Seventeenth Issue, November 2005
Published about twice a year from Greenville, California
by Herman Brown



This year was a good year for fall mushrooms in our area, especially for the White Chanterelle and Shrimp Russulas. The season seemed to last much longer than ever before, as the freezing temperatures didn't really come until the middle of November. .I got to host a few forays with two fellow Mycological Society of San Francisco members, and led some forays for a few of the local residents.

We discovered lots of new spots, and were pleasantly surprised by the amounts of Chanterelles we found each time we looked.

I have also included lots of great pictures taken by Dimitar Bojantchev when we went out together for the one day.

We also drove to Oregon for the Annual Breitenbush Mushroom Conference, our second visit, which can be seen at

Findings, August 11 to Novemer 30 (top)

Hypomyces luteovirens
Hypomyces luteovirens

Thursday. August 11: In spite of the continuous hot and dry weather, I actually found 3 small White Chanterelles (Cantharellus subalbidus) in one of my old chanterelle spots at about 4400 ft.

Earlier that day, my daughter had found 3 small Agaricus augustus in her lawn in Greenville.

All were delicious in an omelet tonight!

Maybe there is still hope!

Wednesday, August 17: Today we went to the Bucks lake area (I think it is at 7000 ft.), and where we had found several of them in the past in September, we only found one tiny B. regius, two small Ganoderma oregonense, but several Russulas (brevipes var. acrior, and a tan-capped species), with one large specimen being parasitized by a bright yellow hypomyces, probably a Hypomyces luteovirens.

Endoptychum depressum
Endoptychum depressum (?)

Monday, August 22: We decided today to go up to our 4400 ft. White Chanterelle spot to see if they had grown any since my last visit.

Some had.

We found and collected several, varying in size from small to medium-sized. All were VERY firm-fleshed and fairly easy to clean. With these dry weather chanterelles, it doesn't seem to hurt much to rinse them under running water.

We also found a small Ganoderma oregonense, my second at this elevation, and a few different species of Gastroid Agarics. I think one was the Endoptychum depressum, picture on the side, showing a small one next to a large one with part of the cap cut away, showing the almost black spore mass.  Much darker than I would expect for that species, and even the smaller one had the same color spore mass inside.

Endoptychum depressum was the closest match I could find. 

We will just have to check again in about one week.

Ganoderma oregonense
Young Ganoderma oregonense
(picture by Peter Werner)

Saturday, August 27: Today, Peter Werner (a fellow MSSFer) came up for a short foray with me, so I took him up to my White Chanterelle spot to see what we could find. He had stopped by on his way to camp at Lassen National Park to check the higher elevation species.

In spite of the very dry conditions, we still found almost a pound total of mostly small White Chanterelles, 2 different species of Lactarius, some Gastroboletus subalpinus, a few different species of Rhizopogons, and some dried Russulas.  I also showed him the Ganoderma oregonense that I had been watching as it grew. Peter took a nice picture of it.

Today provided Peter with enough chanterelles for a nice meal, and we both got in a good walk.

Wednesday, September 7: Today we decided to go back up to the Bucks Lake area and check again for Boletes.

We actually found two small 2-3" diameter Boletus edulis buttons, one on the side of a dirt road, lots of cream-colored Russulas, several medium-sized Ganoderma oregonense, a few Ganoderma applanatum, a young Phaeolus schweinitzii, and a small but colorful Gastroboletus amyloideus, a first for me.

Maybe in a few weeks more boletes will start appearing?

Thursday, September 29: After being out of town for 3 weeks, I went back up to my chanterelle spot at 4400 ft to see if any White Chanterelles or Boletus edulis had come up since my last search.

No boletes found yet, but I did find lots of chanterelles.

I checked most of my old spots and found several at each place, this time their being large enough to show themselves. We had had a small amount of rain in the area while we were gone, and I think it made a lot of difference. These seemed to contain much more moisture than the ones I had found earlier.

I didn't have to look for small bumps this time. Because they were larger and had pushed themselves above ground in most cases, the dirt clinging to them was very soft, meaning these should be much easier to clean.

The total take for the day came to over 6 pounds, and I almost filled my large basket.  I got tired of lugging it around, so I didn't check all my spots.

Maybe tomorrow!

I also found several large Russula brevipes, one Gastroboletus subalpinus, several tubers of some kind, a few tan Ramaria, plus a few Grisettes.

Friday, September 30: Today I went back to 4400 ft. and checked the rest of my White Chanterelle spots.  On the way, I discovered a few new spots, and this time I followed my own advice: I cleaned each one very carefully before I put it in the basket.

On Thursday, I was so happy to find as many as I did, that I had just thrown them in the basket, making it very difficult to clean them later. 

Thus trip was almost as productive as the last, filling my basket to about half-full before I harvested my Ganoderma oregonense, that had grown to about 12 inches across.

I also found some unidentified brown Gastroid Agarics with an orange-brown spore mass a separable stalk, another Gastroboletus subalpinus, more large Russulas, several white and yellow tubers of some kind, that were just breaking the surface, several of the orange Gomphus floccosus, a few more Grisettes, but still no boletes. I think in a few weeks I will recheck the area.

This time it was very easy to clean the chanterelles when I got home.

Saturday, October 1: I guess it is still to early for finding the Boletus edulis at around 6000ft., as we went to some of our edulis spots near Buck's Lake and didn't see any. Maybe someone picked them already?

However, we did see lots of the orange Scaly Chanterelles, the Gomphus floccosus, Gomphus bonarii, along with the white version (G. kaufmanii), a fresh Phaeolus schweinitzii (Dyer's Polypore), more cream-colored Russulas, one bright-red Amanita muscaria, one Pluteus cervinus (Deer Mushroom), some immature Ganoderma oregonense, one Helvella lacunosa, some of what looked like they could be Mycena pura, and several small other mushrooms I have yet to identify. We also found a few Ganoderma applanatum, but they were too heavy to pick and carry back for Lynn.

Gomphus bonarii and G. Kaufmanii

Here is a picture of the Gomphi(?), both the G. bonarii and the G. kaufmanii species. The orange one was about 3 inches across.

Maybe some edulis later this month?

Sunday, October 2: Yes, I went back to my chanterelle spot again, but mainly just to take habitat pictures for a friend in Nevada.

After taking the pictures, I discovered a few new patches, two yielding many chanterelles.

I filled my basket to almost half full. Some were beginning to show signs of drying out, so I am glad I found them before we leave to go to Breitenbush later this week

The first large patch was in thick duff, and this patch showed most of the drying out, probably because the duff left little to retain the moisture. The second batch was found in a pile of sawdust, and most of theses looked pretty fresh.

This has been one of the best years for the White Chanterelles.

Cantharellus subalbidus
A patch of White Chanterelles

Here is a picture of just a third of the first large patch. They were found almost everywhere in a short draw:

Monday, October 3: Since we got back from our 3-week trip to Southern CA on September 28th, I have been returning every day to my favorite White Chanterelle spots at 4400 ft., and each time, picking over 4 lbs. of chanterelles.

Today was no exception.  This time I wandered around then forest looking for new spots and found several, each yielding a good supply of fresh ones.

I even checked near to the areas around my already over-picked spots, and found some very large but new patches - new spots to check next year.

For sure, this has been my best year for them up here in Greenville.

The season may last longer than I thought, judging by the freshness of some of today's find. It seemed that the very slight rain we had last night either made it easier to see the bumps, or the slight moisture resulted in a sudden burst of growth.

In one of the last spots I found before I decided to call it quits for the day, I found several of the largest chanterelles I had seen for years, one having a base of over 2 inches in diameter. I would have taken a picture, but by the time I got it out of the ground, it didn't even look like a chanterelle. The largest chunk weighed around ¼ pound.

I also found more large Russulas, one Gastroboletus subalpinus, more of the tan Ramaria (which seemed to be popular with the local deer), and one orange-colored coral mushroom.

Now I have to finish cleaning the chanterelles!

Saturday, October 15: Today, we had a visitor from the Bay Area, a fellow member of the MSSF, Dimitar Bojantchev, and I took him with me to a few of my spots to pick some boletes and white chanterelles.

We found several of both, but were amazed at the other species we found along the way.  Besides the white chanterelles, we found several Boletus aereus, a large but fresh Gastroboletus subalpinus, many species of Russula, including a few Shrimp Russulas (Russula xerampelina), a species of Lactarius with copious milk, some rather large Pine Spikes (Chroogomphus vinicolor), a few Gomphus bonarii, two species (I think) of Gomphidius, some Grisettes, a few different species of Suillus, many different types and colors of Tuberales, some yellow coral mushrooms, and several other species neither of us could identify (yet).

I was very surprised at the number of species we saw today. Dimitar seems to have pretty good eyes for spotting mushrooms. I had left my glasses behind, as I thought we would only find chanterelles and boletes.

Update: Dimitar sent me the following photographs that he had taken on that day: 

Click on any picture to see a larger image. Best viewed with the browser set for full screen.

Boletus Aereus
Boletus aereus, Queen Bolete

Cantharellus subalbidus, White Chanterelle
Boletus edulis
Boletus aereus, Queen Bolete
Boletus edulis underside
Boletus aereus, underside
Chroogomphus vinicolor
Chroogomphus vinicolor, Pine Spike
Cortinarius sp.
Cortinarius sp.
Cortinarius verrucisporus
Cortinarius verrucisporus
Entoloma sp.
Entoloma sp.
Hygrophorus purpurascens
Hygrophorus purpurascens
Hygrophorus purpurascens
Hygrophorus purpurascens, underside
Gastroboletus subalpinus
Gastroboletus subalpinus, Gastroid King Bolete
Gastroboletus subalpinus
Gastroboletus subalpinus, side view

Gomphus bonarii, Scaly Chanterelle

Gomphus bonarii

Gomphus bonarii Gomphidius glutinosus
Gomphidius glutinosus
Lactarius sp.
Lactarius sp.
Amanita, sp., Grisette

Lactarius sp.
Lactarius sp., underside

Rhizopogon sp,
Rhizopogon sp.
Tricholoma atrosquamosum
Tricholoma atrosquamosum
Russula brevipes var. acrior
Russula brevipes var. acrior
Russula brevipes var acrior
Russula brevipes close-up showing green-tinged gills
Russula xerampelina
Russula xerampelina, Shrimp Russula
Russula xerampelina
Shrimp Russula, close-up
Tricholoma _saponaceum
Tricholoma saponaceum
Tricholoma sp.
Tricholoma sp.

Lactarius sp.

Tuesday, October 18: Today I went out briefly to collect a few more King Boletus near our home, I also picked a few small Shrimp Russula (Russula xerampelina) for tomorrow's dinner. We plan to make a Shrimp Russula Soufflé.

One thing I have noticed since finding mixed Porcini this fall: The Boletus aereus seem to have less trouble with worms than the Boletus edulis, and the deer seem to prefer the edulis. I found more than a few worm-free aereus that had one small chunk eaten by a deer, with the whole mushroom being left above the ground and another intact, smaller one nearby. The edulis, by comparison, were usually chomped all the way to the base and everything removed except a few chunks.

Something I saw today: Where I had left some smaller ones behind to check later, after removing some of the covering and replacing it, the edulis stopped growing and was riddled with worms.  The aereus continued to grow (doubling in size in 3 days) and was worm-free.

I'm glad we have more of the aereus.

Thursday, October 20: I went back up to 4400 ft. today to see what had come up since my last visit Sunday, and brought back over 6 pounds of White Chanterelles, a group of small Oyster Mushrooms, and some small Boletus aereus.

I started by checking my old spots and found a few at each, and by just searching more around the immediate area, I found more and more. Then I just wandered through the forest looking for new spots and found several large batches of Chanterelles.

I also saw some new fruitings of a tan Ramaria, as well as the usual hundreds of Russulas.

I took this picture of some of the largest Gomphus bonarii I have ever seen, as well as my basket just before I decided to return back to the car. On the way back, I found a few more chanterelles, leading me to the conclusion that there are still lots more out there.

Wednesday, October 27: This morning, I took a friend out to see if we could find her a few Chanterelles.

I was going to take her far away from where I had been picking, but on the way and very close to the car, she spotted her first batch.

Then we looked harder along the way and found several more. She was satisfied with the catch and ready to go back, but I wanted to continue further to see if I could find a King Bolete or two.

We did find a few Queen Boletes, one too old King Bolete, and in addition, I picked some others for her to taste: Oyster Mushrooms, Shrimp Russulas, Pine Spikes.

I also found and picked what looks like the Strawberries and Cream mushroom, the Hydnellum peckii, my first for this particular area. I sliced it up for the drier and am going to mail it to my dye mushroom friend to try, along with the others I found, which includes some additional Boletopsis subsquamosus plus a small amount of Albatrellus flettii and A. ellisii, both which I think might also give her some color.

There were mushrooms popping up everywhere. We even found one huge pink-tinged Hygrophorus pudorinus. It looks like the light rain fall we had  been getting recently has made a big difference.

Friday,  October 28: Today I took another friend (in a light rain) into the mountains to collect samples for her of the various edible mushrooms that are coming out.

Besides finding lots of the same mushrooms I have been finding pretty regularly so far, we found a few very colorful ones.

The first find was the striking, dark violet, almost black Cortinarius violaceus.  Right near it was a couple of the small, blood-red Cortinarius sanguineus. The purple cort. was a first for me. A few feet away were two pink and white Hygrophorus pudorinus, large and very clean from the rain. Even in the gray weather, they were all beautiful! The oyster mushrooms we saw varied from dark grey to all-white. The chanterelles we collected were somewhat soggy, however.

I finally keyed out a dark-capped, nice-looking, non-staining, tomentose Suillus that seems to be so prevalent right now: Suillus fuscotomentosus.

Thursday, November 3: Even though we had had a small amount of snow where I had been finding lots of white chanterelles pretty regularly, with light rains both preceding and following the snow, after a few dry days, I went up to 4400 ft and looked for new spots, knowing well that the chanterelles might be pretty soggy.

At the first area I found only a few, but lots of other mushrooms were popping up everywhere. Many Shrimp Russulas were seen, but I didn't pick any this time. I was just after the chanterelles.

I decided to go back to one of my favorite picking spots, and when I got pretty close, I started finding new (and some large!) batches of them, all within about 500 feet of my old spot.

In one area, they seemed to be all over the forest floor, and I found it very hard to avoid stepping on them.  Most were pretty soggy, but those that were under pieces of bark or under duff, were pretty dry.

I picked all I could hold in my basket and called it quits for the day. The basket, now full of wet chanterelles, was getting pretty heavy by then, probably weighing close to 13 pounds.

On the way back home, I stopped to show (and share with) my find to a friend and took him back to show what they looked like this late in the season, which was pretty large and mostly above ground.

We found a few more, but only brought back one dry one that we found under a mound. We both already had plenty moist ones to clean.

When I got home, I left them out overnight, spread out on sheets of newspaper, to help remove some of the moisture. In the morning, they were still pretty soggy. I then put them in the oven on racks in cookie sheets, with only the pilot light on, and in a 3-4 hours, they looked almost back to normal. Because they had been so wet when I found them, I hadn't spend much energy cleaning them, plus I was a bit excited about finding so many. Slow drying them in the oven seemed to make them much easier to clean.

If I collect more moist ones, I plan to try to completely dehydrate some in my drier to see how they hold up in a dish.

Incidentally, I am still finding a few King and Queen Boletes close to home.

Thursday, November 10: Today, after 2 days of clear weather, I went back to my white chanterelle spot to see if they had dried out any.

Most hadn't.

But because of my recent success in drying them in the oven, I started picking most all that I could find. The first few were found under large mounds of thick duff and were fairly dry, but the rest were either exposed or under thin duff, and very soggy.

I only saw a few at first, but soon I started finding more and more large patches a little farther into the forest from my "spot", on the opposite side of the road.

After filling my large basket to over half full, I got tired of carrying the soggy and heavy chanterelles, and I knew I had a lot more cleaning to do when I got home, so I tried to avoid picking more and left for home.

I am still in the process of cleaning and lightly drying, and then cleaning them again.  I think after they are fully cleaned, I will slice them all very thin and put them in my dehydrator. The ones I dried earlier seemed to have fared pretty well, chopped up in a slow-cooked wild mushroom soup mixture I made up (recipe below).

The only other species of which I took much notice was a large batch of Albatrellus ovinus growing near one of the chanterelle patches.

Tuesday, November 15: Cecelia and I went out this morning to take our younger granddaughter on a mushroom hunt. I mainly wanted her to see all the variety that was out.

Before we got very far, I showed her a bump along the side of a dirt road, under which was a pair of White Chanterelles. While I was removing it, she uncovered another pair right next to them.

We kept looking, and she noticed more mushrooms that we did.

We continued finding and picking chanterelles and soon got tired.

When I got home, a friend brought over what looked like Honey Mushrooms, but without the rings.  I went to the home where they had been picked to see if they had rings when fresh. They didn't. Some were close to trees, and many were right next to the base of a stump. None appeared to come directly out of the wood.

I first assumed that they were the ring-less Armillaria tabescens, but after sending some pictures to a few friends and rechecking the Armillaria key at, I think now that they actually were the Armillaria gallica.

Wednesday, November 16: A friend called this morning and wanted to show me some mushrooms he thought might be the White Chanterelles, as they were white, funnel-shaped, but had gills. I told him they sounded more like the Russula brevipes.

That afternoon I went to his home, which borders on two sides with the NF, and he first showed me some mushrooms growing in his lawn next to a small tree.

These turned out to be the same (or similar) species (ring-less) Honey Mushrooms like I saw yesterday. He then showed me another mushroom growing out of a stump, and this one was a large Phaeolus schweinitzii.

We then started walking up the backside of his property to look for the chanterelles. On the way, we found several Shrimp Russulas and some red-latexed Lactarius rubrilacteus.  I collected a few of each for him to taste later.

As we approached the chanterelle spot, we found more Shrimp Russulas and Lactarius, and then we spotted the "chanterelles", or rather, Russula brevipes. Several mounds with them inside, were seen everywhere. Somewhat disappointed, we continued on and found a few of the beautiful Gomphidius subroseus which I also collected for his tasting. Along our path we spotted a few white and yellow Rhizopogons and 2 species of tomentose Suilluses, plus one all-white Suillus, which I brought back to see if I could ID. I brought back a few of the lighter-colored tomentose Suillus for his tasting, as they were the freshest.

On the way back to his house, we actually found one, fairly water-logged, White Chanterelle. It also showed a few signs that it had been there for some time. We saw more patches of the Shrimp Russulas and Lactarius rubrilacteus, and another, solitary, Honey Mushroom that was pretty old.

For the short time we were out there, we saw several species, many edible and many of which I did not ID, but my friend seemed pretty pleased with the findings.

Wednesday, November 30: Cecelia and I braved the wet weather this morning and went down to Caribou road (2200 ft. elevation). We didn't see any boletes or chanterelles, just some Suillus, puffballs, lots of LBMs, and lots of Man on Horseback, the yellow Tricholoma flavovirens.

Saw some snow patches though, and the mushrooms we brought home were pretty waterlogged.

A 20-year Chanterelle study (top)

While we were at the Breitenbush Mushroom Conference in October, we attended a slide show/lecture about an ongoing 20-year Chanterelle study, by Judy Roger.

I had sent Judy a request to use the information we saw at the slide show, showed her what I was going to include in my report, asked her a few questions, and the bold/italic text represents her comments and answers:

At Breitenbush we got to hear an interesting talk about the 20-year Chanterelle report, by Judy Roger. The study, which resulted in the report, was completed this year, and covered a large, secluded area near Mt. Hood, OR.

We haven't completed the study as yet - just finishing our 20th year. It will continue for an indefinite time into the future, providing the road holds up! It is beginning to deteriorate as the Forest Service no longer maintains it since we are the only ones using it. We maintain it ourselves by cutting back the encroaching alders and clearing the blackberry brambles and other weeds. 

The bottom line was that removing the Chanterelles by cutting them, actually increased production by about 50% compared to pulling them out, and pulling them out did little to change production, and may even have increased it. The peak month for that area was August, following a wet spring and dry summer, and the yield seemed to go up and down every other year.

The cutting method of harvesting appears to have increased it by about a third over the 20 year period, not 50%, and pulling has increased it by about a sixth or slightly less, in comparison to the control plots which are monitored but not harvested.

It appeared that the smaller mushrooms attached to the base, when left behind by cutting, would appear in about 3 weeks.

Question: Did you alternate pulling, cutting, no removal, for the different plots, or was each plot treated the same during the entire study?

Each plot has remained with the same process throughout the entire study. The cut plots are always harvested by cutting at soil level, etc. The control plots get each mushroom numbers sequentially, and measured in place to monitor growth and speed of growth.

Question: Do you have a feeling for the reason that the small mushrooms that are sometimes attached the base, didn't produce chanterelles in the undisturbed plot, which might have resulted in an increased production for the disturbed plots? 

No. Many of those small "pins" apparently do develop over time, as we do find later mushrooms pushing up tightly against the earlier fruitings. Sometimes by the end of the season the control patches have very dense clusters around an earlier fruiting. The only way to tell would be to dig down and investigate the bases. We may start doing that to prove it one way or the other.

Question: Could it be that removing them by cutting helped to remove some of the competition?

No, it is more like providing more of the fungus' resources for additional production - just like heading back the spent blossoms on roses.

Question: One thing that didn't seem clear to me was how to tell if the plots you worked on were actually affected by picking. Could it be that the plots that had the most production were just better chanterelle spots?.

Good questions! Originally, the plots were set up over spots where chanterelles were found. Some definitely are more productive overall than others, but over the years we have been able to determine variability due to weather conditions, picking, etc., by comparing productivity between years and between plots. Some years certain plots out produce others then rest, while others just roar on ahead, then they rest, and we can see that not all plots will produce the same percentage every year, or in concert with others during a specific year.

The reason being that there are individual populations and they each have their own schedule. Within each plot, there are several populations and they are either intermixed or overlay each other (we can't tell which, as we've not dug up the soil and examined the mycelium). We know by having had some DNA work done on several plots on the mushrooms that have fruited on a variety of years. Not all plots have had DNA analysis and not all years have been examined. We hope that can be done, but that will take time, money, and some willing grad student(s).

- Judy

A Most Memorable Hunt, by Mike Thomas, November 2005 (top)

A note from me: Mike is a fairly new forager who presently lives in Magalia and has visited us here for some of his earlier hunts. His passion for the hunt is not un-typical of most of us who discovered the wonders, and tastes, of wild mushrooms.

 Click on the picture to see a larger image

Hey guys, Looky what I found! Saturday morning was sunny and beautiful. A perfect day to be outside. My girlfriend tried tirelessly to bribe me into staying home with pancakes and fresh blueberries and crispy bacon. Eventually (but not begrudgingly) she gave up. I have been hiking and hiking and hiking through my areas and have spent weeks finding nothing (Well, nothing I wanted anyway) while friends elsewhere were finding everything! I figured on a Saturday walk through the woods which would become uneventful, just like always.

May patience had been wearing thin of late but that, in no way, meant I was ever close to giving up. After walking through the woods for about a quarter mile I had gotten as far out as I really wanted to go. On the return trip to my car I decided to walk a different route than I had previously. It didn't take long before I stumbled onto my first Queen Boletes! I found one right after the other. Most seemed old and were left behind but some were light, tight, white and still had bloom.

I followed that bolete trail for another 15 feet or so and before I knew it I was standing in a patch of white Chanterelles! Again my first. I feverishly began picking. These seemed a bit old and water logged and somewhat smaller than the orange ones I usually find. I had to leave some behind. Another 10 feet away I stopped in front of my first ever Mastutake patch. No denying that smell! (Thanks, Hugh, for showing me that smell!) 3 or 4 more feet away and Hedgehogs were popping up. I had a small bag with some Pine Spikes and Boletus Zelleri in it. I have no idea, even now, what happened to those.... 

I had picked so many mushrooms that bags weren't cutting it. I was forced to leave all those mushrooms there and hike back to my car for a much more appropriate carrying apparatus. So.... Here they are. A day of firsts... First Queens...... First Matsutakes First White Chanterelles and some Hedgehogs... 

After finding this spot I searched for similar (ones) around this area and found even better spots. I will be back to these soon.

 - Mike

Saving Soggy Chanterelles (top)

Because the peak of the Chanterelle season is usually during a rainy spell or shortly thereafter, many of the chanterelles you bring home will be pretty soggy, and, if you left any dirt on them from the field, very difficult to clean.

(From Findings, above):

One evening, after I got home with many soggy chanterelles, I put them in the oven (whole) on racks in cookie sheets, with only the pilot light on, and in a 2-4 hours, they all looked almost back to normal. Because they had been so wet when I found them, I hadn't spend much energy cleaning them, plus I had been a bit excited about finding so many.

Slow drying them in the oven seemed to make them much easier to clean.

Woodsy Toss in the Pan (top)
By Russ Parsons, Times Staff Writer
An excerpt From, October 26, 2005

One morning recently, I woke up and realized summer was over. Though I live miles from anything like a forest, the cool, damp air carried a perfume that reminded me of a walk in the woods, feet shuffling through a deep thatch of wet, fallen leaves. I snuggled deeper into my comforter and dreamed about mushrooms.

Not just any mushrooms, of course. The fungus of my dreams tastes wild and woodsy. What too often ends up on my plate is flaccid and pallid. This is the result of nothing more than a failure to pay attention. All it takes to cook delicious mushrooms is just one simple trick: Do everything backward.

Normally, when we cook mushrooms, we build a flavoring base of butter or olive oil and shallots or garlic and then gently stew the mushrooms in it. Turn that around: Sear the mushrooms in a really hot pan and add the seasonings only after they've browned a bit. It sounds too easy, but just try it. Even the most common domestic mushrooms will taste rich and meaty, almost wild.

I came across this technique quite by accident. I was fixing dinner one night and focusing my attention on something else — maybe grilled lamb chops or a roast chicken … could have been a Laker game. I looked over and realized I had left the pan for the mushrooms over high heat and the butter was past foaming and even beginning to turn nutty.

I quickly dumped in the mushrooms and gave them a couple of tosses, thinking that would cool down the pan. Then I realized I'd forgotten to add the garlic and parsley, so in they went. A few more minutes and the dish was done.

I wasn't expecting much. At best, I hoped nobody would pay the mushrooms any attention. But when I tasted them, they exploded with flavor. Where did you get these mushrooms? someone asked. What kind are they? Are they wild?

What happens is this: When the mushrooms hit the hot butter, they start to give off moisture. Add the seasonings at this point and they carry back to the mushrooms as that liquid concentrates and is reabsorbed. Furthermore, the process goes very quickly, so rather than stewing slowly, the mushrooms get a chance to brown a bit before they start to become limp.

I've since refined the technique. I now think it's better to start the mushrooms on medium-high and then increase the heat once they've begun to sweat. I've found that salting them early helps draw out the moisture. And most recently, on rereading an old Edouard de Pomiane cookbook, I found he does almost the same thing, but covers the pan with a lid for the first couple of minutes — that concentrates the heat even more.

Vary the seasonings

Mushrooms prepared this way are terrific as a side dish, just served by themselves (a final gloss of butter and a couple of drops of sherry vinegar round out the flavor nicely). Vary the herbs and flavorings, maybe some rosemary (just a hint) or tarragon (as much as you want). Or you can use shallots in place of the garlic. And sometimes it's nice to toss in some chopped, toasted hazelnuts for a little bit of crunch.

Try different mushrooms. White and brown buttons and portabellos are available everywhere — they make up something like 90% of all mushrooms sold. Actually, they are all the same family of mushroom, Agaricus bisporus. But this doesn't mean they are all the same.

According to Thomas Volk, a mycologist at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, originally all commercially raised Agaricus mushrooms were brown, but in the 1930s a white strain was found. Thought fashionable at the time, these came to dominate the industry, though they were selected primarily for color rather than flavor. When earthy-looking brown mushrooms made a comeback in the '80s, it was with a new strain that was chosen in part for the flavor, usually sold as cremini mushrooms.

Then, in the early '90s, growers found that they could get a premium for wild-looking, overgrown cremini mushrooms that already had opened out. They called them by a made-up name that was thought to sound Italian. Or rather, several made-up names — you can find them labeled as "portobello," "portabella," "portobella" and "portabello" (for the record, the American Mushroom Institute prefers the last). So popular have these mushrooms become that normal cremini are being sold as "baby 'bellos." 

Though portabellos are harvested only a week or so older than creminis, that is a long time in the life of a mushroom. The most obvious difference is size (figure four portabellos to the pound as opposed to 25 to 30 creminis). The extra maturity also means portabellos have begun to soften and the dark gills underneath have developed fully. Whether there is much of a difference in flavor is hard to say (but because of their size, portabellos are very nice grilled). If you are fastidious about appearance, remember that the mature gills tend to stain everything a rather dismal gray. If that bothers you, cut them off before cooking.

Distinctive flavors

In addition to these Agaricus mushrooms, Japanese markets also stock maitake, or "hen of the woods" mushrooms (Grifola fondosa), that have a deep, woodsy flavor and a pleasant, slightly tart edge. Fresh shiitake mushrooms are also common, but I find they have such a pronounced smoky aroma that they have to be used very carefully. And I still have not found a good use for enoki and oyster mushrooms, which even their most ardent fans describe as "mild flavored."

Even if you're limited to regular old button mushrooms, start with a variety of sizes. This way, when you cut them up you get a mix of shapes: Leave the smallest whole, cut the ones that are a little bigger into halves, cut the biggest into quarters, etc. All the mushrooms should end up roughly the same size so they will cook at the same rate.

This technique is also good as a starting point for preparing mushrooms in other dishes. I think of it as a kind of "intensifying" step — like roasting tomatoes in olive oil. It doesn't matter whether they are then used by themselves as a garnish, tossed with pasta or folded into a more complicated dish, they are improved by the process.

You can use them in a dish as simple as mixing the mushrooms with a little cream and using this to dress steamed potatoes.

Combine the two components while both are hot so the flavorings will penetrate the potato before the starch on the outside cools.

Or it can be something a lot more complex. Stew these intensified mushrooms in a mixture of prosciutto, leeks and crème fraîche, then fold them together with cooked spaghetti squash, add more cream, bake it, top with Parmesan bread crumbs and bake it again. The depth of mushroom flavor is magnificent.

The latter recipe is based very loosely on one by best-selling cookbook author Deborah Madison (in her version, she uses chanterelles and simply bakes them with squash and cream).

At first, combining mushrooms and spaghetti squash seemed odd (actually, considering my opinion of spaghetti squash, combining it with anything would seem odd). But the more I thought about it, I realized the bland, slightly bitter taste of the squash might be a good foil for the mushrooms. And because the spaghetti strands are so fibrous, they won't go mushy the way real noodles might.

Think about it: Finally, something delicious to do with spaghetti squash. Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

(What followed was a series of recipes)

Recipe for Dried Wild Mushroom Soup Mix (top)

I put this recipe together to try to make a dried mix using many of my dried mushrooms I have collected. It makes a very rich soup:

Dried Mushroom Soup Mix recipe (makes approximately 2 ¼ cups)

1 c assorted dried and chopped mushrooms (I used White Chanterelles, King and Queen Boletes, Shrimp Russulas, and powdered Lentinus ponderosus)
¼ c bouillon granules
½ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. white pepper
2 tsp. parsley flakes
½ c cornstarch
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
¼ c onion flakes

Combine ingredients well and store in sealed container.

For using mix:

½ c soup mix
4 c water

Combine ingredients. Simmer slowly over low heat for ½ hour or until mushrooms are softened.

Add ½ c whole cream and bring up to temperature just before serving.

Featured Mushroom, the Shrimp Russula (Russula xerampelina) (top)

This year, we found lots of the edible Russula xerampelina, in almost all our favorite fall spots. For the table, it is a new mushroom for me. We experimented with cooking it and were pleased with all the results. For a Russula, it has a surprisingly good taste and texture, so it lends itself to many dishes, the first of which was a Shrimp Russula Soufflé, using a recipe we found on line at However, we changed the recipe a bit, reducing the amount of nutmeg from 1 tbsp. to 1/8 tsp., as 1 tbsp. of nutmeg seemed way too much.

For a direct link for this mushroom on the site, complete with pictures, go to: