fabulous fungi

Sunday, December 31, 2006

What I got him for Christmas: Spending yesterday on the Sonoma Coast, on a private mushroom foray led by the president of the Mycological Society of San Francisco. (Followed by a cookout featuring our spoils.)

I didn't grow up an outdoors girl. My parents hated dirt. I hardly ever played outside, much less tramped through the woods in search of mushrooms, both edible and otherwise. So yesterday was so much fun for me. Salt Point is absolutely gorgeous (imagine walking under pines and oaks while listening to the ocean crash beneath the cliffs behind you). And mushrooming is fantastic -- it's like going to an antique fair or a flea market or even Ross Dress for Less in search of a fabulous treasure, only the treasure is edible and there's an element of risk; if you misidentify it and eat the wrong one, you could have serious gastrointestinal problems or even poison your liver and die.

Luckily, we had no problem finding edibles. The woods were full of candycap mushrooms (see the photo above), which smell like maple syrup when you're cooking them and taste wonderful -- who would've thought mushrooms could be sweet? Candycaps can also be dried and used to make desserts, like candycap mushroom cookies and candycap mushroom ice cream.

We also found some yellowfoot mushrooms, which are a type of chanterelle that is only just now starting to appear in the woods. (So proud to say I was the first person to spot them -- and they are super-tiny and hard to see!) We only found enough for maybe one serving, but we cooked them up anyway. They were very mild, especially in comparison to the candycap.

And we found some boletes as well. These are pretty crazy-looking. If our guide hadn't been with us, I probably would've dismissed these as totally inedible and possibly even dangerous. Instead of gills under their caps, boletes have a sponge-like flesh. We found one that actually bruised blue when you touched the sponge. (Never seen anything like this in my life -- the colors were amazing.) Our guide told us boletes are one of the "unsung edibles" of the mushroom world. He sauteed one up for us with butter and sea salt, and it was pretty good -- a strange, slightly slimy, custardy texture, but still tasty.

Of course, we also found our share of inedible and even dangerous mushrooms, like red amanitas (the ones that look like Smurf houses), which are beautiful to look at but which contain toxins. We also came across false chanterelles (which are a distinct gold color and have real gills as compared to real chanterelles, which have false gills).

So much information for one day ... and still so much to learn! Mushroom-hunting is something we definitely want to do again.

1 comment:

-from charliewest, with love said...

AWESOME. This looks like so much fun!

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