Mendocino, California is the Woodstock of the west. If New York and California could ever have something in common, it would be the earthy, off-path vibes and cultural kinship to the 1960s of these two towns.
A few weeks ago, the folks at the California tourism board hosted a bunch of us press people to attend the Mendocino Wine and Mushroom Festival. I drank some really great wines– like this Baxter —and foraged for mushrooms. Naturally, I drank after foraging, because foraging under the influence would be really, really stupid.
I saw firsthand what nibbling the wrong ‘shrooms can do to you—but I’ll get to that shortly. First, meet our guide for our first day of foraging, Ryane Snow. Ryane is a mycologist who earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from Berkeley (of course) about 40 years ago. His knowledge is encyclopedic; his passion for and belief in the medicinal powers of mushrooms is boundless.
In the photo above, a jubilant Ryan is holding two of the many prized porcini Ebo found on our outing. (See what a good provider my husband is, Grandma? Fresh porcini can easily be worth $50 per pound)
The woods were filled mushrooms—and banana slugs. You can see how they got their name:
Banana slugs don’t get eaten up by birds because their skin contains a natural anesthetic, which numbs the birds’ mouths and causes them to drop their prey. Ryane demonstrated this by licking the slug. Yep, he licked it. Ebo caught it on video. Watch at your own risk when you click here: Licking the slug
We found all kinds of edible and poisonous mushrooms on our walk. What struck me was how beautiful they were: mushrooms are the flowers of the dark and damp. Here are a few of my favorites:
Here’s a beauty my friend Catherine Dunwoody picked:
Everyone knows you have to be careful about picking mushrooms, because they can be toxic– tricky to identify. Ryane wanted to be sure we understood that not only is a little nibble unlikely to do damage—you taste and spit like wine—it is also an important means of identifying the mushroom. He demonstrated this twice during our walk by taking little nibbles of toxic ‘shrooms and spitting, but it wasn’t a lesson well-taught. At the end of our walk, Ryane made a detour behind a fence and vomited. Twice.
Stay tuned for Foraging California Part 2