Millenia ago, hunting and gathering was the only means of finding food to eat. Now we have hypermarkets. But foraging for wild food--in particular, mushrooms--is back in fashion, as people look to reconnect with nature and their past. Bands of mycophiles are regularly seen roaming wooded areas in search of edible fungi. The Santa Cruz mountains in California provide the perfect surrounds for a day-out mushroom picking.
California is known around the world for its wines, but its fungi selection is pretty impressive. The Santa Cruz mountain range, on the Pacific coast of the United States, gets just the right proportion of sun to rainfall to make it an ideal place for mushroom hunting. The best season to go mushroom hunting in the Santa Cruz mountains is late fall, just before the first winter frost.
The Santa Cruz mountains are not state owned or part of any national park. Consequently, people do not need a permit to go mushroom picking. There is no limit to the amount of mushrooms you can pick or restrictions as to where you can pick them. The Santa Cruz mountain range is vast, however, and many people have their favorite spots for picking. It is best to ask a local expert where mushrooms are likely to be growing.
The three main mushrooms that grow in the Santa Cruz mountains are porcini mushrooms, chanterelles and black trumpets. These mushrooms also offer a guide as to what stage the Santa Cruz mushroom season is at. First to appear in fall are porcini mushrooms. As the porcini crop begins to wane, chanterelles appear and then finally in the new year, black trumpets can be seen above ground.
Always take a field guide out with you. This is essential. Good field guides give descriptions and images of any mushrooms likely to be growing in the area. Field guides also list any poisonous mushrooms that look similar to ones you might want to pick, helping you to avoid any, potentially fatal, mix-ups. It is best to go out in a group the first time you go mushroom picking or, even better join up with a local mycological society. The people involved in these societies have years of mushroom picking experience and can help you avoid any poisonous mushrooms. The Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz is the closest mycological society to the Santa Cruz mountains.
Be careful. There are many more poisonous mushrooms than edible ones. Even experienced pickers can make a mistake now and again. Never eat raw mushrooms. Only eat 2 cooked tsp. of a mushroom variety when trying it for the first time. Wait for 24 hours after trying it to make sure that there is no delayed, allergic reaction. It is best not to drink alcohol the first time you try a new mushroom species as this increases the likelihood of an allergic reaction.
- Photo Credit Mushroom an aspen mushroom image by vin5 from Fotolia.com
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