Fall is a great time to stalk wild mushrooms. If you haven't tried chanterelles, boletes, chicken of the woods, matsutake or cauliflower mushrooms, then you're in for a treat. Great-tasting wild mushrooms are found within an hour drive of Bend in areas including Santiam Pass, Crane Prairie, Suttle Lake and the Cascade Lakes.
But before you go, know these rules.
Number one: No self-respecting mushroom hunter is going to give away their favorite harvesting spot. Collecting sites are like good fishing holes; you always tell someone the fishing is better elsewhere. Number two: Go with someone who knows what they're doing. They'll help identify the good mushrooms and lessen the chance of getting lost. Number three: Your partner should ask if you have a U.S. Forest Service permit before you leave. This will eliminate any possible uncomfortable conversations with Forest Service law dogs later.
Actually, rule number two may supersede number one.
"There are 10 to 12 really good edible mushrooms that pickers can find in Central Oregon," said Linda Gilpin, founder of the Central Oregon Mushroom Club and mushroom educator for Central Oregon Community College's Continuing Education program. Gilpin recommends new mushroom hunters learn a couple of easy ones, and only collect those mushrooms. "There are a lot of inedible mushrooms growing in the forest and it's just too confusing for new pickers to collect everything growing out there."
One common mushroom: the chanterelle. With an apricot-like aroma, smooth surface and overall yellow color (they also come in white), they're easy to identify and hold up well in the basket. They usually grow in patches in mixed conifer woodlands and are delicious – a good first mushroom to learn.
Gilpin also suggests obtaining a good field guide and viewing some YouTube videos on harvesting wild mushrooms. "All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms," by David Arora is a guide Gilpin recommends.
"Read the introduction," said Gilpin, "and study the photographs and identification keys to know what to look for. Also, pickers should harvest young and old specimens of the same mushroom because they look different at different ages." Along with a basket and a sharp knife for collecting (no plastic because mushrooms "sweat" and will turn to mush), Gilpin instructs new collectors to know their trees (many mushrooms are associated with certain tree species) and to use their cell phone to snap photos of an unknown mushroom's top and undersides, which will aid in identification.
Edible or Poisonous?
"Mushroom poisoning is everything from an upset stomach to dying," said Gilpin. Death is pretty rare, but even the edible mushrooms have look-alikes that are toxic, to some degree. Gilpin suggests wrapping the "unknowns" in wax paper to keep them separate and bring them in for identification. "Never eat what you can't ID" is a good rule number four.
FungiFest and Mushroom Show
New pickers can gain knowledge and confidence about collecting wild mushrooms by attending the 2nd annual FungiFest and Mushroom Show at the Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory Oct. 6. For more details visit sunrivernaturecenter.org.
"Mushrooms are largely misunderstood in the natural world," said Amanda Accamando, Nature Center manager. "This event offers a lot of resources for beginner or experienced mushroomers."
Last year, over 125 people attended the event, and the foraging trip encountered snow, but lots of mushrooms. Accamando hopes to expand the festival into a week-long event in the future.
Meanwhile, award-winning writer Langdon Cook, author of "The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America," will share experiences of the underground subculture and all-cash business of wild mushroom hunting Thursday, Oct. 4 at SHARC.
Harvesting mushrooms on federal lands requires a Free Use Permit issued by the Forest Service, allowing users to collect up to 2 gallons of mushrooms per day for 10 calendar days. Commercial pickers will need to purchase either a Commercial Daily or Seasonal permit; costs vary depending on the type of permit. Those interested in hunting matsutake need a special permit. For more information, visit www.fs.usda.gov or contact a local USFS Ranger District office.