Why Was The Mushroom a Hit at the Party?


Bwahahahaha, but no ok really.

One of my most favorite memories with my grandmother was taking a walk from my childhood home, and just about half a mile in, we came across what I now know was a massive hen-of-the-woods on the side of a tree. My grandmother ripped the mushroom off the tree and we turned around to go back home. She washed them and cooked the gigantic leafy fungus in a magical sauce, and we ate it on Italian bread.

She was a mushroom genius – this was a frequent occurrence, when walking with her. She knew the right ones to pick and eat, the ones to leave alone, and the ones that would be ok if we just cooked them long enough. She would sneak into people’s yards to take them out of the grass and off trees. And we’d always make them in the same secret sauce, and eat them on Italian bread.

I am truly adopted because I have literally 0 of this talent. But when my good friend, the Mermaid, asked me to go mushroom foraging in a local park near my house….sure! She is just getting really into mushrooming, and fall is the ideal time to go in the PNW. Despite the ominous weather forecast, we grabbed the pooch, what is considered the premier guidebook for mushroom hunting in Washington (below) and headed out into the woods.

I highly recommend this book just for the photos.
Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

Let me tell you some things about hunting for mushrooms.

  • First of all, you might have better luck getting the nuclear codes than finding hotspots for mushrooms, especially chanterelles. A few hours of searching online left me with little more than a lot of “f you find your own spot!” and “you might want to try somewhere along the 54 mile stretch from your town to the local ski resort.” The good thing is that there are hundreds of parks, trails, and wooded areas, so you can pretty much find them anywhere.
  • Second, there are about seventy bajillion types of mushrooms, including LBMs (little brown mushrooms) that are so infinite in number, you never know if you actually have the right one. Books and apps can only get you so far.
  • Mushrooms come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Some even look like rocks, until you break them open.
  • You are not as good at color identification as you think you are. What you think is purple, someone else sees as grey, and what you see as tangerine might actually be more fire-orange to someone else. All of these make a difference in trying to identiify them.
  • You are not as good at shapes as you think you are. Sure, it might be sort of this way or that, but when you’re trying to pick between campanulate and ovate, but it also sort of looks like umbontae, and that will be the determining factor between edible and death, you wish you had paid more attention in kindergarten.
Photo courtesy of themushroomdiary.co.uk

Needless to say, while finding shrooms might be easy, identifying them is certainly not. Nonetheless, the Mermaid and I worked to pick a bunch, and it was quite the experience. It might be due to the rain in the fall in Washington, but these were SLIMY mothereffers. And yes, dirt gets everywhere. It didn’t help that it started to rain (a lot) and we got soaked and covered in mud, but it certainly made for an adventure.

There’s a lot of different fungi out there, and this was one of the cooler ones. In this photo, you can see what sort of looks like cake frosting and the Mermaid trying to scrape some off. There were just so many interesting things – we went about a mile it and took almost two hours, but it was fascinating to see the babies and the big ones, to see how they grow and live off the land, and how different animals use them as food.

Speaking of food, you probably shouldn’t eat them without being absolutely positively positive you can….and even then…

After several hours of traipsing in the rain, and after some very strong hard cider from a delicious local place, we went back to my house to sort, identify, and potentially eat our haul.

It didn’t take too long to discover that we had about 20 different types of mushrooms, and we were only able to identify a handful of them. Most were inedible, or we weren’t willing to take the chance.

Because we had found some edible ones (or so the guidebook and app said), we figured we would eat them. Yes, I can see you rolling your eyes and saying “No Jenna, noooooo” and like this was a bad idea. But what’s the worst that could happen? So the Mermaid washed them off while I heated the pan, and I suspect part of why it was so interesting is that we didn’t clean them as well as we should have. You never know what animal peed on your mushroom…

Dry fry with a little butter

One was ok. In fact, it’s the big parasol one that the Mermaid is licking in an above picture. The other two types were…..slimy? Spongy? I’ve never been a texture person but these were so bad that I spit them out. I can’t say they turned me off of mushrooms, but until I level up to Grandma, I’m not going to be eating things I find in the woods again any time soon. Both the Mermaid and I had the same reaction to them, both during consumption and after. While we didn’t get sick, things weren’t completely right for a bit, and I’m glad we scrapped all the other ones.

I had a great time doing it and definitely would go again, but the eating would take a lot of convincing. Like a seasoned forager will say, “Every mushroom is edible….once.”