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Posts Tagged ‘Fungi’

Yep, another reason to hate us Californians. While the rest of the country is blanketed in snow, we’re out in the woods hunting for shrooms – golden chanterelles, hedgehog mushrooms, blewits, candy caps, and my all-time favorite, the black trumpet.

I joined the Mycological Society of San Francisco’s annual foray/camp in the Mendocino Woodlands last November.  I must’ve gained 5 lbs in two days.  If mushroomers didn’t get off their rears foraging fungi, we’d all have to be on crash diets during the dry season! I also spent a few hours trying to identify unknown mushrooms with J.R. Blair, a Biology lecturer at SFSU who introduced me to keying techniques a couple of years ago. But I have to confess that my belly has the upper hand which pretty much narrows the variety of mushrooms my brain pays the most attention to out in the field.

Hydnum umbilicatum or hedgehog "bellybutton" mushrooms

Hydnum umbilicatum or hedgehog "bellybutton" mushrooms

Pizza with hedgehog mushrooms

Pizza heavily laden with bellybutton mushrooms, pepperoni and bell peppers!

This January, the Bay Area Mycological Society’s All California Club Foray was in full swing at the Albion Field Station, also near Mendocino. Yes, we pigged out there, too, thanks to the superb catering from Debra Dawson, owner of Good Thyme Herb Company & Catering.  But the ‘mycogeeks’ were also busy ID’ing those LBMs (little brown mushrooms) as well as gorgeous waxy caps and slimies like the parrot mushroom below.

Beautiful fresh "parrot mushroom"

This is no LBM, but a gorgeous green, slimy parrot mushroom

The Sonoma Mycological Society also held their camp in January, but at the CYO Camp near Occidental. The venue is ideal for courses in mushroom dyeing, making your own oyster mushroom kit, drawing, identification, and listening in on various topics given by experts from the fungal world. Gary Lincoff (shown below), author of several mushroom books, including The Audubon Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, is a popular guest from the East Coast, and whom you can always count on to add a few humorous anecdotes in his mushroom lectures.

Gary Lincoff and Gymnopilus ventricosus

Gary Lincoff talks about "Big Laughing Gym" - but the West Coast variety will make you hurl, not laugh 🙂

But the best part of mushrooming isn’t about the mushrooms as much as it is about the people who love mushrooms and share their love for good food prepared with wild mushrooms. Yes, the thrill of discovering your first morel in a quiet spring forest is exhilarating. But coyly giving the general whereabouts of  that mother lode of black trumpets while sharing some of the loot over a bottle of wine is so much more fun.

Sharing appetizers at San Jose Camp near Yosemite

Sharing appetizers and morels at San Jose Camp near Yosemite

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Alright, so you don’t live in a Mediterranean climate, and you’re sick and tired of hearing how we’re harvesting bell peppers in Northern California 😉 .

Day 7 of Oyster Mushroom kit

Day 7 of Oyster Mushroom kit

Well here’s a nice little project that you and your kids will love any time of the year: growing oyster mushrooms indoors! I was recently at a “mushroom camp” with the Sonoma Mushroom Association, and among many different lectures and activities, made my own oyster mushroom growing kit.

The instructor, Ben Schmid, pasteurized the straw (boiled to at least 180F), and excited, wide-eyed participants like myself stuffed it (using rubbing-alcohol-disinfected gloves) into clean plastic bags (about 2 gal capacity).  Finally, Ben added oyster mushroom spawn (mine were purportedly Australian Blue Oysters – but there’s nothing blue about them so perhaps I got a different oyster species) into the bags.

Day 23 (La Fête de la Guillotine)

Day 23 (La Fête de la Guillotine)

It took exactly 23 days till I harvested the first bunch.  It was kept in our well-lit kitchen that averages 65F throughout the day.  Needless to say, it was a THRILL to see the first bunch grow into a dinner-sized portion.  We cut them up (leaving the pretty caps intact) and stir fried them with red bell peppers and onions.  Delicious!

Ready for stir fry!

Ready for stir fry!

You can purchase mushroom growing kits from many seed companies like Territorial or from sites like Fungi Perfecti (Paul Stamets’ company.  See his TED video on how mushrooms can save the world).

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Beautiful chanterelle specimen - uncertain if Cantharellus subalbidus

Nope, not a white chanterelle but a Clitopilus prunulus specimen! Bummer.

Winter in N. California is a great time for mushroom hunters.  We don’t eat any mushrooms we find (and don’t recommend it unless you’ve been trained in the field), but it’s always fun to find fungi on our walks and try to figure out what it is!

The one on this photo was not taken in CA but rather in Pound Ridge, NY in July ’08.  I came across the white chanterelle (Cantharellus subalbidus) in perusing David Arora’s highly recommended pocket field guide for beginning mycologists in the Western US – All That The Rain Promises and More … and can’t help wondering.  It is one of the more beautiful specimens we’ve seen in the field.

Gary Lincoff was kind enough to ID this as Clitopilus prunulus also known as the “sweetbread mushroom”.

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Inky Cap - probably Coprinus atramentarius

Inky Cap - probably Coprinus atramentarius

WARNING: Do not eat  mushrooms in the “wild” – from your garden, da woods, meadow, or any place else unless you have been educated out in the field with an expert for many years.  Due to our inexperience, we do not eat wild mushrooms.

Whew!  With that disclaimer out of the way, I can tell you about how much I love mushrooms – their appearance, the smell (of most), the way they appear suddenly out of nowhere, and of course, the delicious porcinis and morels.  We found these inky cap (coprinus sp.) beauties next to the compost – just like last year.  As they mature, the caps spread apart like an open umbrella and start disintegrating at the edges, turning inky black, spreading inward.

They’re related to the common (edible, fishy smelling) Shaggy Mane.  Coprinus, if ingested even within days of drinking alcohol, will produce alarming reactions (e.g. rapid heart beat, nausea – so bad you feel like you’re gonna die!) so it’s best to admire them and leave it at that.  Read this funny anecdote about a guy who fed Shaggy Mane to his girlfriend.

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