ready to use.
7 – A rule of thirds. General guideline to ethical hunting is to only take a third for yourself, leave a third for wild life and the remaining third for the species to reproduce.
A good start, no?
Also, eggs and mushrooms love each other. The perfect pairing in my eyes and so easy.
Heat olive oil in a pan, add a couple of crushed garlic cloves, cook for a couple of minutes, then add the sliced mushrooms and cook without seasoning until brown. I like to season them at the end or they release too much water. Then serve with a fried egg (read here for my how to fry an egg) and a hunk of cheese. Breakfast or lunch or dinner is served.