The first time I ever heard about foraging, I was a kid. Razz, my stepfather, was reminiscing about childhood mushroom hunting forays—walking barefoot through the forest because “you can feel them better that way.”
The stories Razz shared eventually worked their way to the dark, forgotten parts of my memory for a very long time. Only because I had zero context, no way of relating. As much hiking as he and I did together, as much as he taught me about the forest, for some reason we never made it to foraging. Maybe it was a lesson he was saving.
The second time I heard about foraging, I was 25 and living with a boyfriend and another roommate in Columbus, Ohio. One afternoon the roommate came home with about a pound of “dog peckers.” He proudly lined them up on our dining room table. Row upon row of dog peckers, as he called them. He was so proud. I was so confused. In my experience, mushrooms were cold, rubbery, gray things that ruined perfectly good salads.
The third time I heard of foraging, I was 28 and working at an Oregon cafe. Karl, my manager and a fellow nature lover, walked through the kitchen door one Friday and called me over. Wonder and excitement poured from him as we peered down at the counter. “I’ve seen these before!” I said excitedly. “Dog peckers.”
“Morels!” he said giddily. Lee, the cafe owner and best friend of Karl, joined us. Heading over to a burner with a few in her hand, she sautéed them with butter and garlic while Karl began an introductory lesson. Morels, false morels, chanterells, fake chanterelles, bolets, matsutake, the hush hushness of hunting spots, the seasons, the dangers, the deliciousness of cooking. I soaked in every last word. I had always loved the forest—hiking, climbing, exploring, admiring. And now I was suddenly learning about this added layer of ecology from two people I respected and loved. It felt like a new world, really. I could tell by their enthusiasm that what they were sharing with me was a gift. I eagerly accepted.
Three years later, I’m still learning about the foraging world. I can tell you one thing for sure though. Once you start, hiking will never be the same. You notice things you once looked past. You tread with a lighter foot. Your pace slows. And for me, I feel more connected, more in tune with my surroundings.
Until recently, I’ve foraged alone. Mostly because it’s a time of solitude I enjoy immensely. And to an extent, I’ll probably continue to do so. But after a recent outing with Brandon and new friends, Jess and Justin, I realized that foraging can also be a way to joyfully connect with others.
Also, foraging with others is safer. As a woman, this fact cannot be understated.
Jess, who you see here, is truly a person after my own heart. Adventure seeking and a lover of nature, travel, solitude. Towards the beginning of our day, we were informed by a local that “there were no chanterelles to be found”. Typical. If anything, that meant there were plenty to be found. Eventually, the two of us departed from the guys toward an area that looked promising.
As we trudged through dense forest decay and fallen brush, I remember spotting it. That beautiful, unmistakable golden hue. Trying to sound semi-sane, I kept my squeal inside and said in calm but drawn out excitement, “There’s a chanterellleeeeee ovvverrrr heeeere.” I lifted it from the soil and presented it to Jess. She squealed—and I knew I had found a kindred spirit.
All told, the four of us closed the day with close to five pounds. Everyone experienced their own moment of discovery, and sharing that kind of excitement with a group was satisfying.
If you’ve never foraged, or if you’re new to it, I’ll share some things I’ve learned so far. And if you’re experienced, please keep reading and comment below with your own tips.
Tip 1: Carry your mushrooms in a basket or mesh material. It allows them to drop spores, which means more growth later on.
Tip 2: Whether you forage alone or in a group, bring a compass and a whistle. Wearing something bright is always wise. It’s easy to go off alone and get separated from your group, and often harder than you think to find your way back to the trail. Just a few weeks ago, a man did just this and ended up dying. Don’t allow your ego to be bigger than your brain.
Tip 3: If you’re hiking alone, especially if you’re a woman, protection is essential. Be it a knife, gun, dog, spray, or a combination of these items—be prepared to protect yourself from both wild and human predators. Healthy fear has kept many women foragers alive. And again, bright clothing is smart because, ya know, hunters.
Tip 4: Don’t be overconfident with identification. Find an online forum or an experienced friend who can help identify what you’ve foraged. Also, there are TONS of books out there on mushroom identification. For the PNW, this is a great place to start.
Tip 5: Etiquette wise, it’s not polite to ask folks exactly where they’ve found their mushrooms. If they willingly share a place with you, consider it a gift. But these are special places people don’t often give up, mostly because if they did, everyone would be there and the solitude and bounty would likely disappear.
Like I said, I’m still learning so much. If you have stories or tips you’d like to share, please comment below! Happy hunting 🙂
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