Foraging: The Best Reason to Play Outside

Wild Mushrooms Foraging 3

There are those with their secret paths, their weather pattern forecasts, their barometers AKA bad knees, and secret language of trees.

And there is me who cares not for mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, and the like. I still have yet to grasp why I would pay hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to go through terrain I can damn well travel through on my own two feet. With shoes. It makes me go slow. It doesn't make feel like an awkward, uncoordinated git which I usually am. (True story, I recently rolled my ankle walking down my STAIRS). 

And it allows me to pay attention to the leaves, the dirt, the sky, and sometimes I see things that I like to eat. Sometimes I bring them home. Other times I just gather them because they are gorgeous and mysterious. 

Some people call this foraging. I call it walking with benefits. Someone asked me how I forage. My answer: "Fuck if I know. I just go for a walk." 

Viet Pham Wild Mushrooms

When it's gorgeous outside, why wouldn't you? And if it happens to be a couple of days after wicked lightning and thunderstorms, even better. The sky is buxom with clouds and the sun is forgiving with the heat. 

A group of friends is all you need. If you're gung ho about nerding out, a field guide to wild edibles is nice though depending on where you live, perhaps not all that useful. A wild foods guide written by an Englishman for the countryside will do you no good in the wilds of the Uinta mountain range. In these cases you go by rumor and sly suggestion of possible porcini sightings by conifer groupings around such-and-such mile marker. Sometimes you might exotic things like Chanterelles or Rusellas. Or cute as a button Puffballs and Honey Caps.

You take a chance. And if you lose, you still have an amazing day outside with friends to show for it. That's as much gambling as I can stomach. But sometimes the risk is worthwhile as my friend Viet (above) and I figured out. It figures we would find things since Viet is the chef of a restaurant called Forage and has combed the shores of the Great Salt Lake for briny crunchy sea beans, the nearby canyons and forests for tender greens, wild onions, carrots, and fragrant violets. (He's also the most bad ass contestant on Food Network's Extreme Chef!)

That day we found mushrooms.

Wild Mushrooms Foraging 2

Lots and lots of mushrooms. Some grew in clusters like coral on the bark of dying trees. Tiny, fairy tale ones peaked gently through grasses. The prized boletus, cepes, or porcini hide from the world, pretending to be rocks. But with a slight big of digging around its protruding caps with my trusy wooden dowel (which apparently resembles a "butt plug" to all you kinky types), you can see the pudgy stems. Gently coax it out (leave the rooted base so baby shrooms can grow back) and marvel at the spongy gills and the fragrance. If you're lucky, you got to it before the worms did. If they did, you can be jealous. 

Wild Mushrooms Foraging

We ran into a group of Russian grannies, armed with metal picks, vocal dogs, and wide baskets. We wanted to ask them which ones they loved. What they've found. What they do with them. But after a quick pursuit, their rheumatoid limbs managed to outpace us, so strong was the fear that they would lose their prime fungus secrets. Those mamas are gonna take it to their graves.

So we were left to our devices to pick and wonder. We brought them back after a long and dirty day to a friend's house. Whether we could eat them or not didn't matter because they were all so bloody gorgeous. And we had found each and every one when most of the world didn't care to pay attention to smallest of details on a walk.

After some quick reference courtesy of field guides and iPhones, we figured 80% were edible, 5% were awesome, and the rest were of questionable toxicity that if ingested would most likely leave us at least taking residence on a toilet. Maybe the ER. One of them smelled like maple and licorice when crushed beneath our dirty fingers. We didn't end up cooking any of them, feasting instead on smoked pork loin (the proper loin, fat and all), Korean spicy grilled pork, creamed corn, plum pie, and very good company.

Vanessa Wild Mushrooms

It was a good day.