Demystify mushrooms at annual foray |

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Demystify mushrooms at annual foray

Walking through the forest at this time of year, small spaceship-like bulges emerge among some leaves. Mysterious mushrooms. I think of them in the same vein as snakes. They pique my curiosity, but the fear that surrounds them is almost mythic proportions.

For centuries mushroom hunting was, and still is, widely practiced in Italy, Germany, and France. It is a culinary art as highly prized as olive oil or wine production. Except for the native Americans, it is largely a forgotten part of our own culture.

Daniel Nicholson has made mushrooms one of his lifelong passions.

“There is so much fear and mistruths regarding mushrooms,” Nicholson said. “Many people believe that if you even touch a poisonous mushroom you could get sick or that if a squirrel or deer eat them then they are safe. Both of these rumors are false.”

Nicholson was the founder of the Fungus Foray at the North Columbia Schoolhouse 14 years ago. He will be one of the main presenters at this year’s foray Saturday at the North Columbia Schoolhouse. They will also present in-depth information at the Miner’s Foundry from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m Sunday.

The day-long workshop will take the group into the forest to search for mushrooms. There will be afternoon lectures on identifying specifics, understanding what role they play in the balance of a forest and safe eating principles.

There are more than 85 types of mushrooms that Nicholson has eaten locally.

“There are 500 species counted in the December foray. Five of these are absolutely deadly and five incredibly delicious and perfectly safe fungi. The rest are bland and tasteless, mostly harmless, or mildly toxic,” Nicholson said.

There are four varieties of Chanterelles that flourish in our local forests. For experienced mushroom hunters these are fairly easy to identify. Golden and white Chanterelles occur from the summer in the mountains to the winter in the foothills.

“My goal in these workshops is to re-inspire our community to appreciate and identify a few good varieties. That being said, one needs to be 100 percent confident they have positive identification if they plan to eat them, and it’s always good practice to try a small quantity of a wild crafted foods the first time,” he said.

Nicholson grew up in Nevada County and comes from a long line of naturalists. His grandmother, Virginia Hammond, was one of the first members of the Chicago Park Garden Club. He is self-taught and has been a plant and mushroom nerd since he can remember.

He maintains a number of part-time occupations. He farms and sells his produce at a farm stand with other neighbors on Oak Tree Road near where he lives. Nicholson is also a lecturer for the Mycological Society of San Francisco. He teaches at several local farms and charter schools. He also offers workshops on natural history through the Yuba Watershed Institute (YWI), a nonprofit organization that is involved in a cooperative management agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Timber Framers Guild of North America for the joint management of nearly 2,000 acres of forested land on 10 parcels in Nevada County.

Nicholson also contracts with the U.S. Forest Service where he does “mushroom surveys.” Forests and other eco-systems have a pyramid of pre-emptive relationships. If one species on the bottom of the pyramid is lost, it’s not long before the rest will decline, he said.

Mushrooms are an indicator species. If they are abundant in the forest, then that pyramid system of soils/small vegetation/insects/ voles/small animals/trees are most likely still quite healthy.

The following recipe calls for Boletes or “porcini” mushrooms. They are the yellow pored, non-staining, mild flavored king and queen Boletes that grow throughout the northern hemisphere. Dried Boletes can be purchased at Italian import stores, specialty delis, and sometimes locally at grocery stores.

Patti Bess is a local freelance writer, recipe developer and cookbook author. Contact her with questions or suggestions at:

2 tbsp. butter

1 oz dried Boletes (porcini) or one half pound fresh mushrooms, sliced (Chanterelles or store bought will substitute)

Two medium onions, finely chopped

Two cloves garlic

One quarter cup white wine

One half cup barley

Two carrots, sliced thin

Two sticks celery, chopped

Four to five cups vegetable stock or water

About two teaspoons Salt and

Pepper to taste

Fifteen minutes before starting, crumble and re-hydrate the dried Boletes in 2 cups hot water in a glass bowl. Reserve the water of the re-hydrated mushrooms.

In a saute pan or skillet, melt the butter and saute the hydrated or fresh mushrooms, garlic, and onions. Add wine, salt and pepper. Cook until onions and garlic are transparent. Transfer to a medium-size stockpot and add reserved mushroom water, barley, water or stock, celery and carrots. Simmer for 45 minutes with the lid slightly ajar. Add salt and pepper to taste. If it is too thick, add more water.

Serving suggestion: Parsley and Parmesan croutons on top.