It's an exciting time to be a mushroom hunter in the Bay Area. After years of drought it looks like we may finally get a wet winter in 2015-2016. The moisture we've received over the past few weeks is causing the first mushrooms to pop their heads above ground in SF. Blewits, amanita muscaria, russulas, honeys, shaggy parasol, and even porcini can be found right now - without leaving the city!
A bluetiful SF blewit:
Whimsical honey mushrooms (armillaria mellea) grow in clusters on tree stumps. I consider young ones like these among my favorite mushrooms. I substitute them for white button mushrooms in my grandma's spaghetti recipe. They hold their texture well in soups and sauces. A delicious all-around mushroom that can be harvested quickly in abundance.
Even in the most urban parts of the city there are edible mushrooms to be found. I found this shaggy parasol in the financial district. Disclaimer: I do not recommend, nor do I personally eat anything found on the ground in busy urban areas.
Another financial district find, psilocybe cyanescens, the potent psilocybe. These are powerful magic, but don't take my word for it. Just check out some of the studies from Johns Hopkins that use magic mushrooms with cognitive behavioral therapy to help longtime smokers quit, ease anxiety and fear in the terminally ill, and permanently change people's personalities to being more open and compassionate. This is off topic.
Amanita muscaria fruit in the same habitat as porcini and they're much easier to spot, making them a good indicator that piglets may be hiding nearby. These are toxic and hallucinogenic if eaten fresh - not recommended. Apparently they can be safely eaten after boiling/draining the toxins out but why bother?
Porcini hunting is difficult. Successful hunters have to watch the weather forecast and time the rains perfectly. They wake up before dawn to beat other pickers to the best patches. They go rain or shine. And even when they do everything right, there's more than an outside chance that deer and insects will have already gobbled up all the mushrooms. EVERYTHING loves porcini.
So when you finally stumble across one in its most perfect state, it's something to celebrate. Each mushroom is an exquisite gift from nature. I found this one within SF city limits which makes it all that much more special.
A single "button" porcini can weigh over a pound and serve as the entree for a family of four. Older, softer mushrooms lose their texture but can be dried and ground into porcini powder, preserving their funky essence as a spice.
The result of a couple long hunts, a basket of beauties:
Ah the smell of drying porcini...