Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Travels with Chili: A Mountain of Mushrooms

Let's just say it was within an hour of Portland. On a mountain. At an undisclosed location. And yes, if I told you where it was I'd have to kill you. Or it would be my neck in a noose.

"Pick me! Pick me!"

But that's the way the mushroom-foraging world works. Secrecy. Blindfolds. Sworn statements.

So when my friend Kate told me she was going up to one of her favorite spots to pick chanterelles, I knew the rules. No loose lips, no sinking ships. Blogging, and even photos were allowed as long as there were, ahem, no distinguishing marks that would give away our location. Like spy craft from a John le Carré novel, only in heavy coats and wellies. And if I ever go back to that location at a later date? I would need to share the harvest (I think she even referred to it as "tribute") with her.

Beautiful but possibly deadly.

But for chanterelles at the height of the season in a prime picking location I would have signed away rights to my first born and given up in-house I.T. help forever. Fortunately such draconian measures weren't mentioned, and we drove up to (hmhmhmhmhmhm) just outside of (lalalalalala) under a high cloud cover and no rain in sight. The temperature was even moderate, which was a blessing considering we'd be thrashing through the dense undergrowth and over fallen logs, looking for little golden highlights poking up through the duff.

It took awhile for my eyes to adjust to the terrain, since the leaves from the deciduous trees that make up the understory are exactly the same color as the mushrooms, and it's rare that the whole chanterelle will be sticking up, waving its arms and shouting, "Over here!" And once you do make the adjustment, you see all kinds of mushrooms…big black ones, little buttons dotting a log, speckled mahogany ones gleaming and no doubt deadly.

The haul: Chanterelles and a cauliflower mushroom.

So you walk and climb and look in likely spots, generally very near the base of the big doug firs, at first hopeful, then resigned, then irked that other people are finding them and you're not. But eventually you'll stumble upon (or step on, in my case) a beautiful specimen and just when a howl of frustration starts to issue from your throat, you see another one nearby, and several more right around that.

With a break for sandwiches, coffee and maybe a wee dram from a flask, we admired our sizable harvest and then spent another hour or so hunting just a few more. And with a solemn reminder to keep mum, we packed up our suddenly heavy baskets and drove down the mountain.

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