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Not plants, not animals, but full of life

The hunt was on! Today my mother, three of her grandchildren, and I tromped down into the woods on a mushroom hunt.

Not gonna tell you where, no way.

It was a pretty fruitless search, it seemed. We kept seeing Deathcaps—gorgeous, shiny mushrooms that will kill you. We saw one very waterlogged and rotten King Bolete. Disconsolately, we took the path toward home.

Three enormous bags of chanterelles. Don't ask me where we found them!

Three enormous bags of chanterelles. Don’t ask me where we found them!

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something golden peeking up from the chaff. It was a chanterelle, the lovely mushroom every mushroom hunter in Northern California is out looking for right now. My daughter and I were lagging behind, so we called ahead that the others should stop. We dug up the mushroom and saw that it was in an advanced state of decay, waterlogged and inedible.

“Oh, well,” my mother said when she arrived. “We can come back her another day. Let’s take it with us, in any case, so no one else sees it.”

Just then, my daughter’s eyes got big. She pointed up into the chaparral on the hillside. “Mommy?” she said. “Do you see that?”

Through the brush we could see a bloom of golden-colored mushroom tops peeking through the chaff.

“Wow!” yelled my nephew.

And we were off. Up into the tangled underbrush we went. My mother stayed below, offering up cloth grocery bags as we needed them.

First we thought we’d found lots of chanterelles. Then we realized we’d found the motherlode.

We didn’t weigh them, but I’d say we got around 30 pounds. The retail price is probably dropping rapidly as the pro’s find stashes like the one we found, but last I looked it was over $20 per pound.

Will we sell them? No way.

This is something I love about California. The bounty of the land doesn’t just include those things we sow ourselves. We go mushroom hunting. My brother-in-law goes diving for abalone. My daughter loves to pick berries and miner’s lettuce in the woods.

I suppose this goes for a lot of places. The only foraging I remember from my childhood home in the Midwest was the excellent jam we made from deep dark purple wild grapes. But obviously, it made a pretty big impact on me that I still remember it now.

If you’re in the cold North, now is not the time for foraging (unless you tap maple trees!). But if you’re out here in CA, I highly recommend you take your kids out on a hunt. If you’re nervous about identifying mushrooms, you don’t have to pick them. Just looking for them and finding them is rewarding enough.

Santa Cruzans: One more day of our excellent fungus fair! See you there!


Posted in Culture.

4 Responses

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  1. gasstationwithoutpumps says

    When I told my wife about your haul, she said “but doesn’t she know we’re her friends.” Jealousy, that’s what it was!

  2. Suki says

    The first time I heard about California chanterelles, I lived in a condo complex next door to a French researcher who worked at Stanford. One day he was standing in front of his place, holding some large funguses, and grinning broadly for the camera. Some friends had taken him to their “spot”—blindfolded so he couldn’t get back! He had never seen such enormous chanterelles, so he wanted a picture to send back to France so he could make his friends there jealous. I guess I’m just continuing a long tradition!

  3. Leigh Ann Clifton says

    Great article, Suki! Our daily hiking trail is yielding an array of mushrooms….looks like it’s time for me seek some education on exactly what we are seeing!

    • Suki says

      The standard manual, Mushrooms Demystified, is by a local, I think. Chanterelles are the only ones I allow myself to identify and eat. They can’t really be mistaken for anything else. The only other local mushrooms that look like them grow on wood and apparently taste so awful you can’t choke them down to poison yourself! For kids, it’s always exciting to be able to identify deathcaps and to do spoor prints of mystery mushrooms. For spoor prints, carefully pick mushrooms you find, making sure not to shake or drop them. Place them gills down on different-colored sheets of paper. In a few hours, there will be a colored shadow of spoor on the paper. It’s really beautiful! And as long as the kids don’t eat them, picking unidentified mushrooms and making spoor prints is safe.

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