Hunting mushrooms in Eugene | Arts & Culture
What are mushrooms? Not just those $ 16 a pound strands you buy in a local payday market, but also the natural and wild organisms that can be found in the forest. A fungus in its natural environment is not classified either as a plant or as an animal and therefore constitutes a unique category in itself: fungi.
The food and nutrients that mushrooms give and receive are worth considering before eating. It is a form of life that can be hunted like wild game, becoming a sport for outdoor enthusiasts. Fungi are also important for reforestation and are able to break down plants and dead wood in the forest, as well as dead animals and most of the organic material that lives there. This effect benefits our ecosystem worldwide and can help the natural environment to struggle for years to come.
But how do you hunt wild mushrooms? How do you know which are edible and which are poisonous? And once you find these consumable strands, how can you prepare them? Eugene couple Matt Holsonvack and Rachel Grudzien have been true mushroom gatherers for years, which means they know which mushrooms are edible and the seasons they appear. They are part of a group from Oregon called PNW Mushroom Foraging and Identification that speaks to the community and talks about mushrooms. They research which mushroom is in season and share information about the different classes.
“It’s dirty and can leave you with nothing,” Holsonvack said. It refers to certain days when mushrooms can be hard to find and sometimes you have to seriously dig to find one.
Mushrooms in Eugene typically grow during the extended rainy, fall, and spring months when weather conditions are not extreme. The process can be arduous, but if you’re just starting out, it’s important to be patient and persevere, Holsonvack mentioned.
“It’s so rewarding to go out into the woods and go out with food,” Holsonvack said. “It’s such a difference going to the grocery store.”
Holsonvack and Grudzien have been practicing the art of mushroom picking for about 10 years and have learned the tricks to navigate it safely and successfully. “Being completely immersed in the woods and losing track of time is such a good thing,” said Grudzien, as she and her partner prepared the mushrooms they forged that day.
Here are some of the practices they learned along the way:
How to forge inside and outside the trail
Once you find an area in the woods, get to know the trail and the surrounding area and know where you are and which direction you intend to go. You can still find mushrooms along the already formed paths, and for beginners it can be a simple and easier way to train the eye to find edible mushrooms.
If you go off the trail to see what else is there, always watch where you are walking. Sometimes you can forget or walk on a bed of mushrooms.
Don’t be afraid to look under the ferns. Many fungi do not emerge fully and can hide under leafy areas buried by roots and soil. Look for cracks in the ground or holes that animals go through, sometimes squirrels can smell the truffles deep in the ground.
Which mushrooms are edible?
“I didn’t go in there until one day I was in the forest and found a chanterelle mushroom,” Holsonvack said. “After that I got hooked.”
He said to do research before looking for food. Usually, when one of them is driving or getting ready, the other takes notes and analyzes the mushrooms to look for – the texture, color and overall structure of the mushroom.
One book he recommends is “Everything the Rain Promises and More” by David Arora. The book is a guide to all the different mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest.
The book describes and identifies over 200 species found in Oregon and gives specific details on what to look for when making mushrooms. It shows illustrations and the differences to look for when searching for a species.
Always remember to make sure the mushrooms you have picked are edible before eating them, as consuming poisonous mushrooms can have dangerous repercussions.
Most important: always cook edible mushrooms found in the woods. Only a small amount of mushrooms can be eaten raw, and even then it’s hard to tell without knowing 100% what it is.
How to prepare and cook what you find
One Tuesday morning, Holsonvack looked to find a sprig of cauliflower mushroom, seeing that the online shroomer community was mostly finding it during the weather. Without luck, he couldn’t find a single cauliflower in the woods. However, he did not leave empty-handed. To his surprise, he found a variety of edible mushrooms, some he could identify right away –– admirable bolicks, chanterelles, fried chicken mushrooms, matsutake and shrimp-russula –– all with sizes and textures. different with a range of unique flavors when eating.
“I’m going to let them soak in salt water and air dry them,” Holsonvack said. It does this to cleanse the fungus of all bacteria and harmful creatures in it. After that, he will chop the mushrooms and pan-fry them, overcooking them to make sure that nothing toxic is left, without removing any of the flavors and leaving room for a variety of dishes, did he declare.
The couple prepared a delicious mixture of mushrooms in a spaghetti dish with Alfredo sauce. They played great music, told old smithy stories, and brought out their hospitality the only way mushroom hunters know how to do it. The taste was light but had a meaty flavor from the mushrooms Holsonvack had picked that day. He was delighted with what he found that day and grateful to know that some mushrooms can still thrive so late in the season.
You can find many cookbooks online that offer different recipes: Wild Mushrooms: A Cookbook and Foraging Guide by Kristen and Trent Blizzard; Mushroom Cookbook: A Fabulous Fungi Feast for All Seasons and Occasions by Annes Editorial, which features a variety of cookbooks; Healing mushrooms: a practical and culinary guide to using mushrooms for whole body health by Tero Isokauppila.