PAT NEAL: The great mushroom hunt

In last week’s episode, we examined the very real possibility of mushroom hunters getting lost in the woods.

It happens every year, but it doesn’t have to.

There are ways to avoid getting lost in the woods.

One of them is to stay out of the woods entirely.

This is unacceptable, since mushrooms represent an important food group to the people of the rainforest, where there are actually two types of mushroom pickers haunting the woods.

There are the mushroom pickers who have been lost in the woods and the mushroom pickers who have not been lost yet.

Most of these mushroom pickers are looking for the chantrelle. If you don’t know what a chantrelle mushroom is, you are probably not from around here.

Found all around our Earth, chantrelles have been popular in gourmet recipes since the Middle Ages, eventually becoming a delicacy in French cuisine. Chantrelles not only taste good, they are good for you, with healthy doses of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

This is a meaty, colorful and easy-to-identify mushroom that makes a domestic, store-bought mushroom taste like the cardboard box it came in.

Chantrelles are currently going for almost $40 a pound in the big city.

While this may seem outrageous for a common mushroom that grows almost anywhere you find second-growth Douglas fir, it’s reasonable once you figure in the cost of pumping $5-a-gallon gas to go stump-jumping your vehicle out into the woods to go mushroom hunting in the first place.

Add the expense of getting your stomach pumped from eating the wrong mushroom and you’ll see the retail price of chantrelles is perfectly reasonable.

You want to be extremely careful when it comes to identifying wild mushrooms.

I once found a gang of mushroom enthusiasts who were suffering the effects of some poison mushrooms they’d washed down with grain alcohol.

They thought the alcohol would counteract the poison.

It didn’t.

They had run out of gas, (thankfully) at the end of a logging road. I gave them a ride back to their camp — where I poured them out of the truck so they could talk to the ravens.

That is another beauty of the chantrelle.

Their golden color and fluted stems make them easy to identify.

Picking chantrelles is a great excuse to get out and enjoy the beauty of the fall woods.

It’s like the biggest Easter egg hunt in the world.

You’ll want to cut the stems with a knife and gather the mushrooms in a basket or bucket.

That way they won’t get squished, no matter how long it takes to walk back to your vehicle.

Good luck.

With so many people picking mushrooms for a living, you may have to hike a long way from the road in rough country to find them.

You’ll want to tell someone where you’re going or when you’re coming back when you go out picking mushrooms.

Do try to start out mushroom picking in the morning, so if you do get lost, you’ll have plenty of daylight to get found.

Do not pick mushrooms on flat ground. You want to be able to go uphill or down to find a road.

Do take a compass along in the woods, but you have to read it before you are lost or it will not do you much good.

Do not depend on electronic devices to navigate in the woods where dead batteries, moisture and no signal can make your device useless.

Often, when lost in the mushroom woods, I’ve paused to reflect. Chantrelles are worth whatever they cost.

_________

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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