Thursday, March 14, 2024

Late Winter Mushroom Foraging and the Black Chanterelles

It has been a wonderfully wet Winter in California this year - that means mushrooms! A gem that we never get enough of is flourishing this year, the Black Chanterelle.
These unexpected looking mushrooms are Craterellus cornucopioides, variously described as "black petunias" sitting in the duff, or "holes in spacetime that you cook Risotto with" (ok, that one is mine). We usually have a few each year, however, this year we have enough to cook with!

There are very few mushrooms these can be confused with, though the list isn't empty! If you want to pick and eat your own mushrooms, always start by joining your local mycological society and going on some of their forrays. We are long time members of the Mycological Society of San Francisco (at and it is an eclectic and fun group. Local knowledge is essential, and your local mycological society will have experts on the local ones that are safe to start with, and the ones best left for photography rather than culinary purposes. You can die from eating the wrong mushroom, plant, or animal - if you are going to forage, then "apprentice" to local folks doing the same to learn how to do it safely. My first finding of a tasty edible was about a quarter century ago, and when I brought it to the gentleman doing the identification, he joked "I'll tell you what it is if you give me half and tell me where you found them"... coming from a chef, I sort of had my answer... he even helped me confirm the identity of the mushrooms without actually asking for any.

Rocket Fuel and Mushroom overlap! Helvella dryophila makes rocket fuel as a toxin to prevent its being eaten! The Oak-loving Elfin Saddle has a much longer season than the Black Chanterelle while being an even more improbable looking beastie:

This is a distant relative of the famous Morel mushroom, and others in this group have amazing properties - while some folks consider this "edible, but not worth the trouble" since it must be cooked thoroughly, the very thing that is being driven off is rocket fuel. Yes, this is a mushroom that makes toxic rocket fuel to prevent its being eaten. The material in question in monomethyl hydrazine. Really. I tend to cook these thoroughly (see hydrazine - not food) and put them into my eggs (cook before putting in the eggs!) before scrambling them. Eat entirely at your own risk - I strongly suggest going to some mycological society forrays and talking about the different perspectives on Gyromitrin and some of the other toxins in this group, how to mitigate and remove them, and whether it is worth the effort at all. Wikipedia has a short article on this mushroom's kin:

How about some tea on a cold evening? Probably not the tea made from this mushroom, yet it is an important element of several First Nations traditional medical practice, as well as being commercially available in several forms, generally from Traditional Chinese medical practicioners, though I've even seen tea containing it show up in some local specialty shops. Meet Trametes versicolor, a common mushroom on fallen oak and tanoak logs. Locally it is called Turkey Tail and several other names. Once again, join your local mycological society for experienced guidance on how, when, and where to collect and use this if you are inclined to try, or just go with the farmed commercial material. This is however able to be found almost year-round in our local mountains, most frequently in the deep, moist woods and on fallen hardwoods. It is a delightful and beautiful sight, stumbling across a log or stump covered with these.

Read more about Trametes here:

Here are a few others from recent walks. These two are different types of Waxy Caps (not food):

Below is a member of the Club Fungi, I think Ramariopsis but am not certain (not food):
For a few years during the recent drought, mushrooms became rarer encounters. It feels great to have all these old friends popping up when I explore the forest again! Get out into the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Open Space preserves and such this month and you may well meet amazing mushrooms and fungi - if you are wanting to collect some, try Point Reyes National Seashore and follow the rules.

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