In the 1860’s, when Italian immigrants first came to California’s North Coast, they must surely have noticed that wild boletus mushrooms (called porcinis in Italian because they resembled little pigs) were abundant in area forests. Yet it took another century or so for porcinis and other wild mushrooms to actually become an integral part of the local culinary culture. Eric Schramm, was one of the first to commercially forage local mushrooms in Mendocino county.
“I really had to search thirty years ago to find people who wanted my mushrooms”. remembers Schramm, an ex-forest ranger, who in 1983 discovered the presence of the prized matsutake mushroom in the county. “People still think of mushroom-picking as taking out a little basket and strolling through the forest. Well they’ve never put a 70 pound pack of mushrooms on their back on a 70 degree slope with trees and brush and slippery footing and tried to hike three miles out. Its not an easy thing to do.”
Today, Schramm teaches novice mushroom-pickers or “rain-chasers” as they are sometimes called, how to forage the forests of California’s north coast for mushrooms. Schramm also teaches them the skills to earn a decent day’s wage by gathering a seasonal bounty of Chanterelles, Black Trumpets, Morels, Matsutakes and those extraordinary Candy Caps so prized by chefs for their maple-syrupy flavor.
A Morel in the Forest