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10/07/2005 Archived Entry: "Mushroom hunting"

I WOKE UP ALIVE THIS MORNING. I considered it an accomplishment.

Okay, okay. I'm being a drama queen. But on Wednesday I went on my very first wild mushroom hunt. Yesterday evening, I devoured two scrumptious cupfuls of my little prizes, cooked with chopped pecans in a madiera sauce. Mmmmmm! Then I waited in suspense, really, really, really hoping those particular gourmet mushrooms were as "easy to identify" as my hunting companion assured me they were.

Despite living in the woods, I've never been much of an outdoorsperson. Survival in the woods is, I admit, the biggest gap in my preparedness plans. Nature is all fine and dandy when it's on the other side of a window and I'm on the side that's got the fireplace and the nice cup of hot tea. Nature's lovely when she's on her best summertime behavior. But basically, nature is full of dirt, bugs, and things slaughtering other things, and is nearly always precisely the wrong temperature. Not to mention it contains bazillions of alluring-looking plants that cause you to die after three days of screaming agony.

The first thing I ever learned about mushroom hunting was the adage,

"There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters. But there are no old, bold mushroom hunters." Which kind of ended any desire I every had for a close relationship to mycology. Aside from berry picking, I haven't been wildly eager to take advantage of this area's foraging opportunities.

But when a friend, an experienced fungi forager, named my very, very favorite variety of mushroom and invited me to go with him, the temptation was too great. I jumped. (Mushroom hunters are traditionally a secretive lot, not sharing their hunting grounds with anybody; so this was a rarity.)

As happened, we found none of the desired mushrooms in his territory. But once I understood this species' habitat, I suggested another spot ... and there we hit the mushroom motherlode. (I felt so proud.) We were a few days early, so we left hundreds and hundreds of baby mushrooms to mature and we brought out only enough for a few appetizers and sauces. Today, though, I go back to gather a crop to freeze for winter use.

The particular 'shroom we were hunting is one of the most prized by gourmet cooks. And though I'm far from a gourmet, it's the most prized by me. I'm not about to say what it is becuse that might give A Clue to My Whereabouts. But it really is extremely easy to identify and it has only a couple of badass imitators. After a few minutes instruction I was like, "Hey, even I can do this!"

We gathered in the mist on a soft, wet day. The kind of day that makes you think the loss of summer might be tolerable, after all. And I felt that sense of accomplishment you get as soon as you overcome some long-held fear. I love that feeling -- even as I feel abashed at waiting so long to conquor it.

But not until this morning -- waking up alive, you recall -- did I really go "OH, yesssss!" knowing I know have years of tasty treats and lovely gathering experiences to look forward to. And also knowing that yes, "Even I can do that."

UPDATE: Another discovery; baby mushrooms don't turn into grownup mushrooms quite as fast as I thought. I gathered several pounds of real beauties today in the same general area, but the ones that were young and small on Wednesday are still young and small today. So much to learn.

Posted by Claire @ 09:29 AM CST

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