In the 1860s Italian immigrants to California’s North Coast must have noticed that the wild boletus mushrooms they called porcinis (because they resembled little pigs) were abundant in area forests. Amazingly, it took another century for eurocentric chefs to recognize the inestimable value of this local culinary treasure.
Eric Schramm, one of California’s most celebrated mushroom-mavens, was also 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”. says 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. 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 through the forests of California’s north coast. He offers them the rare opportunity to earn a decent day’s wage by gathering a seasonal bounty of Chanterelles, Black Trumpets, Matsutakes and the extraordinary Candy Cap mushrooms so highly-prized by chefs for their marvellous maple-syrupy flavor. Here’s how Schramm describes the first magical manifestations of mushrooms as they appear in a damp forest after it rains.
“They generally start out in the open on the edges of the meadows where the rain penetrates first. Then they move back to the “drip line” where the water runs off the edges of the trees; then back to the edge of the tree that’s the host. When a mushroom is growing right up at the base, or “kissing” a tree as we call it, then you know that area is done!”