Crawling around on all fours, sliding underneath huckleberry thickets and old decaying redwood logs, nothing is more satisfying than stumbling across a thick patch of black trumpet mushrooms. Before filling nearly two bags with trumpets, hedgehog, golden foot and a few lonely chanterelles I called out for my friend Bo to share the bounty. Mushroom foraging brings out a feral, child like excitement in human beings. It’s incredible to watch. 80-year-old grandmothers wandering into the woods with bright purple canes and sweat pants, screaming with delight and blowing their whistles when they find a patch of fungi. Our species has been foraging for millenia and nothing makes me feel more grounded than scrambling through the forest on a quest for edible mushrooms.
During the rainy months the Sonoma County Mycological Association (SOMA) leads forays on the third Saturday of each month. The three-hour drive from Oakland to Salt Point State Park is absolutely stunning. Redwood, Redwood, more Redwoods and then suddenly out of now where: The Pacific Ocean and rolling grassy cliffs that remind me of Harold and Maud scenes. Parking is eight bucks.
Note: For all edible mushrooms it is important to correctly identify before you place it in your forage basket and before you throw it in a skillet. I take no responsibility for your lack of mushroom identification skills. This is not a guide but merely a brief introduction to several edible species. Go with someone who truly knows what they are doing to learn your edibles and look-a-likes. I have had major freak-outs about mushrooms and thrown whole baskets away. It’s absolutely worth being sure… some of the babies will have you bidding on black market livers and kidneys in two or three days.
About 45 people gathered around one of SOMA’s guides. The group splits up into four separate forays.Today we were looking for these delicious mushrooms:
Black Chanterelle or Black Trumpet- Craterellus cornucopioides
This is a highly tasty morsel of a mushroom that often remains undetected (unpicked!) because of its black fruiting body. In the shade it can practically camouflage into the forest duff. The hunt for the Black Chanterelle is often described as a search for a hole in the ground. This mushroom is easy to identify and is a great mushroom for beginners because it doesn’t have close poisonous look-a-likes.
Black Chanterelle’s have a funnel shape with smooth grey outside and a dark black inside and top. They grouped in clusters and are often found underneath Huckleberry Shrubs, Madrone and Oaks. Their spore print is pale buff.
Hedgehog – Hydnum umbilicatum
Hedgehog mushrooms are great species to teach beginning mycologists because they are so easily identifiable by their underbelly teeth that literally look like hedgehog. spines. Hedgehogs are a late season mushroom found among oaks, madrone and under huckleberries.
Yellow Foot or Winter Chanterelle – Craterellus tubaeformis
A late winter chanterelle pops up right when you start to miss the acorn-yellow chanterelle- how convenient. This mushroom is pretty easy to identify by its yellow stipe, veins (not gills), hollow stem and dimpled cap (sometimes the stem is hollow all the way through to the cap). I found clumps and clumps and clumps of these guys underneath huckleberry shrubs. Like any mushroom foray, getting off the beaten path and bushwhacking like a drunk brown bear is the best method for finding hidden patches.
Pig’s Ears – Gomphus clavatus
Pig’s Ears are edible, but often are considered less desirable than other late winter species. They are found in large clumps with chanterelle style veins. The funnel-shaped fruiting body is found under conifers.
The rain will be pouring this week and next weekend should be a good time to go out hunting. I suggest waiting a few days after the rain stops so that everything has a chance to dry out. If you don’t have the essential pocket guide “All the Rain Promises and More” by David Arora already, I would suggest picking it up. Also long but slightly narrow wicker basket is best for protecting your precious finds.