Salt Point State Park in February

Mid-Winter Blues

What is the best way to get over the mid-winter foraging blahs when you live in Colorado? Fly to Oakland, rent a small car on Turo, and shoot up to Salt Point State Park for a few days of coastal foraging!

As obsessive foragers, we get a little stir crazy in Colorado. We needed to be on the coast: mild temperatures and ample rainfall make the Northern California coast a foraging haven from late fall thru early spring. After doing some research we decided that Salt Point State Park would be a fun place to visit in February. It’s about a 3 hour drive from the Oakland Airport. Apparently, foraging is discouraged (illegal) on most public land along the California coast. Salt Point is one of the few parks that allow the public to forage. The park imposes a bag limit of 3 lbs per day, which ended up being just fine. Even though they get lots of mushroom hunters, it is clearly a productive spot that has earned its reputation. The park itself contains 6000 acres spread along 6 miles of coastline with more than 20 miles of trails. We didn’t see any other foragers (at least after our intro foray with the MycoChef) during our entire time in the woods, which was a bit surprising. For that matter, we didn’t see anyone inside the park at all during the entire 3 day weekend.

New Terrain, New Trees

To learn the terrain, we scheduled a 4 hour guided foray with Patrick Hamilton, a local expert. He gave us the lay of the land and helped us identify the local trees and their mushrooms. He did a really nice job of of leading a group of 20 through the woods, explaining how and where mushrooms grow and answering lots of questions about edibility. After the foray, we spent several more days exploring both the park and some nearby private land accessible to us. The Northern California coast is rugged and beautiful – the scenery was a real highlight of the trip. While most tourists were looking west at Pacific vistas, we headed East into the hills and enjoyed the open forests, wildflowers and magnificent trees. We found a neat little chapel about 10 miles up the coast – the Sea Ranch Chapel. This architectural gem was a nice break for the feet, eyes and spirit.

We learned a lot during the trip. Conventional black trumpet wisdom suggests they are found in and around tanoaks and huckleberry bushes. This is definitely true… there is no point looking for a these mushrooms if you are not in a tanoak forest. The trees were easy to spot because their bark was so different than the nearby conifers and of course they deposit acorns and oak leaves on the ground. The other conventional wisdom is that black trumpets like gullies, creek beds, and steeper areas. We looked in plenty of gullies but found most of our mushrooms on gentle inclines in openish areas between trees/bushes. Huckleberry bushes were an important part of this symbiotic relationship… tanoaks without nearby huckleberry shrubs rarely produced mushrooms. Curiously, we found some random hedgehogs too and often black trumpets were nearby or even right next to them.  As we walked the woods we would look for clusters of tanoaks and then search the huckleberry and oak bushes nearby (within reach of the roots) for the win. We paid special attention to fallen/rotten logs because often mushrooms would grow right in a line in their rain-drip line.

Hidden in Plain Sight

And gosh, these little brown/grey/black suckers are hard to see! Once the sun moved lower in the sky, around 2 or 3 PM, the trumpets were even harder to spot. We moved along at a good clip, scanning the ground for more obvious “flag” mushrooms; when we found one we would slow down, get low, and search the ground for more. While we located a few mushrooms here and there (especially as our ‘mushroom eyes’ developed), we found most of our harvest in large clumps with dozens of fruiting bodies.

The black trumpet (craterellus cornucopioides) is known to many as the ‘horn of plenty’ or the ‘black chanterelle’. Unlike its cousin, the yellow chanterelle, it dehydrates beautifully and is arguably better eating dried than fresh (no one ever said that about a chantie!). We packed one of our dehydrators in our big duffle bag (yes, we flew with a dehydrator) for the weekend and ran it every night. Rehydrated, cooked black trumpets are a delicious, choice mushroom. While the taste is superb, it is not strong – we suggest pairing with foods that won’t overpower the delicate, earthy flavor.

Of course, all good things must come to an end. With dirty gear and very tired dehydrator in tow, we headed back to Colorado’s cold country. Pumped full of trumpet-fueled adrenaline, we are ready for the next few months of snow.

Until next time Salt Point – we will be back for your tasty little trumpets next year.

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