Mushroom foraging at Salt Point

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.

Porcinis for $45/pound at Far West Fungi in the San Francisco Ferry Building
Porcini mushrooms for $45/pound at Far West Fungi

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.

Hedgehog mushroom (Hydnum umbilicatum)
Hedgehog mushroom (Hydnum umbilicatum)

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.

Black trumpet mushrooms, aka the trumpet of death (Craterellus cornucopioides)
Black trumpet mushrooms (Craterellus cornucopioides)

Along the way we found another edible, yellowfoot chanterelles (Cantharellus tubaeformis) which were taller and waxier than the other two.

Yellowfoot chanterelles (Cantharellus tubaeformis)
Yellowfoot chanterelles (Cantharellus tubaeformis)

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.

Nine pounds of hedgehog, black trumpet, and yellow chanterelle mushrooms, laid out on paper
Nine pounds of foraged mushrooms

11 Comments

Danny Dawson

You, sir, are an excellent writer and some of the most pleasant, engaging company I have had, and are welcome on as many future mushroom forays as you’d like.

Two clarifications:
1. As much as I might exaggerate the size of my own porcini, I think the one I had at your party was under a pound and a half. :)
2. Though I kept referring to our hedgehogs yesterday as Hydnum repandum, the ones we brought home are most likely Hydnum umbilicatum. They’re identical from a culinary standpoint, but are smaller and thinner than H. repandum. Those giant old black hedgehogs up by the redwoods that I said were “past their prime” were most likely H. repandum.

Thanks again for accompanying me, and for putting up with my own special brand of “raszh”.

Re: #1, it is said that most men exaggerate the size of their porcinis. Ba-dum tish.

Re: #2, thanks for the Hydnum umbilicatum update. I made the correction.

Grandmere

Upset as I do not know what has happened to the email I sent you. Anyway.. As I was telling you.. what a “mushroom catch”….and also what a great write up from your friend..!!loved it and the pictures too..so beautifully done..BRAVO…AND TO YOU SWEETHEART…”MES COMPLIMENTS”..BUT,you just love to keep my mouth WATERING FOR MUSHROOMS HUH???.je t’aime de tout mon coeur xoxo, ta Grandmere

You must be Danny’s grandmere. He told me he had a French grandmother who was très jaloux of his recent mushroom adventures. Many thanks for passing your “mushroom gene” along to him. We will be eating very well this week!

glad you made it to mushroom hunting finally. your pics were so tempting that we had to cook some chanterelle today.:-)

jackie

I need to know what you made with the mushrooms! with pictures!

i hope you didn’t try to smoke them after drying ;-)) – only a joke… hey – in our forest – there are only mashrooms found in autum when its going wet after a warm period… never ever in february …cool !

Danny Dawson

Yep, that’s Grandma. Hi Grandma!

Jackie, I’ve already got the first mushroom meal post primed, and a list of things I want to make is shaping up.

Oh, wow, I really want to learn how to do this! And, of course, the best ways to cook them.

I’ll put this out there, too, just in case you hear of anything in this direction or head there yourself: I see people fishing on the coast, from the beaches, and would like to learn about that, too. Next time, I vow to try to chat them up, but if you hear of anything….

Jean-Claude

This is a great description of a mushroom hunting day, it reflects exactly what I experienced when I went mushroom hunting with my parents, in the south of France… many years ago. While I lived in Sonoma County, I have always dreamed of going mushroom foraging but I never found a local mentor to help me steer away from the private properties or other potential complication. Since I came back to France, I am trying to find the good mushroom areas in my region. Of course the general areas are known and a bunch of cars parked along the side of a small road is one of the clues. Weekends are the worse time to go mushroom hunting because there is a lot of competition. In another hand, it is a good time to log of the most popular spots (=most cars) so you can come back during a sunny weekday following rain. In France, people will not share their favorite mushroom spot; it’s a family secret!
We must have had a conversation about mushrooms; this is why the subject made you think of me…

Looking forward to seeing you, don’t know the date as yet.

Big hugs

Name

Email (optional)

Blog (optional)