Categories: Mushrooms

2019 – A Year of Mushroom Foraging

We Get Around

Time flies when you are having fun, and what a year it has been! We’ve taken a bit of a break from writing, totally unplanned, but here we are – it’s almost 2020. All I can say is we must be having too mush fun 😉 We have been busy foraging all year, so here’s an update for those of you following our adventures. Settle in, it’s a bit long winded. If you’re just here for the pics, skip on down to the bottom!

Burn Morels in the PNW 

The last time we posted, we were getting skunked in Oregon. This spring we spent most of our time in Prospect checking burns in the Southern part of the state. Weather patterns leading up to the trip were not ideal – it was uber hot and dry with zero rain in the forecast. We almost made a game time decision to go to Arizona, but our favorite state prevailed. As it turned out, we should have changed course. The weather turned during our two week stint in OR – wet and so cold it was snowing at our target hunting elevation. We got lucky a few times, but overall the trip was a bust. A first for us! If you didn’t see that post, take a look here at lessons learned.  

Colorado Foraging Highlights

Burn Morels

Turns out the Oregon bust wasn’t too painful because our home state shined bright in 2019. Perhaps brighter than we all needed. 2018 was a stressful year in CO weather-wise. A poor snow year and summertime draught turned into fires, lots of them. We had a massive fire just 30 minutes from our house – Basalt’s, Lake Christine fire. Given a choice, I wouldn’t ever wish for fires such as we saw last summer. No one would. The only good thing to come out of the destruction was the mushrooms.

Although you will always find burn morels west of the Rockies, Colorado is right on the cusp. It is very low humidity here and our seasonal monsoons are sketchy at best these days. Morels need warmth and rain.  We don’t often focus on burn hunting in CO for these reasons. However, this year all things aligned – we had a heavy snowfall and a late spring, there was a lot of accessible charred terrain in the right kind of forest AND Mother Nature gave us a ton of spring rain. It could be a combination that we only see once in a lifetime. And there was a burn bursting with morels 30 minutes from our house. We hunted from June 6th all the way through August 12th. And although we told many folks where to go find the treasured fungi, strangely it felt like we had that mountain to ourselves. It was nothing short of epic and something I am not soon to forget.

We hunted this burn at the same elevation, 8400-8600 until July 6th when we left town for a week. Additionally, the forest service closed both roads through the burn on July 1st, making it difficult to access. In fact, most of us forgot about the burn entirely. Until… the road re-opened at the end of July. We then went all the way to the top, 9600, and collected Morchella tomentosa like I will never probably see again ever (seriously it was that good) through mid August. They were HUGE and dense, and despite the fact that the rains had ended, they were still going in the dark, moist depths of the ashy forest. We hiked and we e-biked, further, further, further until we just ran out of time.

2019 gave us many special moments in mushroom hunting, and this was the first. I sat quietly in awe many times with those tomentosas and let them etch a memory I will cherish for years to come.    

Porcini

As mentioned, Mother Nature indeed blessed us in June and July with plentiful rains. Our CO mushroom season runs mid July through the end of September (sometimes even October) in an ideal year. With a huge snowfall, our prized Boletus rubriceps asked us to patiently wait at high elevations. But when they showed up, they arrived with a fury. This was the best bolete year I have seen in our local mushroom spots in 4-5 years. We had a day in Paonia with Eugenia Bone that may never be topped. Wonderful company, and porcini everywhere – so many that you could just never collect them all. Bug free and buttons galore, our second special moment.  

After a time we had to cut ourselves off. The freezer is ridiculously full and we have more boletes than we can eat in years. 

Interesting Fact: During a Telluride foray with Britt Bunyard we learned that based on the Italian origin of the word, “porcini” is plural (NOT porcinis) and “porcino” is singular. And now I’m going to have to change years of blog posts, thanks Britt! 

Matsutake

And here we are at the third special moment of 2019 – Colorado matsies, Tricholoma murrillianum. We must be the luckiest people on the planet, because we stumbled into matsutake purely by chance or perhaps forager’s intuition. We have foraged for matsutake in Oregon many, many times. We hunt the sand dunes and the terrain is like no other.

We have never even tried foraging for matsutake in Colorado. I have always heard that matsies are only found North of I-70. Ok. Yet curiously we found a few at the Telluride Mushroom Fest this year on a quest with knowledgable friends. Inspiring, strange… maybe?

A week post Telluride we had our own campout with local friends. By that time (third week of August), it was dry. Almost crispy. Yet we were determined to find something for our friends to forage. We scouted areas we had identified by map, diligently driving around. And then at a certain moment both Trent and I had a feeling… like if I were a matsu in Colorado, I would want to be right HERE, right NOW.

And so we stopped.

Within minutes, Trent found one, and then two, and then 6 matsutakes. We drove higher and we scouted more. On that mountain over the next week we found hundreds of pounds of matsutake. The forest was literally exploding with pine mushrooms. IT WAS COMPLETELY INSANE. 25 people experienced something very few mushroom hunters will ever get to witness… pure matsutake madness, limitless quantities. It was so freakin’ cool.

Yes, of course they are all sworn to location secrecy so don’t ask!

The Allegheny

Pretty much everyone thinks we are crazy, we take the weirdest trips to the most random places to fuel our mushroom obsession. We’ve really never foraged anywhere in the Eastern part of the US and we desperately wanted to bag Chicken of the Woods and Maitake (Hen of the Woods). So we got a wild hair and decided to take a quick fall trip to the Allegheny National Forest in PA. We flew into Pittsburgh, rented a car and high tailed it to the forest.

As luck would have it we chose the same weekend as the Western PA Mushroom Club’s Gary Lincoff Memorial Foray. Spending the day with a super knowledgeable crew in the Cook Forest was a perfect segue into the weekend.

When we met our AirBnB host and told him why we were visiting he just sort of gave us a blank stare. Turns out the folks in Kane, PA have no idea what kind of fungal treasure trove surrounds them! Although the conditions were dry for the area, we found 15 species of edible mushrooms during our 4-day whirlwind tour. And thank you to my new favorite vegan mushroom friend, Danielle Schoonover Wils, we did bag both Chicken and Hen. We searched parks and cemeteries, giant oak after giant oak and only found those few. I have eaten a lot of wild mushrooms and I am totally in love with Chicken of the Woods. I could eat a tasty fresh chicken with a little lemon, cream, salt and pepper every single day.

We also added a new mushroom to our bags on this trip – the aborted entoloma, Entoloma abortvitum, commonly called Shrimp of the Woods. These guys were super abundant and great fun to collect. They are a mushroom that parasitizes Armillaria species so you find them in varying forms of mutation. They are a lot like squishy little brains I imagine. Not sure we have a taste for them yet, but I am keeping an open mind.

I wrapped up the PA trip with a terrible case of poison ivy, another first! It was so muggy that I broke a personal rule and wore a short sleeved t-shirt on a bushwhack foray. Very bad idea, next time I will endure the sweat. It was a serious low point on the fun meter. Yet all was worth it, we will be back to this stunning area. 

Back to the PNW

Trent and I have a small property in Reedsport, OR. We visited three years ago and fell in love with the Pacific coastal dunes. Reedsport is right in the middle of the 60 mile stretch and two distinct climate zones in the area offer a myriad of foraging options. It’s a mecca (shhh, you didn’t hear it here) and we visit as often as we can get away. This year we left on October 18th and spent a month in the area. A week of torrential rains greeted us on arrival but soon faded to unseasonably warm and dry weather. Porcini and matsutake produced well and rainforest mushrooms suffered. Lobsters, chanterelles, hedgehogs and cauliflower dried up not long after we arrived. The chanties were so abundant at first, we figured they would be around the whole time. Not so, those fickle fungi disappeared quickly with the rains. A missed opportunity for certain. There is always next time – unlike Colorado, coastal mushrooms have a long season and edibles can be found on and off almost all year around. Almost.

We did also find Psilocybe cyanescens growing in the wild. Another cool first! Nope – haven’t tried them yet 😉   

Mushrooms aside, the sand dunes are truly a natural wonder. If you are visiting the area, set up camp at the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park and do some exploring, you will not be disappointed. Mussels, Dungeness crabs, clams and tons of ocean fish are also relatively easy to obtain.

That’s A Wrap

Aside from all the mushrooms we’ve foraged this year, we’ve collected even more friends. Fungi connects us and this growing community is full of wonderful and amazing people. Thanks to all of you for the shared knowledge, laughs and adventures! We look forward to even more good things to come in 2020.

Kristen Blizzard

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