Yet Another Way To Find Wild Mushrooms

Copyright © by Patrick Hamilton, Mycochef

We knew that we needed some fine shrooms for a Sunday brunch but here it was April in Marin County, CA and way too deep into the season to hope for much. David Campbell, one of the best and truly the only mushroom buddy I know that will go almost anytime, anywhere, for anything good, had called and suggested a few spots near my home in Inverness.

We met off a coastal road that bisects a great stand of California Live Oak and immediately checked for Chanterelles (we have a variety of oak types but the Quercus agrifolia is the only one under which this mushroom grows here). First thing you notice when looking late in our local mushroom year for the Cantharellus cibarius veins of yellow gold is the comely lushness of the darn poison oak. Those beautiful shiney new waxy leaves just glistening there in groups of threes, hoping to get in under our pants and all the way up to behind our knees. Jeez. . . . Actually we're lucky because it rarely bothers us. But not finding Chanterelles does and we found none there.

So we drove into the burn area of last Fall's Mt. Vision fire and then hiked through varying environments looking for Morels. David spotted two red brown beauties under mixed Douglas Fir/Bishop Pine habitat and we continued to search; but that was it.

We headed back down the road towards Highway One where we know an area for Macrolepiota rachodes. Through the fence, along the lovely stream and past the big white horse, through the next barbed wire gate by the other horses and into the place where the cattle usually gather earlier in the year. Hmmm, Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum, was everywhere in the spot we intended to look; and a recently fallen branch of a bay tree, Umbellularia californica, covered the little hillock we were searching for.

My buddy found a wonderfully huge cluster of mature Shaggy Parasols hiding in that pretty and poisonous stuff, under that broken bough. There were great big open caps and even some tight little buttons, perfect and plenty for tomorrow's meal.

To cook this meaty and full flavored mushroom chop small then simply sauté with olive oil, a little onion, maybe a red wine reduction and salt and pepper. If there are enough to preserve by drying look forward to the incredible soup and stock these will make. I try to keep them for at least a year before using because their flavor and aroma will intensify (just like Boletes). They become so strong in fact that Louise Freedman, in her Wild About Mushrooms (written for the Mycological Society of San Francisco and my favorite mushroom cookbook) even suggests somewhat discretionary use.

I stashed those Leppies ("McLeppies" now?) in a brown bag in the crotch of an oak tree. Next we were going up and over the hills to try again for Golden Chanterelles. Gosh, there were beautiful views from there of the Coastal Range and the lush green Springtime hillsides of West Marin. Everything was in place--the clouds, the sky, the distant tree line, the wildflowers and even a hollering Holstein. . . .

So of course being vocal I answered in my best moo. Whatever I said, when translated into the particular local bovine colloquial, must of made that lady real mad--she attacked us. Now I am a sort of country boy who used to raise hogs, horses, sheep, etc. but I just don't know from cows. And as good as he is at hunting mushrooms David was about as worthless here.

We stood mesmerized waiting for the other man to take charge in the very middle of a very large meadow with a very large sharply horned howling female range critter charging us. Ever seen two fairly big guys trying to get behind each other quickly? Think about it.

Well, you can actually cover ground that way, but not very fast, of course. Yet the cow was and she was big and probably assuredly had "Mad Cow Disease." Hell, she was mad enough at us. Jeez, is this mushroom hunting? Do the folks back home know what we do to gather for the table?

The tree line stayed very far away but the furious cow got very close and was really bellowing now. To defend us I picked up a stick that turned out to be a withered stalk of last year's anise or mullein, or whatever. I swooshed it like a mighty sword (think "Braveheart" here, after all we were Campbell and Hamilton) and the damn thing goes limp, and so do we.

Fortunately she made a tactical error. Drunk perhaps on her apparent power and thinking that she would spear us two obviously shaken but not stirred fellows (like some martini olives) she veered off to flank and filet us but by now we were close enough to the oaks to sprint into them.

This was not a retreat--we were running forward, kinda. We are manly men, we. A little Monty Python lumberjack type music here, please. Thank you. Plus there were Chanterelles right where we entered that oak and bay woodland.

We also found a large A. velosa to add to our collection. Not a bad day: Morels; a Springtime Amanita; Golden Chanterelles and Shaggy Parasols, a mad cow, wow.

The Amanita velosa is best just sautéed in butter. The browning butter compliments the nutty flavor of this great tasting mushroom. Obviously be very careful in its identification! If you are lucky enough to have this species in your area you are among the fortunate few who have an opportunity to enjoy perhaps one of the very best of all wild mushrooms. (At least this is my and David Arora's opinion).

I was asked to make an egg dish for brunch so this recipe was created. It is adapted from a basic oven omelet dish like "Dutch Babies" and can be remodified easily.

Sunny Super Sunday Oven Omelet

—serves 8—

This is a good looking and great tasting egg dish that will rise, literally, for any occasion.

The filling:

The egg and cheese mixture:

The filling:

  1. sauté the mushrooms and shallots in the oil for 10 minutes. if using dried mushrooms, add the soaking liquid and reduce totally.
  2. reduce heat and sprinkle in the flour. cook and stir over medium heat for 2 minutes. add the cream--cook and stir until it thickens. add salt and pepper. set aside.
  3. set oven at 400 degrees F.

The egg and cheese mixture.

  1. place the flour in a large pan--whisk in the milk. heat at high temperature and stir constantly until the mixture boils and thickens.
  2. remove from the heat--beat in the butter, seasonings and eggs. stir in the cheese.
  3. spread 1/2 the mixture into the bottom of a buttered casserole dish. spoon the filling into this. cover with the remaining cheese mixture.
  4. bake for 30-45 minutes--until puffy golden brown. serve immediately.