Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mushroom Hunting on the Central Oregon Coast

Even after shorebird season is pretty much over, living on the Oregon Coast has its perks. October is a great time to roam the coastal forests in search of some tasty additions to your menu. Especially after a few rainy days, these woods will yield a plethora of mushrooms, a surprising number of which can be used in your kitchen. During a brief visit this morning to a couple of undisclosed locations in the vicinity of Florence, Oregon, my partner Oscar and I were able to harvest the following choice edibles:

Pacific Golden Chanterelle (Catharellus formosus)

Only recently recognized as a species separate from the Common Chantarelle (Cantharellus cibarius) of Europe and eastern North America, this spicy, slightly peppery mushroom is considered one of the tastiest edibles among all fungi. Sautéed in butter, they make a wonderful addition to your steak or pork chops ... or a meal all by themselves.

Pig's Ear (Gomphus clavatus)

This is a close relative of the chanterelle, and like the former, its spore-bearing surface consists of shallow veins rather than gills or pores. Another tasty edible, although not quite as good as the chanterelle (at least in my opinion), and nowhere near as showy.

King Bolete (Boletus edulis)

With its savory, slightly nutty flavor, this large, handsome bolete is one of the most highly prized mushrooms for the table. Just make sure you get to it before the maggots do! The above specimen is a rather slender-stalked variety with a relatively pale tan cap - quite different from the often bulbous-stemmed, darker-capped examples found in the pine forests of the High Cascades.

Sweet Tooth (Dentinum repandum)

top view of the cap

view of the underside of the cap (note the small, tooth-like spines)

Also known as the Hedgehog Mushroom, this delicious fungus belongs to the family of Teeth Fungi (Hydnaceae), which produce their spores on tooth-like spines on the underside of the cap. This species equals the chanterelle in flavor and texture, but like the former, it should be cooked slowly and for a long time to render it tender.

Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum)

Walking the coastal woods of the Pacific Northwest in the fall, you will frequently encounter these large, bright lobster-red to deep orange, somewhat misshapen fungi poking out of a mound of dirt. The Lobster Mushroom is actually a parasitic mold that infects and engulfs other species of mushrooms (usually members of the genera Russula and Lactarius). In the process, it manages to turn an otherwise rather unpalatable host into a culinary delicacy. In our area, the most common host is the Short-stemmed White Russula (Russula brevipes), a ubiquitous mushroom with little culinary value of its own. When collecting Lobster Mushrooms, a note of caution is necessary, since there is a small chance that this mold can infect a poisenous host species! Fortunatey, there are no deadly Russulas or Milky-caps around here, so you probably risk no more than an upset stomach.

Our little walk yielded a multitude of other mushroom species, including several additional edibles (e.g..the Admirable Bolete and the Common Laccaria), but we left those for another time. The above harvest was enough to feed us for a couple of days. Bon appétit!

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