Day 13 – “M” Mushrooms!
I have been mushroom hunting for as long as I can remember. As something our family did with my father as a child, it is an activity that not only is as enjoyable as it is rewarding, but holds a special place of sentimentality in my heart.
My father grew up mushroom hunting in the forests surrounding his family farm in Eastern Germany. He skillfully trained the hogs they had on the farm to sniff out a variety of mushrooms, including the prized and highly valued Truffles as well as Chanterelles. Sadly, we didn’t have any pigs growing up, so we had to pick mushrooms the old fashioned way: lots of stooping, crouching, and careful eagle-eye searching!
In Oregon, the primary mushroom my dad was familiar with which grew in this region was the Chanterelle. Mmm… Just thinking about this decadent mushroom makes my mouth water. Typically, I am not a mushroom fan. I’ll usually forego them as an additive to salads and will pick another option to mushroom sauces and soups if available. However, Chanterelles are simply delicious. They are mild in “mushroom” flavor, are buttery, and have a delicate texture as compared to the more rubbery textures of many common mushrooms sold in supermarkets.
I’m going to be stingy here, and not disclose any of the landmine locations we have discovered over the years for picking Chanterelles. I will say though, that they tend to grow best in pine forests with ample old growth and decay on the forest floors.
There are SO many things you can do with Chanterelles. One of our favorite ways to cook them is to add them to sauteed onions, garlic and butter. These mushrooms release a good deal of natural juices that, as they cook down, will thicken into a mouthwatering sauce. So simple, and the perfect sauce for pasta or a topping to go over chicken breast, a delicious steak, or other tender piece of meat.
When we harvest a large batch of Chanterelles, we cook up this sauce in large quantities and can them in small jars, ready to be heated up and served throughout the winter. Another great way to preserve these mushrooms is to dehydrate them; dehydrated Chanterelles plump up nicely when added to crock pot roasts or soups.
Chanterelles are certainly not the only mushrooms that grow in the Pacific Northwest. For nearly a decade, my husband and I have been searching for the elusive Morel. This particular strain of mushroom grows in drier climates, much like that in Central Oregon. Whenever we would travel to this area, we made it a point to go on hikes and go off the beaten path, keeping an eye out.
But alas, the Morel always beat us. Until…..
I cannot tell you the excitement I felt when I found this mushroom! We were walking our dog at a local park one evening and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a familiar shape. I had to do a serious double take, but when my husband confirmed that it was indeed a Morel it was the giddiest feeling!
Over the years, we have come across a number of other mushrooms, some edible, and some not so much:
The famed and well-known Amanita (Amanita Muscaria). Possibly one of the most popular mushrooms on earth, the Amanita is famed for it’s psychedelic properties. Alas, I lack the balls to try this out as not all Amanita’s are psychedelic; some are, though others may kill you in a convulsive and not-so-attractive fest of foam, froth, and diarrhea. Eww.
The best advice I can give is if you’re new to mushroom hunting and are uncertain as to whether or not a mushroom is edible, don’t eat it. If you’re wanting to get into mushroom hunting, I highly recommend investing in a booklet of sorts for your hiking trips. We have a number of books and a waterproof brochure of edible, local mushrooms we always carry when we go on trips where we may run into some delicious morsels.
If you’re a more seasoned mushroom hunter and are still uncertain, a trick I learned is to take the mushroom and put the cut stem on the tip of your tongue. If you get a mild, mushroomy taste you should be good to go. However, if you get a mouthful of intense bitterness or a metallic taste, there is your tell. The majority of times I have done this test, I was fine with regards to not having any symptoms from the poison. However, on a few occasions I’ve done this taste test and was shocked at how sick I felt later in the day. The smallest taste caused some of the worst stomach pain and nausea I had ever experienced. A good thing we ended up saying “No, Thank You!!” to those shrooms!!
Please note that I am not necessarily advising that you try this trick out, it is just something that has worked for me over the years!
Mushroom hunting can be an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding hobby. Do you research first. Know what edible strains grow in your region before heading out and know which strains are poisonous. When in doubt, pass.
I am so thankful that my father passed on this skill and hobby to my sister and I. It is a fall-time tradition that we will pass along to future generations to enjoy and savor!