The title of the class was "All About Mushrooms."
I quickly read through the class description (which, alas, was to be held in the classroom, not in the field), but it was all a blur.
I only knew I wanted to take the class.
It was offered by the Point Reyes National Seashore Association as part of their 30-year-old Field Seminars program. It was a four-hour session with a slide show, discussion, and mushroom tasting! Oh. I was there.
And I was there, along with a surprisingly cooperative Cranky. Cranky was captivated, in fact. The four hours flew by and we learned So Much.
Not, I admit, enough to go out into the woods and forage for my own fungi. That would be like taking flying school for half a day and then hopping behind the joystick of a Cessna. Besides, I also learned it's a highly competitive hobby — job, for some — and that I'd probably never get out of bed in time to find any good specimens, even if I did learn to recognize them. (The competitive hunters get there first. Bingo, early bird, Easter egg! Not a hobby for the slugabed.)
So what — it was a compelling, intelligent, humorous and tasty experience.
If you ever get a chance to study with Charmoon Richardson (check his Web site), our erudite and witty instructor, go for it. He's full of instantly absorbable information, and he's involved with the Northern California food community. (He procures mushrooms for restaurants! He worked with MFK Fisher! He makes his own salt, dammit!)
He explained his "apple-orange-banana" theory of mushroom recognition — that is, you know when you're looking at a banana, compared with an apple or an orange. You just know. Well, there are certain mushroom varieties in Northern California (the black trumpet is one) that don't resemble any other mushroom in the region. So if you spot one in a tanoak forest, and it looks like a black trumpet — it is!
But this class wasn't a mushroom identification class. We also learned about medicinal uses of fungi, the beautiful natural dyes that can be extracted from fungi (edible or not), ecological repercussions of foresting and sudden oak death, and we even learned several cooking tips (e.g., sometimes grilling is better than sauteing, for texture reasons).
The edible sample we tasted, though, was sauteed. It was Oregon chanterelles (they're not in season in Northern California yet, but goshdarnit, now I KNOW those were chanterelles growing in my yard at my previous house, and I never harvested a single one), cooked with Marsala-caramelized red onions. I took a quick, shaky picture of it, and I apologize for the blurs.
I didn't know this before: Chanterelles are never farmed. They can't be farmed. So every chanterelle you see in a store or on a menu was foraged by some heroic, happy hunter who can tell the good ones from the poisonous ones.
Not that terrible accidents haven't happened before. It's accumulated knowledge and experience that will make for safe mushroom collecting. I'll leave it to the experts.
I don't want to rip off Charmoon's lecture — besides his delivery is much smoother than mine — but I will steal his best line. (Come to think of it, I bet he's not the only person who's ever said it.)
"You can eat any mushroom once."