I’ve still got it!

I know its been a long time since my last update but that doesnt mean I’ve been idle! Quite the opposite in fact. I’ve been keeping busy with all manner of projects. My favorite as always is foraging. Two trips in the Oakland hills had me come home with quite a handful of Candy Caps and several pounds of Fly Agaric.


Candy Caps are pretty self explanatory. Delicious ruddy little mushrooms that smell like butterscotch and maple and caramel and dark brown sugar. Dried, they can add a sweet nutty flavor to butter cookies, ice cream, and are amazing mixed into chevre and left to sit overnight.

Candy Cap (photo by Don Loarie)

The Fly Agaric, also known as Amanita Muscaria is renowned the world round as a poisonous mushroom. It is unmistakable with its brilliant red cap, and white speckles and stem. There is nothing quite as striking as this toadstool.


“But it’s poisonous!” you say. “Why would you collect it?” you say. Because while it is poisonous, it is also very tasty. The toxins in this particular Amanita are water soluble and can be removed through a simple, but time consuming process. Before I explain, let me say that this is NOT TRUE of any other poisonous Amanita, and I do not recommend taking this sort of risk lightly(and no matter how careful you are, wild forage always comes with risks… like getting your sparkly hat muddy).


Following directions from this blog by Hank Shaw, I processed my Amanitas. I started by trimming all the muddy bits off and rinsing them very well in cool water.

IMG_8018Next, the caps and stems get sliced into 1/4 inch pieces and tossed into a big pot of water.  I used a 3 gallon stock pot filled most of the way up. It seems the key to making these babies safe is to be generous with the amount of water you boil them in. I added 1/2 cup kosher salt and a few tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the water and brought the whole witchy concoction up to a gentle boil. I let the pot roll for about 10-15 minutes then dumped the water. At this point the water was dark yellow and the caps had begun to lose their distinctive color. They also lost more than half their size: 6 cups down to just over 2.



The soggy slices went back into the pot with a round of fresh water(no salt or vinegar this time) for another 15 minute boil. By this time the mushrooms have lost all but a faded caramel color and the stems go slightly grey. Unappealing as is, but fried slowly in butter they get remarkably crunchy as I have never known mushrooms to get.  They have a delightful nutty flavor almost like hazelnuts and unfortunately for you, I munched them all down before taking a good photo! I did freeze and dry some to see how these mushrooms are best stored and will get back to you on that when I decide to test them.


If you decide to try this yourself, do the research, and proceed with caution. Amanita Muscaria are widely recognized as a poisonous mushroom and while I had a positive experience preparing them, be aware that this may not be the case for everyone. Consuming wild mushrooms is as much about the preparation as it is about the person. Everyone reacts differently, so be careful, and eat small amounts the first time to be sure you don’t react poorly.

Where the Horn of Plenty Grows

Salt Point State Park is known all around California as one of the best mushroom hunting spots in the state. Its damp coastal climate and rich soft soil create the perfect breeding ground for numerous fungi both fascinating and fit for the table. The Boy and I spent all day meandering up the coast making various stops along the way to admire the locales, but eventually found our way to Salt Point. We’d only just arrived, and were paying our day-use fee when I had already spotted the first handful of woodland delectables.

Cantharellus Tubiformae -- Winter Chanterelles

After having lunch and watching a pair of ravens snack on the crumbs left by other visitors, we gathered or shrooming gear and water bottles and headed up the trail to try our luck. On the way up the hill, we ran into a generous hiker who pointed us towards some hunting grounds he’d noticed.  After that bolstering chat we were all revved up and marched double time up the hill while scanning the woods along the trail. The Boy made our first score: Black Trumpets!

Black Trumpets also known as the Horn of Plenty Mushroom

This choice edible grows in clusters on the ground and prefers heavy pine and oak duff over sandy soil. As a result of the conical shape and its habitat, this is often a messy mushroom and cleaning is necessary. In order to remove any sand and dirt, I cut open the trumpet lengthwise and used the tip of my paring knife to carefully scrape out all the grit, then rinsed gently under cool water. These mushrooms have an incredible flavor when fresh, but it improves when it is dried (some say it resembles that of black truffles), so they all went into the dehydrator at home. I’m looking forward to several risottos and pasta sauces with these delectable finds!

Another great find was the plentitude of hedgehog mushrooms I collected by scrambling through brambles and bushes. They seem to prefer the duff under huckleberry bushes above all and I got pretty scraped up, but the haul was well worth it.

Our Hedgehog Haul (Hydnum Repandum)

We saw many other beautiful shroomies. Check out the gallery to take a peak at what we saw.

An Important Comparison

I’ve mentioned before that mushrooming can be tricky business. Knowing what you’re picking and the key differences between look-alikes can spare you a lot of grief and sometimes even save your life. A little while ago I went mushrooming and found both Chanterelles and Jack O’ Lanterns, a frequently mistaken look-alike.

Note the color difference between Chanterelles(left) and Jack O' Lanterns(Right)

One differentiator between Chanterelle and Jack O’ Lantern is the color. Jacks have an olive-y tinge to the cap and more so on the gills. It isn’t always as obvious as it is here, especially when you’re only holding one of the other, not both. However, when cut, Chanterelle flesh is always white, while Jack O’ Lantern flesh is never white and usually a brown or grey tone though very fresh specimens sometimes lean towards golden brown flesh.

The gills on Chanterelles(left) and Jack O' Lanterns(right) are very different

Though at first glance the gills on both kinds of mushrooms don’t appear to be a great distinguishing characteristic, second inspection shows that Chanterelles (left) have dull, shallow gills which sometimes crisscross or end short. On the other hand, Jack O’ Lanterns have blade-like gills which run deep and while they do branch, they don’t cross.

Another difference between these two mushrooms is that Chanterelles grow in duff while Jacks grow on dead wood. This is not to be relied upon as a key difference however, since dead wood can often be buried and may not be visible despite still being the host for the Jack O’ Lantern’s mycelium.

I am not a mushroom expert and I don’t pretend to be, but these two indicators of a look-alike can go a long way to save you several days of serious misery when it comes to hunting for and consuming wild Chanterelles. Both sets of mushrooms pictured here were collected on the same day on Mount Tamalpais. They grow in very similar areas, and both smell sweet and mushroomy, but they are distinguishable with practice and careful attention.

*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.

More Natural Dye

It’s been a frighteningly dry fall and winter so far which aside from the obvious problems, also means that mushrooms aren’t flourishing either. For Xmas, Colin got me David Arora’s two mushrooming books and so I had to head out to Mt. Tam after only one day of rain. It looked like other shroomers had beaten me to everything edible, but fortunately, I can be contented with collecting some of their color yielding cousins.


Among the treasures I picked up were a big basket full of more Phaeolus and a grocery bag of Omphalotus.

One cluster of Omphalotus

Another interesting find was an abundance of small coral fungus. I brought a couple samples home, but even after over an hour with my books was unable to positively identify the cool little shrooms. One thing that Arora notes in his book is the difficulty of identifying coral fungi. There are so many kinds which are microscopically distinct, but macroscopically indistinct that it is a challenge which the amateur mushroomer is unlikely to gain any proficiency in. Fortunately, this type of fungi are usually unpalatable, so I can be content to just admire their fascinating structures.

Unidentified Coral Fungus

After returning home with a dyer’s bounty, I immediately took to dyeing with my finds. See below for descriptions.

Naturally Dyed Fibers

From Left to Right:

  1.  Norwegian Wool dyed with Carrot tops in an Iron pot
  2. Merino Wool dyed with Carrot tops in an Iron pot
  3. Norwegian Wool dyed with Omphalotus exhaust and a small amount of Phaeolus in Aluminum pot with copper/vinegar mordant
  4. Merino Tencel Blend dyed with Omphalotus in Aluminum pot finished with copper-vinegar dip
  5. Norwegian Wool dyed with Omphalotus in Aluminum pot finished with copper-vinegar dip
  6. Norwegian Wool dyed with Omphalotus in Aluminum pot
  7. Merino Tencel Blend dyed with Omphalotus in Aluminum pot

First into the pot were the Omphalotus with some Norwegian Wool and Merino-Tencel Blend (Numbers 4 through 7). I was not satisfied with the muted color and hoped I could bring out more violet tones, so I added a few glugs of vinegar to my exhaust and set in some of the fiber (Numbers 4 and 5) for a couple hours at room temperature. I removed and rinsed to find that I had I had in fact changed the blue and violet tones to green greys. Not at all the change I was going for. As it turned out I had used the vinegar which had been made into a copper mordant by accident and the copper brought out the greens instead of the violets. The change was not drastic though, and I think I’ll be carding the two colors together for some variegation in my yarns.

The exhaust bath still seemed to have quite a bit of color in it, so I tossed in more Norwegian wool and left it to sit over night. The next day I put it over heat and tossed in a couple small crumbles of phaeolus for good measure. The product(Number 3) is actually much more of a saddened green than it appears in the image above.

The 2 other greens are also much richer than they appear in the photo, more of an olive color and only a shade darker than the Omphalotus exhaust bath, though these were achieved in a different way. At the produce store, I peeked into the big waste bins and spied three hefty bunches of carrot tops. Yay! I must have looked a little crazy, digging through the bin destined for compost to extract the sprigs of greenery that no one wants. At home I set them into my cast iron dutch oven with plain water. I heated the tops briefly, then left them to sit overnight. the next day, the pot had released a rusty film which coated the top of the liquid, and the leaves had turned almost black. the water was however still very pale which had me worried. I put my fiber into a nylon mesh bag and set the into the pot along with all the plant material. I then kept it at around 120°F for a full day(the whole apartment stank of overcook carrot, but we suffered through. I let the whole pot cool overnight and drained my fiber the next day. I rinsed it to find it had taken a gorgeous olive green with some dark spots where it had been touching the iron of the pot. I am very much lloking forward to spinning up this fiber!

Speaking of spinning, I’ve spun up some of my previous natural dye projects and will be adding them to my etsy this week.

All Natural

Starting on the bottom then moving clockwise: Phaeolus dyed faux cashmere from various batches, Phaeolus dyed faux cashmere plied with phaeolus and other stuffs dyed merino, and lastly Norwegian wool dyed with red cabbage(blue), pomegranate skins (cream) and pomegranate skin overdyed with cabbage and baking soda to adjust pH(yellow-green).