One of the highlights of living in the Pacific Northwest happens each fall.
Sometime between the first heavy rains and the first frost, the delicious Pacific gold chanterelle mushrooms, a prized ingredient in gourmet restaurants, sprouts forth from the earth under low-lying ground cover and decomposing trees.
The chanterelle is a mycorrhizal mushroom, meaning it has a symbiotic relationship with other organisms, and grows near Western hemlock or other conifers in old-growth or second-growth forests. Because of its intricate relationship with its surroundings, the chanterelle is difficult to grow in controlled environments, meaning most available in supermarket are wild harvested and cost upwards of $18 per pound.
Fortunately for the rest of us, one doesn’t need to go broke to obtain them. It simply requires a willingness to spend some time in the woods and get a little dirt under your fingernails.
The Pacific Northwest boasts delicious varieties of mushrooms nearly year round and has more varieties than any other region in the world. In addition to chanterelles, this corner of the world is home to porcini, morels, shaggy manes, lobster mushrooms or immature puffballs. Northwest Mushroomers Association member Jack Waytz said of the 3,000 different species of mushrooms worldwide, nearly 2,000 of those can be found close by in western Washington. Additionally, he estimates there are 20 or 30 edible species available in Whatcom County.
The Pacific golden chanterelle, however, is a relatively safe mushroom to hunt for beginners as it is one of the most easily distinguishable in the world. This is because the mushroom has a distinct yellow color, vase or funnel shape and distinctly large gills, which are actually shallow, thick edged wrinkles that descend down the bottom of the stem. It also has a few look-alikes –the poisonous Jack-O-Lantern mushroom, which has a darker color and tighter gills, and the false chanterelle, which is not harmful if ingested but has an unmistakably awful flavor.
“They’re really quite widespread,” said Waytz. “Basically the trick to finding them is just putting yourself in the woods, you will find them if you give yourself enough time. If you want to find them you just need to have patience, kind of like when going fishing. A lot of it is luck and sometimes if you’re a day or two early or late, you miss them. But the worst thing that can happen is you spend a great day in the wilderness or in the alpines.”
As with anything harvested in the wild, however, one should always exercise caution by bringing along a field guide (David Arora’s All That The Rain Promises And More is an excellent one) and go with an experienced mushroomer their first time.
• The Northwest Mushroomers Association has scheduled their annual wild mushroom show for Sunday, October 18, noon to 5 p.m. at Bloedel Donovan Park in Bellingham. The event will feature a showcase of locally harvested mushrooms; recipe samples, field guides and experts to help identify unknown species. Of the more than 170 samples brought in for display at last year’s convention, NMA has identified 10 new species and some, which have yet to be identified, have been dried and sent to Scotland for further examination. Cost is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students, free for children under 12.
• Mushrooms Demystified in Bellingham: October 22, 7 to 9 p.m. Arntzen 100, Western Washington Campus. California mycologist David Arora is the author of All That The Rain Promises And More, the acknowledged “Bible” of mushrooming. He will speak about his new book, Mushrooms Demystified.
Subsequent monthly meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month at the Bellingham public library and hosts leading mushroom experts. The club schedules mushroom forays on almost a monthly basis.
For more information about the club and their events visit www.northwestmushroomers.org
, or call 360/303-4079. Membership is $15 per year. If you think you may be ill from eating mushrooms, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.