Mushrooms of California
The mushrooms of California are a world unto themselves and an easy subject to lose one’s self in, especially during the fall and winter, when soaking rains give rise to many a shroom. But if you plan to eat anything you stumble upon in the forest, you better know what you’re doing. Mushrooms are notoriously difficult to identify and the consequences can be severe. When ingested, some fungi will take you on a magical trip; some will even kill you. Others are not just edible, but delicious, nourishing and prized delicacies of the forest.
Cat’s Tongue Mushroom
The cat’s tongue mushroom gets its name from the shape of the cap as well as its texture. They’re also called jelly hogs. You’ll find them growing on branches and dead logs. While you don’t want to eat them raw, they’re edible and often candied.
Cantharellus californicus and Cantharellus formosus
A chanterelle mushroom pokes through the duff in Jackson State Forest on the Mendocino Coast. I spotted this golden beauty from a mile away. It had just burst through the pine needles and stood out so much that it seemed to be beaming with an aura of magic. It was my first edible fungi discovery. I was so stoked!
Chanterelle mushrooms are delicious and therefore heavily foraged. You can even find them in most grocery stores in Northern California. They smell of apricots and have a firm, meaty texture and slightly sweet flavor. Overall, a very mellow mushroom. I like them sautéed and folded into scrambled eggs with ham or in a simple sauce with white wine, shallots and butter — perfect atop a local grass-fed steak.
This is one gnarly fungi. Lobster mushrooms are not mushrooms at all, but parasitic fungi that grow on mushrooms — usually short-stalked russula. The reddish-orange crust you see is what we refer to as the lobster mushroom, but the familiar shape is the host mushroom it has engulfed. The craziest thing is these are not just edible, but highly sought after, thanks to a mild flavor reminiscent of seafood. I’ve never tried one myself. I’m a little creeped out by the fungi-on-fungi nature of the whole thing, but they sure are striking.
Pig’s Ear (aka Violet Chanterelle)
These weird-looking shrooms are purple, veiny, and resemble the ear of a pig (hence the name). They’re edible and highly prized by some gatherers. A friend gave me the one you see here, which he found while we were picking together. I took it home and sautéed it with a couple chanterelles, then folded everything into a skillet full of gooey scrambled eggs. It was delicious, but long enough ago that I don’t remember any distinct tasting notes from the Pig’s Ear mushroom, especially with chanties mixed in. But I do recall it to be a satisfying breakfast, especially after a cold morning in the woods.