A certain type of person goes into the woods to hunt for mushrooms, but to me that always seemed like a relatively esoteric, specialized pursuit. And then it started popping up in a number of things I was reading. Michael Pollan went foraging as part of one of his meals in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Peter Mayle described it as a sort of French national activity in A Year in Provence. Georgeanne Brennan talked about friends who foraged for cèpes (porcinis) in A Pig in Provence.
And then there was Danny.
During our sliders party last November, I found him in the kitchen, with a red backpack at his feet, waving around a very thick book as he described to some friends how he was taking advantage of every possible moment to go out hunting for mushrooms—in particular porcinis. He said it had gotten so bad recently that he had actually taken time off from work to go foraging within the optimal window of opportunity, which was only a few weeks long.
I was surprised to learn, given that my only exposure to porcinis was their importance in French and Italian cuisine, that they actually grew in US. And then he unzipped his red backpack and pulled out one of the biggest, densest mushrooms I’d ever seen. It was a porcini he found that morning. It must have weighed at least two pounds, which given what I know now about the prized porcini, means he’d found an $80-100 mushroom.
Danny offered to everyone listening that he’d be more than willing to let us tag along to fully plumb the depths of his newfound obsession. For us, life intervened, but some other friends took him up on the offer and sure enough, they came home with mushrooms. For free! Now my curiosity was really piqued. Once an available weekend presented itself, I sent Danny an email letting him know I was interested. And that is how I found myself waking up at 6:30 yesterday morning, scooting in the rain over to his house, and then driving for two hours up to Salt Point State Park for some truly epic mushroom foraging.
We arrived around 10am, and to our great surprise, several other cars pulled into the park at the same time, other people clearly on the hunt for mushrooms. We made haste up a trail towards the Pygmy Forest, based on a tip Danny had received through a contact on Flickr. Not more than 10 minutes in, Danny was off-trail, having very quickly spotted some hedgehog mushrooms (Hydnum umbilicatum). As my eyes adjusted to the underbrush, I started seeing them too. They were everywhere. Not mushrooms as far as the eye could see, but as we scrambled along, we’d see two here, three there, some were very small, with caps two inches in diameter or less.
What Danny was really looking for was something commonly called the black trumpet, or more ominously “the trumpet of death” (Craterellus cornucopioides). His first sighting was right in the middle of some hedgehogs, a black flowery thing, barely poking up above the forest floor, and hardly distinguishable from the surrounding detritus of leaves and pine needles. Again, once my eyes adjusted, I started seeing them more and more.
Along the way we found another edible, yellowfoot chanterelles (Cantharellus tubaeformis) which were taller and waxier than the other two.
Over the course of four hours, the two of us went mushroom crazy. At one point we filled each of our buckets and had to hike back to the car to unload our spoils. And then back out we went, eventually stumbling upon a veritable cache of black trumpets further up the trail. By the end of the day we’d collected nearly nine pounds of mushrooms, just within the allowed limit of 5 pounds per person. When we got back to Danny’s house, we laid them all out to better appreciate our take. It was a truly awe-inspiring sight.