Those who forage mushrooms in Pacific Northwest forests are a highly secretive group, not wanting to give up their prized spots in what has become a very competitive event each fall.
While this weekend’s rainfall and drop in temperature are just the right ingredients for mushroom foraging, we opted to take an early season trip “someplace” east of Snoqualmie Pass about two weeks ago to try our luck.
It hadn’t rained much leading up to our jaunt in the woods, and temperatures soared to a toasty 80-plus degrees as the dense fog cover broke just past North Bend.
This wasn’t the most conducive conditions, but we chose to hike along a trail on the shaded and much cooler side of a mountain top.
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Our quest was one of the most prized culinary mushrooms referred to by their Japanese name “matsutake” (Tricholoma magnivelare or pine mushroom), which are known for their unique pungent smell and excellent table fare.
I had grown up each fall taking numerous trips all across western Washington forests looking for matsutake with my grandparents, Kay and Kiki Hagimori, and their friends. Back in the early 1970s, there wasn’t as many foragers seeking out pine mushrooms, and on some trips we could literally find box loads of them.
Times have changed, and now just gathering some pine mushrooms will make a trip well worthwhile.
The debris and leaves along the narrow trail crackled under our feet, but as we ventured just 200 yards into the woods, I peered down to the right along the lower sloping steep hillside.
There just a few feet from where I stood under the mossy covered ground were three brownish white tops of what we were looking for.
That day we covered less than a mile of the trail side in a few hours, and ended up finding close to 70 matsutake. In one spot no bigger than a 10-foot diameter we gathered 15.
We had beaten out the mad autumn dash — outside of an eastern European family seeking boletes, another tasty mushroom — and our feeling was that many foragers were waiting for wetter conditions.
Right now marks a time when the forests come alive with those gathering a wide variety of mushrooms, including other popular edible varieties like boletes and chanterelles.
The peak of this autumn’s foraging season is still a couple of weeks away, but those who have ventured out recently are starting to see more mushrooms popping up.
Look for matsutake around areas dense with Douglas firs, Ponderosa pine, white and red firs, and mountain and western hemlocks. Also target areas with huckleberry and rhododendrons, which create shaded spots, and forest duff like fern and moss leaves and dense soil that retains rainwater.
The matsutake is the most sought-after species and one of the hardest mushrooms to find. They’re often covered by duff, and as they grow they push up the soil, creating raised areas or bumps. These bumps will need to be looked at by lifting the cover. The hard part is that not every mushroom under a bump will be a matsutake and it can be misidentified by a novice picker.
There are rules to follow when gathering matsutake. Always cut the matsutake leaving a small portion of the base in the ground. Once removed, cover up the area to protect exposed mycelium. Details: www.psms.org/MushroomRules.pdf.
Those new to mushroom harvesting can attend the Puget Sound Mycological Society’s Wild Mushroom Show noon to 7 p.m. on Oct. 12; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 13 at the Mountaineer’s Club, 7700 Sand Point Way N.E. in Seattle.
The show will have hundreds of fresh, wild mushrooms on display, cooking demonstrations and experienced identifiers. Details: www.psms.org.
Crabbing opens early
Dungeness crabbers can get a jump start as most of Puget Sound will reopen daily beginning Tuesday at 8 a.m., which is three weeks sooner than past years.
“We’re only halfway through processing (summer catch figures), but even if you look at what’s left to catch we’ll still stay within the (total season) guideline,” said Rich Childers, a state Fish and Wildlife crab resource manager.
Places opening through Dec. 31 are Neah Bay (Marine Area 4), Sekiu (5), eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca (6), San Juan Islands (7), east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2), North Puget Sound (9), Hood Canal (12), and South Puget Sound (12). Central Puget Sound (10) and south-central Puget Sound (11) will not reopen.
“About 210,000 Puget Sound crab endorsements were sold, and that is a lot of people,” Childers said. “It was an OK summer, although catches were down except for Areas 6, 9, 10 and 11.”
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