IN THE FALL, there is gold out in the forests of the West End and anyone can pick it off the ground and sell it by the pound.
Chanterelle mushrooms start peeking out of the forest floor in late July so that by mid-September the season is in full swing.
Mushroom pickers are easy to spot on the sides of West End roads and highways because they are almost always carrying 5-gallon buckets.
Sometimes they just appear out of the timber on the sides of the pavement and disappear the same way they appear, occasionally stashing bicycles in the brush.
There are several wild and edible mushrooms that grow in the forest.
Yes, there are ones that can kill people and have names that would be appropriate for death-metal bands.
There also are those mushrooms that can take you hallucinating down Alice’s rabbit hole.
Experienced pickers know the difference between good and bad mushrooms.
That is a good thing, too, because some edibles have a look-alike growing very nearby.
The chanterelle pickers begin by considering where the mushrooms grow best.
All clear-cuts are out as are deciduous areas because chanterelles like to grow under fir, hemlock and spruce trees.
Pickers start with a view to getting to the buyer around 3 p.m. because it seems the afternoon is when most buyers open their doors.
So, the pickers have their buckets, a place to go and they start walking the forest with their eyes looking for the gold-orange scallop shape sticking out of the ground.
Once one mushroom is found, chances are there are several close by.
Taking an edge, such as a knife or credit card, the pickers cut the stem at ground level.
An experienced chanterelle picker will blow or gently brush off the needles and dirt before placing the mushroom in their bucket.
Some even go the extra mile of pulling a T-shirt over the top of the bucket to keep needles and debris from getting inside as they walk through the underbrush.
It’s a source of frustration to get to an area and see only orange stems in the ground because that means this area was just picked by someone else.
When the buckets are full, or the forest isn’t giving up many mushrooms, pickers head to the mushroom buyers.
There are usually three or four places between Bear Creek and Forks where one can sell the chanterelles.
Some buyers will buy other types of mushrooms, such as chicken of the woods, cauliflower and lobster claw.
But the most commonly sold is the chanterelle.
The buyers sometimes have a board indicating the daily price per pound for each variety.
Sometimes the price changes with the quality of mushrooms being sold.
This is partially why clean mushrooms are important, because if the buyer has to clean a picker’s mushrooms, that picker is not going to get top dollar.
Earlier this season, I heard of a single cauliflower mushroom selling for $200.
Chanterelles can sell for upward of $8 a pound and drop to $2.50.
A 5-gallon bucket averages between 15 and 20 pounds.
Prices are dictated by the buyer and seem to drop as the chanterelles are easier to find.
A lot of rain makes the mushrooms heavier and thus seems to drop the price as well.
Getting to the buyer as soon as they open is fairly important because they pay in cash and cash can run out.
Sometimes the buyer is not alone and seems to have some “muscle” to protect against thieves who would take the money and run.
A picker’s mushrooms are placed in the buyer’s totes and weighed on digital scales.
This is a quick process once the picker gets to the head of the line. Cash is paid with no haggling.
The chanterelles are fading out for the year now and some buyers have closed up their shops.
But there are easily enough for a home meal or two, just please ensure it’s the right mushroom.
Zorina Barker has lived on the West End for most of her life. She is married to a Forks native who works in the timber industry. Both of her kids have been home-schooled in the wilds of the Sol Duc Valley. She can be reached at 360-461-7928 or [email protected]
West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday.
Her next column will be Nov. 27.