The first thing you have to know about this festival is how to say it: Yah-Hots with an emphasis on the first syllable. The second thing to know is that Cape Perpetua and the Yachats area is a little slice of heaven. We spent several days exploring the coastal areas north and South of Yachats and then attended their mushroom festival. We can’t wait to go back! It is hard to know where to even start talking about it.
Old Growth Finds
Over the years we have been fortunate to make great friends who also love mushroom hunting. A couple days before the festival began we met up with a few folks to explore the area. Nathan and Kate are two experienced foragers from Michigan, who like us, were just discovering the area. Joseph and Elica are knowledgable local foragers who have forgotten more than we know. At the beginning of the week we explored old growth forests a few miles inland from the ocean. We found lots of chanterelles, lobsters and a few cauliflowers too. The chanterelles were mostly found in deep ferns where they could thrive despite the dry conditions and the cauliflowers were next to giant stumps of old cut trees. Lobsters on the other hand were pretty random… with the side of the roads being good for them.
After a day in the big trees up in the rain forest, we headed for the dunes to find matsutakes (Tricholoma magnivelare). These fragrant mushrooms are highly prized in Asia and many commercial hunters frequent the coastal region. They are unusual in that you don’t fry them in butter or dehydrate them. They can be frozen, but seem best prepared in water. We thinly sliced just one mushroom and made several meals by adding it to ramen style noodle soup or simple steamed rice. The flavor and aroma of a matsutake is truly unique, it’s a mushroom we are still trying to figure out how to best prepare. They are often found in the dunes where they are mycorrhizal with pines in October and November especially.
Cat’s Paws in the Marsh
On Friday we spent the day with Wallace Kaufman, a new friend we met at the NAMA foray in Salem. Wallace is an author, a poet, a professional mediator, a scientist and all around renaissance man with a homestead near the Yaquina river. I still cannot pronounce Yaquina properly. But, in that neck of the woods they call the marsh a “slough” (pronounced ‘slew’) which is tidal in nature and goes up and down several feet each day. So we were basically foraging at sea level a few miles in from the Pacific ocean along salt water marsh edges – yet another unique ecosystem. The sloughs themselves are full of oysters and also host river otters (we didn’t spot any but saw promising footprints). The mushroom we were seeking on this day was the Catathalasma (Catathalasma ventricosa aka cat’s paw, cat stalk, or mock matsutake) which is a close relative of the Matsutake. It looks like a Matsie but has an elongated and tapered stalk and smells vaguely of cucumbers – the matsutake smells like cinnamon red hots to me (and some say dirty socks). Once you have a nose for the two, they are very different. The books will tell you Catathalasma are tough and require a lot of cooking. We peeled the caps, fried them up in butter freshly picked, and found that they were firm in texture and mild in flavor. Quite appealing!
Let the Festival Begin
Yachats festivities kicked off on Friday night with a mushroom themed dinner. It was planned brilliantly – about six different restaurants contributed yummy meals – they charged $18 to attend the dinner and try everything. One highlight was baking wild mushrooms (chanterelles) right into hearty bread. I thought it was olive bread until I dipped it into our mushroom soup and was like wow! They also had a nice salad with cold chanterelles mixed in the greens and a chanterelle dressing that had chunks of mushrooms in a creamy vinaigrette with bacon. Three new ways to deliver chanterelles into my belly!
Meanwhile, all around town, the local restaurants were featuring wild mushroom centric menus for the weekend – but, perhaps that is normal in Yachats? There was also a small street market that had vendors selling mushroom soup, cultivated mushrooms, and wild mushrooms in all their forms.
Forays and Classes
On Saturday and Sunday we attended some forays and classes. Joe Spivack of the Cascade Mycological Society led our first foray. It was excellent – Joe really knows his mushrooms! He provided a great introduction to different types of mushrooms based on whether they lived on tree roots (mycorrhizal), organic material (saphrotic), or on other mushrooms (parasitic). This foray took place in the Cape Perpetua campground which was a few hundred feet above sea level but only about a mile from the coast. My favorite takeaway was learning how to identify two of the local coastal conifers. In that particular ecosystem, most of the trees were Western Hemlocks or Sitka Spruce. And they were HUGE! In the campground, there was a clearing with large old-growth Hemlocks and Spruce on the south side and Red Alders on the North side of the clearing. All the cool mushrooms we found were on the South side of the clearing, close to hemlock or spruce. Mycorrhizal mushrooms win round one.
Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) loves lower altitude moist environments and lives within 20 miles of the Pacific ocean. It has a very characteristic “flared” base, especially as the tree gets older. The bark is dark and scaly (smoother and lighter on younger trees). Needles were 1 – 1.5 inches long, very stiff and sharp, and shaped like a bottle brush, coming off the stem at 360 degrees.
Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) are more widely distributed than the Sitka Spruce, occurring on the Western and Eastern slopes of the moist coastal range of Oregon and onto the Western slope of the Cascades. They have very small egg-shaped cones, about 1″ and short needles that are formed like bird wings and can have some spacing between them. Also, the twig can have different length needles right next to each other (short and shorter). The bark has more obvious furrows running vertically up and down the tree, but, they are not deep (the Douglas Fir has very deep furrows as the tree gets older) ridges running. In the forest, their bark is very obvious compared to the Sitka Spruce and the base of the tree doesn’t flare like the spruce.
On Saturday afternoon we adventured out on another foray with Ja Schindler and Valerie Nguyen of Fungi for the People on a trail in Cape Perpetua. We learned a lot about local polypore mushrooms on that trip like Porodaedelea pini, Trametes versicolor, Ganoderma brownii, Fomotopsis pinicola, Ganoderma applanatum. We were excited to find our first Oregon Reishi – Ganoderma oregenense – during the hike. Ja gave us some tips on how to find Reishi which we successfully put to the test the next day.
Sunday was our final day in the area. I taught a class about mapping Pacific Northwest burn morels to a large and receptive group, super fun. After that we spent some time on the nearby beaches investigating tidal pools. As if the forests and abundance of food aren’t enough, there are fascinating, easily accessible beaches up and down the coast. Also popular in the area: agate collection, clamming, musseling, crabbing and salmon fishing. See you next year, Yachats!