Thursday, October 9, 2014

Lobster Mushroom Foraging

Jasper loves mushroom season!  He loves seeing all these crazy things popping mysteriously out of the ground in seemingly random places.  This fall, we finally got to try some official mushroom foraging with the Oregon Mycological Society.  We took a trip to the Tillamook State Forest to hunt for lobster mushrooms.  Lobster mushrooms are actually two different fungi species, in this case a Russula mushroom that is completely covered by the Hypomyces lactifluorum fungi parasite.  Instead of the original white mushroom, a vivid orange mushroom with a distinctive and much appreciated flavor grows instead.  

Mushroom foraging with a group was quite a learning experience.  Our guide was a lovely, generous man who had taken the time to scout the area a week or so ahead in an effort to insure it would be worthwhile, and patiently answered many questions from beginners.  Sadly, someone had come there since his scouting trip and attempted to pick it clean.  But it's a difficult proposition to find all the mushrooms in a forest!  With a little effort we found enough to make a good meal.  OMS field trips are definitely a great way to get a good, hands on introduction to foraging.  You must be a member to be invited, and you must respond quickly to field trip announcements because they fill up quickly. Announcements may provide only the date for the hunt, sometimes nothing more.  Members who are granted permission to join may not get confirmation and final details more than a couple days before it takes place.   The final details contain a carpool location but never the actual foraging location, which is reached via a caravan.  There is a long, long list of necessary equipment, based on the premise that people often get lost foraging for mushrooms.  This can quickly turn into a life threatening situation for those who are not prepared in any way to keep themselves warm and dry in the forest at night.  But even if you're very practical, all this stuff can get quite heavy.  And it's truly a pain to try to find some kind of pants for both adults and kids that are as tough as jeans, not made of cotton and somehow affordable.  As a mom, I assumed I'd better take this list seriously!  But when we got there, we found having any of the correct clothing and supplies to be entirely up to each individual with no one policing in any way.  And in this particular location, we would have had a very hard time getting lost.  Fellow foragers were more than willing to share rides, share tips, help with mushroom i.d., etc. but foraging was more of an every-man-for-himself kinda thing, with most people working alone.  Foragers talked about having favorite secret mushroom picking spots. I realized that we really were very lucky to have someone actually bring us to a good spot.  Jasper had a really great time.
Yellow-spotted tiger moth caterpillar.  Photo by Jasper.
Lobster mushroom popping out of the moss.  
Jasper with a lobster mushroom.
Western spotted cucumber beetle.
A short-stemmed russula mushroom without the parasite that turns
them into lobster mushrooms.
Examining some of the more interesting finds of the day.
"Smoke" from a puffball mushroom.

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