PAT NEAL: Lost in the throes of mushroom fever

THERE ARE FEW things more comforting than the sound of a heavy rain on the roof.

It’s a message that tells us the forest fires are being put out without risking the lives of the people who fight them.

The sound of the rain tells us the rivers are rising so the salmon don’t scrape the scales off their bellies trying to swim to their spawning grounds.

The sound of the rain also heralds the opening day of mushroom season.

A scrawny hatch of mushrooms has been sprouting for a month or more, but the heavy rains of autumn are what really sprouts the fungi.

I’ve heard there are more than 500 different kinds of mushrooms on the Olympic Peninsula. It might even be true.

Back in the last century, a pioneer friend told me he had eaten 50 different edible wild mushrooms. That may have been true, too, but he was a fisherman and you know how to tell if they are lying. It’s easy — their lips are moving.

There are many edible wild mushrooms that grow on the Olympic Peninsula.

You’ll want to avoid mushrooms with names like “Panther Amanita,” which can cause hallucinations, or the “Destroying Angel,” which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, trouble breathing, focusing, concentrating or even death by liver and or kidney failure.

Instead, we focus our search for edible fungi like the Shaggy Mane mushroom. It’s excellent if cared for promptly. The porcini and lobster mushrooms are magnificent if you can beat the bugs to them, but the Chantrelles are my favorite.

The Chantrelle is easy to find, easy to pick and with their golden color, meaty caps and fluted stems, they are easy to identify. Rich in flavor with an earthy aroma that is difficult to describe, the Chantrelle was once famous as a delicacy for the nobility of Europe.

These days, the Chantrelle has taken its place beside the truffle and morel as the go-to foodie fungus for gourmet cooks everywhere. The Chantrelle is not only delicious, it’s high in vitamin C and one of the richest sources of vitamin D.

Chantrelles can be sautéed and frozen without losing their flavor.

The pioneer method of preserving the Chantrelle by drying them seems to intensify their flavor.

The dried Chantrelle can be ground into a sort-of flour for making soups and sauces but, of course, you have to pick them first.

Mushroom picking can be hazardous.

There are only two types of mushroom pickers. Those who have gotten lost in the woods while picking mushrooms and those who haven’t — yet.

It’s like the world’s biggest Easter egg hunt, where participants scurry about with their eyes to the ground, shuffling from one prize to another, filling their baskets as fast as they can. The main difference being that no one gets lost on an Easter egg hunt.

Getting lost is an American tradition.

Daniel Boone said that he had never been lost in the wilderness but he did admit that, “I was bewildered once for three days.”

Back then, it was much easier to get lost in the wilderness, since there was so much more wilderness to get lost in.

However, it is still possible to get lost.

To reduce your chances of getting lost, it’s best to pick mushrooms on a hillside. Search for mushrooms above the road so you only have to go back down to find it again.

Don’t know up from down? Then picking mushrooms might not be for you.

There is really only one sure way to avoid getting lost while picking mushrooms — don’t go mushroom picking.

_________

Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealproductions@gmail.com.

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