The Freshest Mushrooms You’ll Ever Find

Last month my sister  Gwen and I headed up to Salt Point State Park to meet up with a group from the Sonoma County Mycological Association (SOMA) for a mushroom foray. A first for both of us.

I will be the first to say that I know nothing about foraging for wild mushrooms. The closest I can come to any experience with wild mushrooms is when I was in high school and we lived on a ranch in the Capay Valley. Sometimes, during the rainy winter months a friend would drop by our ranch with a gift of freshly gathered wild mushrooms. On those very special times my mom would sauté the mushrooms with some butter and serve them with a nice pan-fried steak. Oh my. Ranch grown, aged beef and wild mushrooms. A rare treat indeed.  Another memory, and probably the one that spurned this trip, comes from the many trips made to Sea Ranch. Often as I traveled to Sea Ranch on a misty winter day, I would often notice lines of cars parked along side the road throughout Salt Point State Park. For a long time I wondered why so many people were parked where there weren’t trailhead markers or apparent day use areas. Later I found out that those folks were foraging for wild mushrooms. Really, I said to myself. How interesting. So, when I recently found out that SOMA hosts a monthly foray I was determined to give it a try. And, I can tell you it was all I had hoped for and, much more.

Getting an early start from Santa Rosa, we traveled west along the Russian River to the coast. The weather was perfect, sunny with no detectable wind. Our luck continued, weather wise, as we headed north up beautiful Highway 1 to the meeting place in Salt Point State Park. When we arrived we found the parking lot full of folks of all ages. There were even families with children and grandparents in tow. Probably close to one hundred people were all gathered. All  prepared with their “Ten things to bring on a Foray” (from the SOMA website). All ready for a foray in the woods.

  1. Collecting basket or paper bag with handles
  2. Wax bags or small paper bags to separate species (no plastic!)
  3. A 10x hand lens or small magnifying glass is always helpful for identification
  4. Water bottle and a snack
  5. A notebook, pen, and a small Mushroom field guide is always useful
  6. Small digging tool or knife to get at the mushrooms
  7. A whistle is handy to locate your fellow foragers if you get off trail or turned around!
  8. Hat and/or rain gear as weather demands
  9. Some brown soap or similar disinfectant for the inevitable tangling with poison oak
  10. A potluck dish (for after the foray), and a good appetite

After a little intro, we broke into groups based on how far, and how vigorously  you wanted to hike. We chose a group that was taking a gentle walk, the leader had recently had knee surgery. Our gentle walk headed up hill at an excited clip and as we walked we started noticing folks fanning out into the forest, to the left and right of the trail. We saw them looking under brush and seriously hunting for mushrooms. So, Gwen and I headed out too. We had no clue what we were doing, but we were looking for mushrooms and you know what, we found them everywhere. And, there were more kinds that you could ever imagine. Gwen picked what ever she found. I photographed everything I found.  At one point, as I wandered through the beautiful forest setting, I came upon another gal on her quest, and she shared a wonderful find with me. She had found some chanterelles and she allowed me to harvest them. Three beautiful “edible” mushrooms.  My day was complete.

We wandered around amongst the trees enjoying the sounds, scents and scenery, for a couple of hours, then we started working our way back down the hill towards the picnic area. When we arrived there were other small groups who had brought in their finds and had started laying them out on the picnic tables. Group after group arrived and the tables became loaded with mushrooms in an array of colors, shapes and sizes. Soon the knowledgeable fungi folk, from SOMA, were checking out the finds to deem which varieties were edible and which were definitely not.  We found it all so fascinating. The identifications and discussions continued. Others who were more interested in eating than discussing started to organize the potluck and soon eating became more popular than the discussions. We had thought there might be some mushroom cooking, but that didn’t materialize. The dishes brought were varied and delicious. One, very wonderful, soul even brought some abalone to share. First I had had in many, many years.

Satisfied with what had been an incredible day we packed up our little collection of specimens and headed back to Santa Rosa.

During the mushroom season (from September to May), SOMA leads monthly Saturday morning Forays, usually at Salt Point State Park. They meet at 10am at Woodside Campground public area. Check out their website for specific dates.


One thought on “The Freshest Mushrooms You’ll Ever Find

  1. This was the most interesting trek I’ve yet to take with my sister. I have never seen so many colors, shapes and sizes of mushrooms. It was truly educational. I’ll do it again, but next time do some studying first and be more selective in my picking so we can bring them home and taste test. If you’ve never done this, I HIGHLY recommend you try it out. It was a wonderful experience.

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