The rains are coming back, and with them the fall mushroom season. On September 28 the Scappoose Public Library is hosting Jordan Weiss for a presentation on the fall mushrooms of NW Oregon.
I didn’t grow up picking mushrooms, but during last year’s surveys I couldn’t help but see fungi everywhere. At first I was hesitant to start picking – you should never try a mushroom unless you are certain it is safe. But with the help of Matt’s previous experience, some online guides, and confirmation from the “Columbia County Mushroom Foragers” Facebook group, I began to try some of the most common, easy to identify species. Each time I picked a mushroom for the first time, I got personal help from an expert.
The effort was worth it!
Last October, Matt and I were doing surveys near Gunner’s Lake when we started finding chanterelles everywhere. Big clumps, little clumps, individual mushrooms, both White Chanterelles and Pacific Golden Chanterelles were abundant on the forest floor:
Chanterelles grow up from tree roots, especially Douglas-fir and Hemlock. The bottom part of the mushroom encases the root tips of the tree, picking up sugars from the tree and in turn using its network of fungal mycelium to supply the tree with water and nutrients. This symbiotic relationship means that healthy chanterelle populations also improve forest health.
One study in the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest found that Pacific Golden Chanterelles are the most prevalent species in second-growth forest, while White Chanterelles are most prevalent in old-growth. These mushrooms struggle to recover from clear-cutting, thus are absent for the first 10-20 years after a clearcut and don’t reach abundance until the stands become 40-45 years old. The primary issues appear to be the death of the tree roots that the mushrooms depend on and the compacting of the soil that the spores need to move through to find new roots.
When Matt and I found those chanterelles we were doing a salamander survey and hadn’t planned for a mushroom bonanza. We stuffed chanterelles into every space we could find in our backpacks. By the time we got back we had combined for about 12 pounds of hearty shrooms! Even after setting aside some of my share for friends and washing/cutting the less than ideal parts, I had quite the bounty to work with:
I always take precautions before eating anything I pick. Matt was experienced with chanterelles already, so he identified them for me when we were together. But I also read up online so that I could identify them myself (the interior stem and gills are key features), and uploaded some pictures to the Columbia County Mushroom Foragers group just to double-check, since it was my first time. It turns out that chanterelles are tough to misidentify once you know what you’re doing, so I had complete confidence in the identification.
But how to cook them?
Chanterelle mushrooms are nutritious, with a lot of fiber, some protein, B-vitamins, and lots of antioxidants. There are hundreds of recipes but I went easy, dry-sauteeing the excess water out of them first and then frying them in butter with garlic and onions. They were delicious, far better than any store-bought mushrooms I’d ever had!
Later I cooked other chanterelles into omelettes. They’re also great on toast, pasta, soups, pizza, and with many other recipes.
As we continued to survey amphibians throughout the fall, we found chanterelles in forests near Alder Creek, Keasey Road, and Mist Summit. Like I said, their major requirement is sufficiently old Douglas-fir and Hemlock forest. If the forest is healthy and has been left alone long enough, the chanterelles will grow.
As the seasons turned we began to see other species of edible mushrooms, and with the same cross-check identification care we picked and cooked morels and oyster mushrooms.
I chose not to make an identification guide because it’s not my area of expertise, and I don’t want anyone trying to ID based on my guidance alone. You should always start mushroom hunting with someone who is already experienced before making your own identifications.
That’s a great reason to go to Jordan Weiss’s presentation at the Scappoose Public Library and meet a mushroom expert and maybe some other interested locals. It’s on September 28th at 7pm and the address is 52469 SE 2nd Street, Scappoose, or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org to get the Zoom link. Mushroom hunting is a fun activity in the woods that pays off in the kitchen.