I Just Can’t Help Myself

Mushrooms! Oh my gods MUSHROOMS! I Returned to Mount Tamalpais with Colin on Wednesday thinking I’d really like to make it farther down the Cataract Trail to the falls since they’re often credited with being the most impressive waterfall in the bay area. I have to say they were gorgeous, but I was still way more excited about all the mushrooms I found. We haven’t had rain in about a week, so I figured other foragers, both human and animal, would have gone though and taken anything good by now. Just in case, I strapped my knife to my backpack and tucked a couple paper bags into my pocket. Good thing I did, because, boy, was I mistaken! We brought home about as much as we could carry in the fabric grocery bag I’d brought along on a whim.

I literally squealed when I spotted these two Coccoras

By the end of our hike we were loaded down with a couple pounds of what I’m pretty certain is Phaeolus Schweinitzii, also known as the Dyer’s Polypore. It grows on fallen trees and burried deadwood, and is easy to spot because of its bright yellow edge and velvety brown top. It feels like a wet sponge to the touch and will hopefully create a golden hue in my yarns when I dye this weekend.

Half of the Dyer's Polypore I collected.

Another cool dying fungus I found is the Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom (Omphalotus Olearius) which is used to produce a purple dye tone. I’m really excited about this one since purple is always a hard color to capture and the swatches I’ve seen dyed with this are some of the richest shades of violet I’ve seen.

Jack O Lanterns make you sick if mistaken for Chantrells, but are a great dye

I also found lots more of the Delicious Milk Caps (L. Rubrilacteus) and a couple more Coccoras (Amanita Lanei).

Delicious Milk Cap which we nicknamed the Bleeding Milk Caps because of their red latex.


The larger of these two Coccoras measures about 7 inches across

We spotted a couple other mushrooms I haven’t IDed yet. If you have an idea of what they are, let me know.

There were dozens of this mystery fungi growing in just one cluster

This one is a really beautiful example of the Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma Fasciculare) and I’m sincerely wishing I’d brought a bunch home since it turns out to be a great dying mushroom as well.

These poisonous little Sulphur Tufts create a pale yellow dye.

I’m definitely hooked on this new hobby. Mushrooming is a really great motivator to get me hiking again. I suffered a knee injury two years ago which limited my physical ability to hike and backpack like I used to. Because I lost my access to the great outdoors for a while, I became discouraged and felt unmotivated to even try hiking very much. It took me a while, but I’ve realized now that the only way to get back onto the trails I love is to start small. I’m trying to go hiking at least once each week and mushrooming is a bit of extra mental effort that means I get a reward for my efforts at the end of the day. I’ve been feeling better about myself and about my weak knee and am slowly getting more confident. It’ll be a while before I’m backpacking the Sierra again, but hey, it’s November. I’ve got ’till spring to get there, right?

Part of our bounty laid out and ready for processing

First Shrooming of the Season!

The San Francisco Bay Area hosts a rich diversity of ecosystems from marshlands and grasslands to chaparral and temperate evergreen rain forests. Mount Tamaplais alone touches many different kinds which makes it a beautiful place to search for mushrooms. In one day we found over 10 different kinds of shroomies including a small Lion’s Mane and a couple Angel Wings among others.

Cataract Trail on Mount Tam is a beautiful hike.

With David Arora’s field guide in hand, a basket, a knife and paper bags we headed out to Mount Tam’s Cataract Trail. Less than  5 minutes onto the trail Kate Merrill spotted a bit of glossy burgundy under the duff. Shrimp Russulas! By the time we made it to Laurel Dell, we’d completely filled up two big ghana baskets with mosty russulas and a half dozen incredible Fall Coccoras.

Kate and her first HUGE coccora.

When we got to the picnic area in the dell, we laid out our finds and double checked our IDs. We went through and visually checked them and abandoned a couple that we were uncertain about. Once we’d visually eliminated a couple, we went through and tasted a tiny corner of each cap to make sure their flavor matched the ID as well. Shrimp Russulas have a mild or lightly “shrimpy” flavor while its lookalike tastes “peppery”. This was my first time foraging for this mushroom so I was wondering a bit what was meant by “peppery” until I came across one of the inedible ones. WOWSA! My tongue tingled and burned. I spat out the tiny flake of mushroom I had tasted and immediately removed the offending mushroom from the group. Up until that moment I had no idea they would be so distinct, but the experience gave me more confidence in my ability to positively ID these delicious fungi.

Russulas laid out for IDing at lunch time.

Our foray was overall a sucess and we brought back around 10lbs. Mount Tamalpias allows each person to forage 4lbs of material so between the three of us we were under the limit but had quite a bit. Kate and Kitty spent the next afternoon processing them and Kate took the shroomies home to dehydrate them.

Remember that Mushroom hunting is a lot of fun, but eating what you find poses risks. Only do so once you’re totally sure you’ve positively identified your fungi. Use a reliable mushroom guide like one of David Arora’s books and participate in events with your local Mycological Association to learn more.

Another Warming Soup

This recipe is one which I came up with last fall and absolutely loved! I originally posted it at the WildWoodYarn blog, but felt it was so good that it merited reposting here. It’s a deliciously filling soup that warms all the way through without needing the heat of spicy peppers. It could make up to make 8 servings, but I went back for seconds and it vanished more quickly than expected because it was just so damned delicious and I laid on the couch after dinner rubbing my overfull tummy. This makes a fantastic full meal for 4-6 or a delicious, warm appetizer for 8.


Vegetarian Corn Chowder
Cook Time: 1.5-2hrs
1 large yellow onion, minced
1 large carrot, chopped small
2 medium leeks, chopped
2 stalks celery, minced
4 yukon potatos, cubed small
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sliced mushroom
1 can sweet yellow corn, undrained
2 quarts, chicken or veggie stock
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup white wine
3 tablespoons butter
ground black pepper and salt to taste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
shredded cheddar, sour cream, and/or chopped chives for topping
Slowly sweat onion, garlic, leek, and celery with butter in a soup pot. Once onions are translucent and soft, add mushroom and carrots continue to cook them on very low heat until everything is sweet and starts to caramelize. Add corn, potato, stock and wine then simmer on low heat for 45-90 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the potato cubes are soft and falling apart, ladle about half the soup into a blender or food processor and pulse until it has a smoothe and creamy texture. Return the blended soup to the pot and stir in half and half, paprika, salt and pepper. Continue to Simmer on low heat 15 minutes then serve in deep bowls. Top your soup with sour cream, shredded cheese, and chives or if you’re looking for a stronger smokey flavor and do eat animal, add bacon crumbles.