Last week I attended the Oregon Mycological Society’s annual event at the World Forestry Center in SW Portland. Available to the public for a reasonable fee of five dollars, the show boasted a variety of events, from talks to tastings and table after table of freshly gathered mushrooms displayed on soft beds of moss.
OMS's logo is a Pacific Chanterelle mushroom, quite common in grocery stores this time of year. New Seasons sells locally foraged ones for $14.99 a pound. This shroom is a great jumping point for anyone interested in fungi. It is common enough so that a PNW layperson can feel as though they have a connection to it, and from there a whole world opens up. Indeed, a foraged chanterelle dinner with a friend was the very thing that sparked my interest in the event.
It was a bit daunting to enter the hall and see clusters of mushroom enthusiasts peering with interest and sometimes magnifying glasses at the tables, but when I approached a booth on mushroom ID for beginners, I was greeted enthusiastically. I shared the experience of my chanterelle dinner with a member who showed me what a false chanterelle looks like (side by side, it is easy to tell the difference). However, someone who had an actual question soon nosed in on me and I became a bystander to a very interesting conversation about growing shiitakes on alders, an activity best started in the spring, apparently.
I spoke with one visitor who was a first timer like myself. He was new to the world of mushrooms and was obviously flourishing in the environment. He proudly informed me that he had just become a member of the OMS and held up a bag of what looked like a very large and moldy loaf of bread. It was substrate for oyster mushrooms that he’d purchased for fifteen dollars at a vendor display. He said it was particularly helpful to see mushrooms that he’d seen in the forest labeled at the show. We had our conversation next to a table displaying Pisolithus arrhizus, or Dead Man’s Foot. In violation of the polite little signs posted around the hall, I gave it a poke. It was one of the harder varieties. I didn’t have to worry about being poisoned though, because even the deadliest of mushrooms must be ingested to be harmful.
The mushroom-miso soup I sampled was delicious, and the crowd was friendly. The folks running the event were happy to share their knowledge of mushrooms with me, and didn’t seem to mind that I had little experience in the field. But though the OMS was welcoming and sincere, it is true that they are mushroom-hunters at heart. When asked where a good spot to forage is, they’ll respond in generalities: forests, old roads, near logs---they’re too experienced to give up any specifics.