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mycologia (part 2)

I set off from Cape Lookout, riding along a road which winds along the cliffs high above the ocean.

The Pacific Ocean is so beautiful it never stops surprising me.

The Pacific Ocean is so beautiful that it never stops surprising me.

After the racoon incident, I obviously need to replenish my supplies and I make a number of stops at various grocery stores in the towns I pass through during the day. I am irritated to discover that in the majority of regional supermarkets in the US the only thing you can reliably buy from bulk bins is candy, while things like oats are much harder to source. Buying from bulk bins means that I can control the quantity of each item that I purchase which is pretty handy with the limited space I have available in my food pannier.

I finally arrive at Beverley Beach State Park campsite late, after a long day. Night has fallen and I ride to the hiker/biker camp in almost complete darkness. The only thing I can really see is a guy standing tending a fire in the middle of an open grassy area.

“Is this ‘hikerbikerville’?” I enquire.

He admits it, somewhat reluctantly, not seemingly overly pleased to have his solitude broken. However, as I case the area in the dark for a suitable tent site he points out what he considers the most favourable position available. I pitch the tent and then address myself to the matter of dinner. My food pannier is in total disarray and I need to repackage and reorganise the new supplies before I can even think about cooking.

The guy seated at his fire behind me is silent. The fire pit is in communal space but it seems a little problematic making friends in the dark, with someone who I can’t really see. I rustle through plastic bags as I dispose of bulky packaging and place various food-stuffs into zip lock bags.

After a while he announces, somewhat irritably, that I am welcome to join him at the fire. I explain about the racoon disaster. When I have sorted the food, I cook some pasta and stir in tomato paste – not a culinary highlight, but I have no patience left to make something nicer – and go to the fire. It is cold enough to be grateful for it.

We sit side by side at a picnic table facing the fire in silence while I eat my mess.

“If you’re interested in edible mushrooms, there are a lot of lobster mushrooms around here,” the man informs me suddenly.

Mushrooms are a subject that interests me enormously but not one that I know a huge amount about. I have been mushroom hunting a couple of times before in the Czech Republic, where the pastime is something of a national passion –  rivalled, perhaps, only by beer and ice-hockey.

“What are lobster mushrooms?” I inquire, eager to expand my knowledge.

“They are red and orange – like lobsters. They are in the woods, there… and there…,” he gestures into the darkness.

I am not satisfied and press for more information. Eventually he offers to show me and so we walk, not ten metres away, to where the nearest trees are, with our torches and he points out a lumpy misshapen reddish-orange funghi. I am thrilled to have learnt a new edible mushroom – especially such a colourful one.

We return to the fire and our conversation is more animated now; we discuss mushrooms we have seen, mushroom expeditions we have been on, mushroom books. My new-found mushroom mentor describes a funghi called chicken-of-the-woods and I feel sure it is one that I have seen recently. I drag out my computer to show him the photos of mushrooms that I took in the forest around Forks. I proudly show off the takings of a particularly fruitful mushroom hunt, with my first mushroom guide, in the Czech Republic.

Eventually talk drifts to other topics and I discover that Dave makes hand-made vegan truffles for a living, in Portland. I am impressed.

In the morning, I get up early eager to search out some lobster mushrooms for breakfast – especially since I haven’t managed to replace my oats yet. I wander into the wooded area beside the my tent and immediately see numerous reddish-orange forms pushing up through the bed of needles carpeting the forest floor: there is not much searching to be done here.

Lobster mushrooms.

Lobster mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum) - this mushroom is actually two: a parasitic funghi engulfs it host (a gilled mushroom - usually the short stemmed russela) forming this brightly coloured intriguing creature.

Another one.

Another one.

Breakfast.

Breakfast.

I look around for the most attractive funghi, choosing firm ones with the prettiest colouring. I return to my table with four choice specimens but I feel dissatisfied. The thrill of the hunt is lacking in this experience. I walk across the road and climb a steep bank passing a multitude of the lobster mushrooms; they no longer interest me. Clambering up the hill, there are numerous funghi that I stop to examine but none that I recognise.

Unidentified white mushrooms.

Unidentified white mushrooms.

Mystery black mushrooms.

Mystery black mushrooms.

Brown funghi.

Brown funghi.

There are so many boletes that I never know which ones are good to eat and which ones are not.

There are so many boletes that I never know which ones are good to eat and which ones are not.

Towards the top of the hill my progress is halted by a sturdy wire fence and I walk along it for a while before turning to descend. I see a flash of yellow and, scrambling over fallen logs and evading the trailing blackberry brambles, I make my way towards it. More frilly yellow circles come into view. I find myself in the middle of a sizeable patch of fresh chanterelles. Luckily, I had the foresight to bring a bag with me to collect them in.

Chanterelles are really yummy.

Chanterelles are really yummy.

I make my way back to the campsite where Dave has emerged from his tent and is already cooking his breakfast. I show my find to him for a second opinion. As he examines the contents of my bag I see a flash of envy and new respect in his eyes as he confirms my identification.

Mmmmmm.... this is a really good breakfast!

Chanterelles - yummmmmy!.... this is a really good breakfast!

“Would you like to have some for breakfast with me?”

He seems a little surprised by this offer but doesn’t hesitate for long. We both voice regret at the lack of butter. We discuss cooking methods and the benefits of dry sautéing* mushrooms. Dave lends me a bigger pot as I still haven’t managed to replace my tiny cooking pot that is barely capable of feeding one adequately.

It is not long before we are sitting eating mushrooms, straight from the pot – definitely friends now, in the daylight, over a shared meal.

Dave, my new-found, temporary, mushroom mentor.

Dave, a new-found mushroom mentor.

After polishing off the chanterelles I remember the lobster mushrooms. I decide, in the spirit of discovery, to cook them as a second course. They do, in fact, look remarkably like lobster flesh as they cook and, while they are certainly not equal to chanterelles, they are pretty tasty.

Cooking up lobster mushrooms in my tiny pot.

Cooking up lobster mushrooms in my tiny pot.

{ 7 } Comments

  1. Babs | October 14, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    WOW!!!! What a great breakfast!

  2. cass | October 17, 2009 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    I’m impressed, you seem to be such a mushroom expert. it’s such a mysterious world to me.

  3. anna | October 17, 2009 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    Well, let’s just say I’d like to be a mushroom expert – I’m a real novice and I normally won’t eat anything that hasn’t been inspected by someone else whose knowledge I trust more than mine.

  4. jessie | October 18, 2009 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    this story is full of pleasure and memories for me too; childhood mushroom expeditions in south australia, the beautiful people of Oregon, the solitude and random companionship of the self propelled pilgramage (of sorts). thanks for a good read…

  5. anna | October 18, 2009 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    thanks, jessie. I enjoy your blog, too. especially the cumquat post…

  6. julie | October 23, 2009 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Hi anna it is great thrill to find wild food, isn’t it. It must be wonderful to supplement your usual fare with fresh finds. I’m not as brave as you in identifying fungi as I’ve had a few bad experiences with ordinary looking mushrooms. My friend Liz whom you met last Feb is the expert and collects all sorts of edible ones that don’t appear in the shops. Spring is coming here and I’m planting out the new vegie seedlings and wondering if we are going to have another scorcher like last summer. I’ve got a new tank but that won’t last long. Take care with those mushrooms. Lots of love Julie

  7. anna | October 25, 2009 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    I guess the best thing to do is not to go for ordinary looking mushrooms but extraordinary looking ones. They are harder to confuse with dodgy ones.

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