Morels of Mushroom
Disclaimer: Be careful around mushrooms. Mushrooms can be extremely dangerous and kill you. As Laurence Hauben, a chef, cook, and writer in Santa Barbara, says, “Don’t pick any mushroom you are not 100% familiar with, and watch out for look-alikes”.
Mushroom foraging, harvesting, or picking is the gathering of mushrooms in the wild. It is an activity that has been around for centuries and remains a prized sport.
Why do people do it? For mushrooms, of course! The search for a clump of the magical fungi amidst the forest debris is a rush that not many have experienced. Popular among the mushroom fanatics of Santa Barbara are chanterelle, oyster, among other delectable fungi which are prized for their taste, rarity, or both. Laurence Hauben, a mushroom enthusiast, began her mushroom harvesting journey in France, where she was born. She “first saw wild mushrooms at a Farmers Market in France, found them really tasty, and became interested in foraging for them while hiking in the countryside. It is like going on a treasure hunt”. The delectable mushrooms you can find in the wild makes the experience entirely worthwhile!
The right environmental conditions must be met before embarking on a foraging adventure. It is important to pay attention to the seasonal patterns and temperature as mushrooms grow only in certain conditions. Hauben says, “foraging, whether for mushrooms or for wild plants, is a great way to increase your awareness of the land. It teaches you to pay close attention to the environment, seasonal changes, differences in terrain, climate, light, companion plants, insects”. Any mushroom forager can tell you the necessity of understanding the environment to successfully forage as there are many nuances in the environment that can only be recognized by taking time to listen to nature.
Foragers have rules and etiquette they follow to protect the environment from overharvesting and damage. They step lightly and carefully, as there might be a mushroom underfoot. They may even hide their baskets to trick the mushrooms into thinking that they will not be picked. Hauben advises, “If you find an edible mushroom patch, don’t pick them all, leave some alone so the fungi can reproduce and propagate next year. Be gentle, don’t trample all over the ground or disrupt the forest floor”. There are many unspoken rules of mushroom harvesting that promote a gentle reverence of nature. The care that foragers take to not disrupt their environment should be practiced by others as many do not realize that the environment is alive and thriving. It is important that human interactions with the environment replicate those of foragers as humans have distanced themselves from nature and taken less time to engage with what’s around them. The magic of mushroom foraging is the connection it brings to the surrounding environment, and if you pay attention you’ll never know what you’ll find.
L. Hauben, personal communication, February 29 2020