It's prime time for
flavorful fungi in the North Bay
To become an accomplished hunter of
wild mushrooms, you need a vast new vocabulary of technical
terms and precise botanical references.
Technical terms such as "shrump" and
botanical terms such as LBM.
"Shrump" is a contraction of mushroom and
bump (or hump, if you prefer). It is a slight rise in the
forest floor that indicates fungus may be lurking below at prime
eating maturity, just before blooming above ground. LBM
stands for Little Brown Mushroom. It is the mushroom
hunter's catch-all appellation for thousands of not easily
identified growths. Less common but still important are LGM
and LWM, for gray and white varieties.
"There are 3,000 to 4,000 species of
mushroom in Northern California. I don't think anyone knows
them all by sight," said Charmoon Richardson, who knows a lot
more of them than most people.
Richardson, who has been studying,
collecting and cooking mushrooms on the North Coast for more than
25 years, offers forays and forest seminars through his company,
Wild About Mushrooms, based in Forestville.
This is the height of mushroom season on the
North Coast, and Richardson is busy.
Saturday, he'll lead a half-day expedition
at Salt Point State Park. Sunday, he'll teach a mushroom
identification course as part of the Point Reyes National
Seashore Field Seminar series.
Next weekend, he's one of the organizers of
the eighth annual Sonoma Mycological Association's Wild Mushroom
Camp near Occidental, a three-day celebration of fungus.
"This is definitely the time, and the North
Coast is one of the best places anywhere for mushrooms,"
Richardson said. Mushroom hunters on Richardson's forays
range from first-timers who don't know a chanterelle from a
bolete to veterans who can actually name some LBMs.
"For me, it's a good excuse to go for a walk
in the woods," said Kathleen Esra of Elk Grove, near Sacramento.
She and her husband, Jerry, were part of a group of 13 who hiked
into the hills above Salt Point with Richardson last month.
"You also learn a lot," Esra added, "and at
the end of the day, you get a mushroom feast."
For some people, foraging becomes a habit.
"I heard them calling me," said Ron Lawrence
of Lakeport during group introductions. "I went on one of
Charmoon's trips five weeks ago and the mushrooms are calling me
back. I have no choice in the matter. I have to be
Some people bring cameras to document what
they find. Clare Carver, an artist from Napa, brought a
sketchbook. Her pen-and-ink drawings developed quickly and
accurately and may eventually be incorporated in some of her
finished work shown in galleries in and around San Francisco.
Richardson's standard half-day foray, which
costs $25, includes an introduction to the basics of wild
mushroom hunting, a running commentary on what he and his
students find, and a cookout at the end of the hike when hunters
get to taste the fruits of their labor.
"Butter and garlic is a good way to cook
almost anything," said Richardson, "but I prefer some of these
mushrooms grilled. We'll experiment."
People pay attention to Richardson's
culinary advice almost as closely as his advice on identifying
mushrooms. A former board member of the Sonoma County
Culinary Guild, Richardson works with restaurants and wineries to
create mushroom-themed dishes and events. One of his
mushroom concoctions won a first prize in an annual recipe
contest held by chef John Ash. Richardson, who worked with
food writer M.F.K. Fisher for a number of years, has appeared on
national and local television and been the subject of magazine
and newspaper articles.
Saturday, Richardson's Salt Point hunters
will be looking for hedgehogs, black trumpets, winter
chanterelles, maybe some matsutake -- all edible, some more so
"Lots and lots of mushrooms are edible, but
just because you can doesn't always mean you want to," Richardson
said. "Tastes differ, of course, so you have to try things
yourself before deciding."
Richardson stresses the first rule of
mushroom hunting: "If you don't know what it is, find out before
you eat it. It's just common sense, but it needs to be said
-- and repeated."
Richardson, as well as the Sonoma County
Mycological Association, offers mushroom identification services
by phone or on the Internet. Both also teach you how to
make definitive identifications yourself.
"There are toxic and psychotropic mushrooms
that look like and sometimes are related to good eating
mushrooms, so you have to be careful," Richardson said.
"But it doesn't mean you have to abstain. If you like
mushrooms, you're living in a great place."
Sonoma County in recent years has made its
way onto the national mushroom map in part because of the annual
Wild Mushroom Camp. The three-day outing with noted
speakers and writers over the Martin Luther King weekend in the
mushroom-rich hills of Occidental has gained something of a
national reputation. This year's speakers include Tom Volk,
mycologist at the University of Wisconsin; Gary Linkoff, author
of the "Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms,"
and other fungal dignitaries.
Fee for the entire event, which includes
cabin lodging and all meals, is $225. For Sunday only, the
fee is $100.
For reservations or more information on the
Wild Mushroom Camp, call 773-1011 or go to
MORE ON MUSHROOMS
Sonoma County Mycological
Association, or SOMA,
meets at 7 p.m. on third Thursday of the
month, September through May
at the Sonoma County Farm Bureau,
970 Piner Road, Santa Rosa.
SOMA Web site:
For mushroom identification:
829-0596 or e-mail photos to:
Wild About Mushrooms:
Forestville-based company owned by Charmoon Richardson
*The Press Democrat,
Santa Rosa, California,
Thursday, January 6, 2005.
You can reach Staff Writer George Lauer at 521-5220 or