Cooler temperatures, dense fog, and sweet autumn mist are a sure sign of the change of seasons in Clatsop County. Cranberry farmers prepare for harvest, and our thoughts turn to delicious holiday meals filled with decadent homemade dishes, like candied yams, roasted turkey, and oyster stuffing with mushrooms.
Many people enjoy hunting for wild mushrooms this time of year. Chanterelles, morels, and oyster mushrooms are some of the local favorites. But there are other varieties just as lovely but lesser known, like the amanita and boletes mushroom. These tasty earth treats are highly sought after in the dense grass lands and forests of the coastal region. Some people gather mushrooms for personal use. Other people hunt mushrooms as a source of income. Whatever the reason, autumn is the time for mushroom madness in Clatsop County.
Mycology, which is the study of fungi, is growing in popularity. Just ask the hundreds of members of the Oregon Mycological Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education, science, and enjoyment of mushrooms. Its mission is to “study, collect, and identify fungi, to educate members and the public in fungi identification, and to promote health and safety in the gathering and consumption of fungi.” OMS hosts regular events where member gather together to forge for wild fungi. They are always happy to welcome new members.
Morel mushrooms are one of the most highly sought after wild mushrooms in the northwest and can fetch a price of up to $50 a pound, if you can find them. Morels vary in shape, size and color but are distinguished by the hollowness of their distinctively oval shaped caps. Sometimes they can even be found in the Springtime. Did you know that morel mushrooms shouldn’t be consumed with alcohol? The combination can make you ill.
The lobster mushroom is another local favorite that has a delicious distinctive seafood flavor. It’s really not a mushroom at all but instead is classified as a parasitic fungus that grows on other mushrooms. The fungus causes the host mushroom to turn a brilliant reddish orange and eventually turns the host mushroom into an unrecognizable shape and color. The lobster mushroom is firm and dense, and thrives in the rainy weather of fall in the Pacific Northwest. The good news is that it has no known poisonous look-alikes.
The oyster mushroom is delicious and relatively easy to find. It has a fan like shape and is typically white, tan, or light brown. Oyster mushrooms have a mild, pleasant nutty taste and slightly fruity fragrance. They are best steamed or sautéed. In fact, most wild mushrooms should be consumed cooked, not raw. Unfortunately, the oyster mushroom has several look-a-likes that are indistinguishable and dangerous, so look for ones that are growing on healthy trees.
When gathering wild mushrooms there is always the potential danger of mistakenly picking look-a-likes that can be harmful, even fatal, when digested. For example, the oyster mushroom has a poisonous look-alike known as the angel wings mushroom. It is quite similar looking but tends to be whiter in color and has thinner flesh with no odor. Experts caution that two of the most highly desirable and edible mushrooms often found in Clatsop County also have poisonous look-alikes. Morel mushrooms are sometimes confused with the toxic false morels that if eaten can cause severe kidney or liver damage, and chanterelle mushrooms are often mistaken for the jack-o’-lantern mushroom. That’s why it’s always smart to learn about mycology from those who have experience and proper training. Why not take a class to learn how to gather wild mushrooms safely? You’ might even make some new friends.
Psilocybin mushrooms, sometimes called magic mushrooms, are also popular this type of year. Authorities say it can be a real problem. We don’t condone the practice of getting high off of local mushrooms, such as the liberty cap, but still people are tempted with the opportunity for a cheap “natural” high similar to taking LSD. It’s not just hippies heading out into the woods either, but even senior citizens and young people are often found roaming through the woods filling up little baggies. They may not be aware that the effect and strength of the intoxication varies greatly depending on the specific specie and climate it grew in. There are also many look a-likes that are toxic and have led to hospitalization.
Spending the day in nature forging for food can be a fun autumn activity for all ages. Fresh mushrooms are challenging to find, tasty, and can provide income. But they can also be deadly, so always exercise caution before consuming them. Yes, mushroom madness is upon us once again and is a sure sign of autumn in the Pacific Northwest.