A secret crop in a time of recession
It’s difficult to get local “shroomers” to go on record about how many pounds of fungi they’ve picked. More importantly, don’t ask where they found these desirable chanterelles because it’s a money making venture.
“Secrecy is part of picking around here,” explains Deadwood resident Ray Robinson when asked about why nobody wants to tell where they found wild mushrooms growing.
There’s also a joke that local harvesters share that says “mushrooms like to hide, but they can’t run.”
Robinson said the chanterelle foraging season “starts in earnest for us in Deadwood about a week after we get the first three inches of rain in the fall. This year it was in late September, but usually the real season doesn’t start until the first part of October and goes until the first hard frost hits the forest floor in early December.”
This veteran picker also noted how “chanterelles live a symbiotic lifestyle with Douglas Firs and can be found almost anywhere firs grow.” Robinson also noted that he and his friends in Deadwood have special “patches” or favorite picking spots where they can unearth hundreds of pounds of the valued chanterelles during a day of picking.
Although Robinson could not speculate about why the local chanterelle harvest has been so abundant this year, experts at the Yachats Village Mushroom Festival – one of the largest in Oregon -- did agree with the view that heavy rains at the end of August may have helped with the high volume that pickers report.
Mushrooms are a “sacred crop” in Oregon
A festival fact sheet states there are 14,000 known species of mushrooms in the world but only about 3,000 are considered edible. It also warned that “nobody should be eating mushrooms unless you know what you’ve picked.”
Chanterelles, for example, are orange or yellow in color and funnel-shaped. Chanterelles also have gill-like ridges underneath and have a fruity smell that’s reminiscent of apricots. They have a mild, peppery taste.
“We sold chanterelles for under $7 per pound at Yachats this year, and that’s not because of the bad economy but due to a high volume crop,” explained Brad Cleary who sells mushrooms to various culinary markets in the area.
Cleary said one of the nice things about picking wild mushrooms is the impact on local forests is negligible because picking a mushroom is not harmful to nature.
In fact, the act of picking mushrooms – from finding, harvesting and then selling wild mushrooms – has become very popular and profitable in the area. So much so, that word of mouth about a big harvest travels fast around here.
Big mushroom harvest means big money
“We’ve heard of the big harvest. It’s hard to say how big, but we’ve heard it’s been pretty good to real good,” explained Bobby Rudel, an expert grower for the famed “Rain Forest Mushroom Company,” that’s located on Highway 20 in nearby Eddyville. Rain Forest has been growing prized Maitake, Shitake, oyster and buttercap mushrooms for more than two decades, and is considered one of the top growers in Oregon.
Rudel noted that his company no longer buys wild mushrooms such as chanterelles, but “we’ve been a source for mushrooms for a long time around here, and we know what’s going on.”
For example, a Rain Forest guide to mushrooms describes the chanterelle’s texture as “tender but not crumbly.” Because chanterelles do not disintegrate as easily as other wild mushrooms they are used in a wide variety of recipes that require the mushroom to be tossed, stirred or sautéed.
One chief at an Oregon coast restaurant described them as “essential” for cooking with such seafood as scallops because of their superb flavor. When asked where he gets chanterelles, the chef said he goes to various “tent sales” that crop up during mushroom season along the coast and inland near Deadwood and other areas where buyers conduct their business.
There’s also a place in Portland called “Alpine Foragers Exchange” that’s made its reputation on buying mushrooms from seasonal pickers in our area.
In fact, a recent Oregon Public Broadcasting educational program titled “Harvesting the Wild,” noted how wild mushrooms are “big business,” and that dealers buy “thousands of pounds a day” from area mushroom pickers.
“The wild mushroom business is one of the fastest growing produce industries in Oregon, with an annual export that exceeds $8 million.” In general, the PBS program stated that $400 per day is generally considered an acceptable minimum for a local Oregon mushroom harvester.