From a Hereditary Tradition

I come from a hereditary tradition — of mushroom hunters.

A few dried mushrooms and my favorite book.

I remember my father the forest ranger taking me out when I was ten or eleven to look for them. It was usually raining, and I did not understand what he was seeing, but the activity was somehow important. And we ate them.

Then nothing until I was in my mid-twenties, when M. and I went hiking on the west side of Pike’s Peak (Horsethief Park, if you know the area) one late-summer day.

There we met a number of middle-aged and older German ladies wandering the forest with shopping bags.

They re-initiated me — and initiated her.

It’s like another German “grandmother story.”

(Demographic note: Colorado Springs is a major military garrison town, and troops at Fort Carson frequently go back and forth to Germany, which they have been doing since 1945. Sometimes they get married.)

For a time we got by with what the German ladies taught us. Then we wanted to learn more. But we had moved to a much smaller town, and there were no mycological groups there.

Then we moved again, into an area known for bears and mushrooms. In fact, the Pikes’s Peak Mycological Society frequently organized “forays” (an in-group term, kind of like “sabbat”) into this area.

Dad, a member, bought us a membership too. But that was a drought year, and all forays were canceled. Then he died, and my stepmother died, which pretty much ended our regular trips to Colorado Springs.

We started buying books. Yep, we’re book-taught mushroomers. Every time we go out (we don’t say “foray”), we try to learn a new one—and meanwhile we stick to the half-dozen that we know are good.

Like the Sarcodon imbricatus (hawk’s wing) in the jar. I figured those out from a book.

Two days ago we hit one of our favorite spots, and right off spotted where someone had sliced some Boletus edulis at the base. Everyone goes for king boletes! But they had left pounds and pounds of hawk’s wing mushrooms while they focused on boletes. (We still found some boletes ourselves anyway.)

It’s OK being solitary mushroom-hunters with a few good books and an inquiring (but careful) attitude.

I just wish that Dad was here to share them.

12 Comments

  1. MomaFauna says:

    I tip my Pom Pom du Blanc to you my solitary friend. I too am “book-taught” save for the brief encounters I have with the various & diverse peoples I accost, I mean, interrogate, er, befriend in the forests. I do not even have a mycological society under my cord yet. However, I take great pride in knowing that my children will come from a “Fam-Trad.” 😉

    We do the same sort of thing, trying to learn something new on our “wanderings,” (not forays), but we do it every day, so we don’t have such a lofty goal as one per outing. We recently found a place where the Honey Mushrooms grow like weeds but I wasn’t totally completely utterly certain. I finally became certain, certain, certain that was what they were & today, I actually brought some home. It’s funny when we finally figure out something new suddenly we see it everywhere, like an old friend.

    About the Hawk’s Wings, we know a place where they appear in droves. Tell me more. I thought they were only good pickled or used for dye. So you dry them & then what?

    • I have read of using hawk’s wings for dye but never tried it. (What would I be dyeing?) We both like their taste — it is a little “darker” than that of the boletes. We do scrape the spore tubes off when preparing them, which takes a few minutes. Some people actually save the tubes for making mushroom stock.

  2. Medeine Ragana says:

    Ooooo!!! A friend and I just came back from hiking in the Cherokee National Forest where I took pictures of some really interesting mushrooms but haven’t a clue as to what they are. Another friend is trying to learn ‘shrooming from a book, but I’m concerned about accidentally eating poisonous mushrooms. After all, I don’t want to go the way Euell Gibbons did! Got any suggestions as to which books would be especially helpful?

    • Chas Clifton says:

      Mushrooming is very local. Some species may be widely distributed, but they “fruit” (think of the mushroom as the fruit of the underground mycelium) at different times of year depending on precipitation patterns, etc.

      So it’s like the Craft: where do you start? Any local environmental centers that do mushroom classes and walks? A local mycological society? Failing that, books. Learn to do spore prints, and don’t be in a hurry.

      Bessette and Sundberg’s Mushrooms: A Quick Reference Guide to Mushrooms of North America is pretty good, but even better is a guidebook particular to your part of the country.

      • Medeine Ragana says:

        Thanks. I tried looking up some books on Amazon and was surprised to find very few for eastern TN. Unfortunately, the one lady who I know is an expert on local ‘shrooms moved to Asheville and I no longer have access to her wisdom. 🙁

    • Chas Clifton says:

      PS: You must have heard some urban legend about Euell Gibbons. According to Wikipedia, “His death was the result of a ruptured aortic aneurysm, a complication from Marfan syndrome.”

  3. Here, “back East” it’s morels. People have gotten shot traipsing into other folks’ morel patches. But they are pretty much heaven in your mouth.

  4. Soliwo says:

    In my country it is illegal to foray mushrooms.

  5. Pitch313 says:

    I learned to gather edible mushrooms as a kid, from my father and his pals, in the nearby dairy cow-grazed meadowy hills that belonged to the families of some school mates.

    I was never all that confident about my ability to distinguish the edible mushroom from the deadly. I felt that more luck was involved than I could stake. So I never carried on with mushroom foraging.

    What’s more, the meadowed hills were transformed by developers into newly built subdivisions, so nearby places to hunt for mushrooms disappeared. Five minute trips to the supermarket were so much more convenient than hour or longer journeys to an adjacent and still pastoral county. And finagling permissions from farmers we did not
    have acquaintance with.