Last Saturday, a small group of friends and I headed up into the foothills of the coastal range in search of Chanterelles. I’ve enjoyed their earthy, nearly alium flavor in sautés, soups, and casseroles, and have been wanting to foraged for them. This was our groups’ first time mushrooming, and my brother Joe was along as the expert guide and driver.
We passed through stands of freshly clear-cut and ‘re-prod’ Douglas Fir trees (dense stands of similarly aged trees, managed for maximum timber production). Chanterelles can be found in the darkness of dense re-prod (and the timber companies allow recreational foragers). But Joe kept on driving until we entered a more natural forest, recognized immediately as an “ecosystem” by the youngest member of our group, Hannah aged 6. The variety of plants, age of the trees, and presence of humans within the ecosystem were all remarkable in this – sworn to secret – place.
It had been logged, but in the early part of the last century, judged by the enormous old-growth stumps, supporting new life as they decayed into forest floor. As we waded through a sea of knee-high ferns and leathery salal leaves we came across Chanterelles that had already been ethically harvested. Joe showed us where the mushrooms had been cut off, just above the hummus of the forest floor. He pointed out the small pieces of mushroom cap scattered about the plot. The spores, purposefully scattered by the forager, would seed future mushrooms. Joe explained that this was the same way he was shown: always cut, never pull from the ground and then re-seed by scattering a few small pieces of the cap in an advantageous area.
We spread out to hunt the little fungal gems. Soon there were shouts “over here” and “I’ve got some here”. They began to appear – around, under, and behind. Our driving, hiking, and hunting had paid off.
As we drove away, baskets of Chanterelles in tow, I was glad that we had left behind only scattered spores and a lightly traveled trail through the salal. Then, I remembered learning that wild blueberries are more productive when foragers regularly trample down the competing vegetation around them. Certainly there would be far fewer Chanterelles on this hillside if not for the foragers (past and present) who regularly, knowingly, and thankfully care for them.