On my first mushroom hunting foray I thought my guides were joking when they threatened to blindfold me. While they didn’t go so far as to actually cover my eyes I did have to swear to keep our location a secret. That was the first time I realized that mushroom hunters were not only passionate about mushrooms but perhaps a little crazy too. The sort of crazy I could get into.
From the moment I spotted my first porcini hiding under the mossy and pine needle duff I was hooked. It didn’t matter that later that evening I had to fight with the larvae who were also making a meal of my mushrooms. The satisfaction of a wander in the woods, a treasure hunt for some of the most sought after and delectable ingredients, and the understanding that if we’re willing to put in the time and become intimately connected with our environment we are abundantly rewarded in many more ways than what shows up on our plate.
That first hunt was over ten years ago and while the passion has continued to grow my knowledge of mushroom hunting has been a slow and steady course. The world of mushroom hunting has felt like an insurmountable task. I mean, with one wrong move you could kill yourself or your dinner guests so it is definitely something to be taken seriously. But for so long I’ve allowed the vastness of the subject and my own case of funghophobia to keep me from hunting. Fear is the ultimate buzz kill and I refuse to allow it to keep me from any party, including mushroom hunting.
Get Started (with small steps)
As with pretty much anything in life, getting started is the biggest hurdle as we convince ourselves of the grand gestures needed to make any sort of progress. We see the vast wholeness of the goal and become disillusioned and/or overwhelmed by the task. So let’s take it one small step at a time and be sure to celebrate the success all along the way.
Look at the list below as individual tasks or items on a check list. One of the biggest hurdles I still face with foraging is setting aside the time to do it. So ask yourself if this season of your life is the right time to start this new hobby. It doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment but be honest with how much you are able to accomplish during the mushroom season (of which there are several throughout the year). If you do have some time or it has been deemed worthwhile then put time on the calendar for working through the list below.
Starting small also means being realistic with what you can learn in one season. I like to take one or two species a season and feel like I can, with 100% accuracy, identify that species. When I was getting into mushroom hunting I grabbed flash cards and thought I’d have to memorize my guidebooks in entirety. I was so overwhelmed by that task I continued to put it off. By starting small it feels very doable even in a busy season of life.
I have found that the best way to learn and to grow in your confidence in mushroom identification is to find some friends who are already several steps ahead of you with their mushroom knowledge. The best and perhaps easiest way to do this is to get connected with your local mushroom society.
My local club is the Puget Sound Mycological Society. Even in the midst of this time of quarantine they are hosting virtual meetings and gatherings where knowledgeable speakers present valuable information. It’s a forum for any and all folks who are passionate about mushrooms and they are eager to help with identification or any mushroom questions you may have.
When we aren’t in the midst of a pandemic these mushroom societies host many mushroom walks which are a perfect place to begin your life as a forager.
There are also Facebook groups dedicated to the world of mushrooms. Follow mycologists and foragers on Instagram and ask questions. Rachel, from @yellowelanor has done an incredible series called “Fungimentals” which expertly walks you through the basics of all things Fungi. There are so many mushroom experts who are eager to share their knowledge with the world.
If you see some friends going out foraging ask to go along. Offer to bring food. They may threaten to blindfold you but it will be worth it. And whatever you do, respect their mushroom spot. Don’t run home and share it with friends or the internet because that’s the quickest way to lose mushroom friends (and thus lose the mushrooms).
Get a Guidebook (or several)
Make sure you have a solid regional guidebook. For the PNW this is the one I’m reaching for these days:
(Links included here are Amazon links for convenience but I fully love and support local bookshops who can order any of these for you if they don’t have them already in stock).
It adds extra bulk to my pack when I’m out foraging but I always have it with me.
I also have a copy of what mushroom fanatics consider the Bible of mushroom books:
This one I don’t carry with me (although I do often have it in the car when I’m out foraging) but it’s great for beginners to experts. The amount of information can be overwhelming but this book will prove to be invaluable.
This one is very convenient to stick in your pack and is widely recognized as a dependable guide. It’s authored by David Arora who also wrote Mushrooms Demystified.
Get Familiar with the Trees
Finding the mushrooms starts with finding the trees. Mushrooms create strong relationships with trees and different mushroom species will be associated with different trees.
It’s very important to understand the seasonality of mushrooms and then beyond that the next question is what tree are they typically associated with in your area.
A few weeks ago I was picking Langdon Cook’s brain for a few mushroom tips for the area I was headed foraging. He reminded me of some tree associations and in all honesty it felt too broad. I wanted more specifics (even though I know that is asking too much). Sure enough within twenty minutes of our hike we spotted oyster mushrooms all over the decaying Alder trees that surrounded us.
If it helps, bring a tree guide with you.
Here is a list of my favorite tools to have at the ready so you will always be prepared to forage:
I like a large basket with a somewhat flat bottom and large opening. Although truth me told I’m dreaming of one day having one of these beauties: https://www.etsy.com/shop/SlaterBasketry
Opinel Mushroom Knife
It doesn’t have to be this specific one but I love the shape, weight and ease of this knife. It’s no more and no less than what you need. A regular knife works well in a pinch (as I learned the other day) but I sure missed having a sturdy brush to clean the mushrooms before they tumbled into my basket.
First Aid Kit
Poncho or Emergency Blanket
Food & water
Mushroom Field Guide
This is a great lightweight pamphlet. Super easy to always have on hand but doesn’t contain a ton of information.
A bit bulkier but super handy to have nearby
Helpful, but not essential:
Camera (I always carry my phone with me and use this for documentation)
Helpful for identification
Parchment paper or wax paper bags
This helps to keep different mushrooms species separate for ease of identification back at home
Tree identification guide
To find the mushrooms you have to know your trees
Small trowel or Hori Hori
Helpful to ensure you can safely dig up the entire mushroom which is necessary for identification
Honestly, for me, this is the hardest part. The calendar is constantly getting in the way of my mushrooming fun. This year I have really tried to make it a priority, as best I can, and have days and weekends set aside for foraging. The best way to learn is in the field. Get out there, take photos, post it to mushroom groups to help with identification and enjoy the view.
I used to only concern myself with the sort of mushrooms I could eat but as I started to get to know the incredible mycological world I got giddy with every mushroom I saw. Each one has a purpose and is doing so much good for us and the earth.
Get out there and start looking. Mushroom foraging takes you off the beaten path on a delicious, healing, and exciting treasure hunt.
Have fun and of course, be safe.
Mycologos (online mushroom classes)
Fantastic Fungi documentary (available on Netflix)
Hot Honey Roasted Wild Mushroom and Delicata Squash Toast
Serves 4 - 6
1 small/medium delicata squash (about 1 - 1 1/2 pounds)
8 ounces wild mushrooms (I used freshly foraged chanterelles)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves (from one large sprig)
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon chili flake (more or less to taste)
4 - 6 pieces of good sourdough bread
1 cup ricotta (labneh, or thick sliced cheddar, or butter - dairy or non-dairy, are all good alternatives)
Preheat your oven to 425*F.
Line a sheet pan with parchment then set aside.
Remove the top and bottom from the delicata then slice in half (the long way). Remove the seeds and stringy bits then slice the delicata halves into 1/2 inch-thick rings. Place on the tray.
Roughly slice (or if using chanterelles I like to tear) the mushrooms. Leaving them in quite large pieces. For smaller mushrooms you may not even need to slice. You don’t want them to completely char while we wait for the squash to roast.
Drizzle on the olive oil then season generously with salt and pepper. Add the rosemary leaves then toss everything to combine.
Roast for 20 minutes, until the squash is tender and starting to caramelize in parts.
While the squash and mushrooms roast combine the honey, vinegar, and chili flake in a small bowl. Add this to the squash and mushrooms after the 20 minute roast. Continue to roast for until 10 - 15 minutes or until deeply caramelized.
Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.
Toast the sourdough pieces in a toaster or a hot skillet with plenty of butter.
Slather on the ricotta (if it’s not salted go ahead and add some salt here). Then top with the honey roasted mushrooms and squash. You can finish with more chili flake and fresh rosemary if you have some lying around. I also like a few crunches of flake salt on top.