The best mushroom hunting book ever. Delivers amazing lore, practical tips, and the most concise (yet reliable) bullet points for identification of fruiting fungus. The seasons and species are biased to the west coast but this back-pocket-sized book is perfectly useable anywhere in the country. It’s inspiring and delightful. Puts the fun back in fungi.
An extraordinary haul of wild Matsutake
Mining for Mushrooms
It was a long time ago, in my hippie days. I was living on a commune, and I was sick and tried of all the bickering and brown rice. I really needed some space, so I split for Arizona, where I heard that there was nothing but, to see the spring wildflowers. So get this: we’re driving down this crusty, dusty desert road on the way to a scenic overlook — the most unlikely place in the world for mushrooms — and I see this glimmer of white in the ditch by the road. We stop for a look and, sure enough, it’s an old Agaricus bitorquis. Jade says it must be the only shroom in the state of Arizona, and I’m about to agree when I start noticing all these cracks everywhere in the hard red clay along the road. It was shroom city. There were hundreds, big clumps of them, veins of them , but all underground! Most were several inches under, some more that a foot. “Dig this!” I said to Jade. “With what?” she wanted to know. We used our hands, making piles of them on the road as we walked along.
Of course we were noticed. An RV stopped, and this older couple from Long Beach got out and wanted to know what we were doing. “We’re mining for mushrooms,” I said, pausing for effect, “and we’ve just struck the mother lode.” We could tell they really wanted to try their hand at it. They sold life insurance and had been traveling for three months, visiting every national park in the country and this was their final stop, their last scenic overlook, and they were so burned out, they really wanted to do something exciting. But duty called, they just had to go on to the overlook.
Five minutes later they were back for some fun. Along with everything else in the world they had brand new shovels with them which they’d been wanting to use for months, and they started pulling giant buttons out of the ground like clams. Boy were they stoked! Mushrooms, edible mushrooms, under the sun-baked desert crust! It was totally incredible to them. It wasn’t in their tourist guides or on their itinerary, the auto club hadn’t said anything about it, it had never occurred to them to eat wild mushrooms, so they just got more and more excited and started scurrying around yelping and babbling like kids, “Look at this sonofagun over here!”; “Mine’s ever bigger than yours!”; “Holy Cow, it’s hard as a rock!”, I can’t believe I’m doing this!”
Another RV pulled over to see what all the commotion was about. One of them also sold insurance and of course they had shovels, so they dug right in. Then another RV joined us, a Mormon family from Moab, a bicyclist bound for Lubbock, and two local Navajo. We must have pulled up a couple hundred pounds, and we left lodes behind. Talk about “overlook” — we wouldn’t have gotten any if that one old cap hadn’t made it above the ground!
There was only one campground in the area and we were all staying there, so that night we had this incredible spontaneous mushroom feast with gourmet foods and drinks they’d stashed away in their RV’s for that one really special occasion, and what could be more special than this? We ate fabulously and got along famously, and the couple from Long Beach wanted to know if this was what it was like to live communally and I said: “Sure, we do this every night.”
I guess you could say we made their day. In fact, they said it was the best thing that happened to them on their whole trip! We had more for breakfast the next morning, and sun-dried the rest, and that one couple just couldn’t stop taking about how excited they were. I kept getting letters from them afterwards, and I bet they’re still talking about it, twelve years later, telling their grandchildren about the mighty once-in-a-blue-moon shroom bloom beneath the Arizona desert. Me, I’m not much of a talker, but I’m sure tempted to go back — I never did make it to that scenic overlook.
A truly gigantic Western Giant Puffball