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Mushroom season makes for tasty fresh eating



Some people get excited about sunshine and warm temperatures while others live for knee-deep powder snow and a thermometer stuck well below freezing.

It is a whole different story for wild mushroom lovers. This rare human variety lives for the period in between when steady rain and mild temperatures cause the rest of the population to complain about having to put on rubber boots and raincoats, then grab an umbrella on the way out the door.

Mushroom hunters celebrate the cool moist climate and dash enthusiastically into the forest to hunt for fungus - without an umbrella.

Once they find their fungus the bounty is brought back for festive feasting.

Whistler has many wild mushroom varieties that foodies plate.

The much-sought-after pine mushroom is a good example of a mushroom found within our woods in the fall. Pines are big and either white or pale brown. They give off a pungent smell. The best place to find pine mushrooms is in Douglas fir tree stands that are 60 or more years old. They can also be found amongst lodgepole pine or western hemlock trees.

Pine mushrooms are most valuable when the veil is intact in the stage known as grade one, or the "button" stage. Grade one pines are hard to find because they are usually still fully under the ground at that stage and they often grow under moss or fallen leafs.

The Japanese love pine mushrooms and this fact makes the mushrooms a tasty and valuable find.

In addition to the popular pine mushroom, Bob Brett from the Whistler Naturalists indicates that pickers also harvest boletes, cauliflowers, chanterelles, bear's heads, puff balls, morels, prince, hedgehogs, shaggy manes, lobsters, oysters and blewit in our wooded areas.

According to the Whistler Naturalists team, truffles can be found in the Whistler area as well.

The Perigord truffle is the famous delicacy that sells for significant sums of money, and they do grow here. With another Fungus Among Us event just completed Brett has mushrooms on his mind as he played a role in organizing events for the gathering of mushroom enthusiasts.

"I really like hedgehogs," says Brett of his favourite variety of local mushroom. "They are a bit like chanterelles in their taste to me, and I really like king boletes mainly because you can get one mushroom that just totally changes spaghetti sauce."

According to Brett, the Italians refer to boletes as porcini mushrooms while Germans call them stienfelds and the other European countries all have their own names for the same mushroom.

Brett doesn't collect a significant amount of wild mushrooms so when he or his kids do find mushrooms the amount usually isn't enough even for just one meal for his family, so he keeps it simple by cooking them with a little butter.

"Generally, I just slice them, fry them and serve them like a little appetizer," says Brett.

Mushrooms can be used in a wide variety of ways ranging from being the main feature of a dish to a simple flavour addition through the use of mushroom powder. Anyone looking to venture beyond the common grocery store field-mushrooms will find a vast world filled with opportunity in a wooded area close to home. Once mushrooms are harvested a quick scan through Internet recipes will produce many ideas of how to prepare and serve the backyard bounty.

Mushrooms can be a risky harvest, so wild mushroom pickers, especially those new to the hobby, are advised to know exactly what you are eating before you pop a 'shroom into your mouth to avoid a fatal case of stomach cramps after ingesting some funky fungi.

Hunting mushrooms can be a very Zen-like activity producing little in the way of a harvest. On days when no fungus is found, mushroom hunters simply call that a walk in the woods.