In the Woods

First off, I’d like to say that camping is a glorious thing. For better or worse, its one of the only times that I am away from technology for more than a few hours at a time. Worse because I don’t get a chance to edit my blog before things get posted, but so, so much better because I get to wander off into the wild in search of adventure and nature’s bounty.

I spent 11 days at the Valhalla Renaissance Faire in Camp Richardson, CA earlier this month. The Faire was only open on weekends, but participants were welcomed to stay throughout the week. I was originally planning only one weekend there, but my friend Kitty Sharkey kidnapped me and made me her assistant. Though she has been Guild Mistress of the Town Criers for several years, this year for the first time she also brought the barnyard from Havenscourt Homestead along. The 4 goats, 2 kids and 3 chickens that hung out in the Haven’s Court petting area are only a few of the Oakland farm’s many residents, but so far away from home, away from all the amenities, it was much harder to care for them and Kitty appreciated the help greatly.

In return for setting up her booth and for volunteering my time, I was able to stay all week among friends in the beautiful woods near South Lake Tahoe. I could not have asked for a better reward!

Tahoe Trails

Trails behind the Faire site

We had a very wet start to the week and it even snowed one night. It was rough to work through the weather and when our tent collapsed, we thought we were really in trouble. Fortunately, there are so many wonderful people at the Faire that we had a borrowed tent set up in no time, managed to stay decently dry and made plenty of new friends by keeping people in firewood through the worst of the weather.

The real upside to all the late season rain was of course MUSHROOMS! Specifically Morels. I heard a rumor that someone had collected several pounds of them over the first weekend and decided to grab a friend so we could take a shot at it ourselves. My friend happened to come across the very fellow who’d had such luck a couple days earlier and got directions to prime hunting grounds. Off we went into the muddy chaparral and woods!

Now, I remember going mushroom foraging with my family as a child in Germany, but somehow I didn’t remember it taking so much patience. After a frustrating half hour or more (no one was keeping time except by vague approximations of the sun) my friend and I still hadn’t found anything but little brown mystery mushrooms that we weren’t willing to risk. Having almost given up we took a break from our search to drink, chat and catch our breath. I’d almost forgotten the search entirely when I suddenly spied something rusty brown beside a fallen tree, on the North side, where it was shady and damp. MUSHROOOOOOM! And then another and another! They were moist but crumbly and looked a little redder than I expected, but after spotting two more such groups we found one that looked just perfect, a showpiece!

Morchella Elata (Black Morel)

Morchella Elata (Black Morel)

We brought back our booty to have it vetted by the fellow who’d done so well earlier that weekend and were told that all but that one beauty, the last one we picked up, were in fact False Morels. It wasn’t a difference I could have seen until it was pointed out to me, though once it was, it was quite obvious. False Morels are not as porous as True Morels and when sliced lengthwise they are solid instead of the characteristicly hollow stem and cap of the Morchella Elata (Black Morel) and its edible cousins(M. Esculata, M. Deliciosa, M. Conica). The red tone that I noted upon finding them was also an indicator of False Morels.  Despite having found only the one edible mushroom, we were excited to have learned about mushrooming and I’m already looking forward to doing it again next spring.

Left: False Morel (NOT EDIBLE), Right: True Morel

*Please note that I am not an expert at mushroom foraging. Please refer to the links in the text along with the book Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora  for more comprehensive information on mushroom identification and collection. Thank you.

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