Sunday, November 05, 2006

Fungi for a Fun Guy and a Fun Gal

The brochure came in the mail.
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."


kudzu said...

Charmoon is a true character. Did you know that he worked as a sort of companion to MFK Fisher as she aged? A real treat is to see him in his element (the forest) when he can almost blend with the surroundings. I'm glad you got to learn from him.

Now get yourself up to Mendocino during the Mushroom Festival (check it out on . Then you can go out into the woods with someone who knows where to look, and which ones to pick. And eat great mushrooooooomy meals at the restaurants up there.

Dagny said...

Mushrooms and carmelized onions? I think I may have died and gone to heaven.

shuna fish lydon said...

did they teach you how to "dry saute"? this can make the mushroom taste more mushroomy.

the last line is indeed the last line, eh? take me aside one day and ask me for the mushroom story on the late Roxanne's.

cookiecrumb said...

Kudzu: Oh! I knew MFKF had a companion (and I want it to be known, not "that" kind), but I hadn't realized it was him. That is amazing. He is now a little (a lot) less mobile, due to a neurological condition. I hope it abates. Anyway. OK!! I will look into the Mendocino festival. :-)

Dagny: Yeah, Marsala-caramelized. You can do it!! So simple. Mm.

Shuna: Bingo. Yes, dry saute. You know everything. (Can't wait to pick your brain on the Roxanne's dish.)

Anonymous said...

Cookiecrumb! Thanks for your comment on my site... I'm kinda quiet, but have been following your blog for a long time too! I LOVE the title of it. I hope to be less mad after this election cycle!

Funny thing, I know Charmoon too! I met him through a mushroom-crazed friend of mine some years ago. I love foraging through the woods with a big wicker basket! But not alone, I don't want to eat one just once...

Sam said...

i was a mushroom crazed teen. I know that sounds dodgy, but actually, I was only interested in legal mushrooms. I spent my pocket money on them instead of on candy.
I even made my girlfriends come foraging with me, all we had was a book to guide us and we we were a bit scared about eating them, though we did. I was 18 - I have photos somewhere - I will have to see if I can dig them out for a retro post.

I would LOVE to go foraging with guide. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.

Gustad said...

i love shrooms

Anonymous said...

I can confirm Sam's interest in mushrooms. Also when I was a child (many moons ago) we were sent out to get mushrooms at the weekend to go with the bacon for my dad's breakfast. Of course we often came back empty handed but it was a thrill when we got there before the other locals and went home with our 'booty'. (Sam I have some photos of your fungus foraging)

Anonymous said...

I can confirm Sam's interest in mushrooms. Also when I was a child (many moons ago) we were sent out to get mushrooms at the weekend to go with the bacon for my dad's breakfast. Of course we often came back empty handed but it was a thrill when we got there before the other locals and went home with our 'booty'. (Sam I have some photos of your fungus foraging)

sher said...

Ahh, Point Reyes National Seashore, one of my favorite places to visit. For years I nursed a desire to move to Point Reyes or Inverness. I'm truly envious that you attended a seminar there, and on mushrooms! If I can't move there, I can attend that seminar someday. Thanks for letting us know.

cookiecrumb said...

Anna: Thanks for delurking! It's so awesome to imagine you with a basket over your arm, rooting around for mushrooms. I hope I get to give it a try... Do you have chanterelles in your yard in Mill Valley like I used to?

Sam: I think it must be much more European to casually gather wild mushrooms. As for going with a guide, it can be arranged!!
PS: Charmoon found bags of candycaps in Sonoma County. The season's about to begin.

Gustad: I guess it's a love-or-hate thing. I grew up on Campbell's cream of mushroom soup. I even gave my mom a pretty bowl embellished with mushrooms as a gift once.

ChrisB: Well, I'm glad you're still among us to tell the tale. I must recommend "The Debt to Pleasure" by John Lanchester, if you haven't already read it.

Sher: The place is loaded with B&Bs now, so you could make a real holiday of it. :-)

Marc said...

The Oakland Museum Fungus Fairis coming up soon. On December 2 and 3, the museum becomes a wonderland of fungi, with lectures, cooking demos, and table after table of freshly collected specimens. One of the museum highlights of the year for me.