Monday, September 14, 2009

Of Mines and Mushrooms

So my friend Al is into exploring old mines, caves, buildings, boats and other abandoned structures around our area. And we were talking one day about mushrooms, and how he regularly sees them when he's out hiking. So we decided that we'd go out on Labor Day to explore an old mine and hunt for mushrooms along the way. It has been a very dry summer here in Puget Sound, so the mushrooming has been poor. But it rained all Labor Day weekend and we had hopes that we'd find something poking its head up out of the leaf litter...

So on a rainy Labor Day we set out. The mine was the Bergeson Prospect. It's up near the Money Creek campground near the Skykomish river and Stevens Pass off Highway 2. The approach isn't too complicated, but it involves driving to the right spot, then a bushwhack up a hill aways and then about 20 minutes hiking along an old overgrown road to a small creek with a waterfall. Directions can be found here over at 2DrX.

Along the way there are some interesting things. The forest is second growth, but the trees are all around 100 years old so they're not tiny. You can see old growth stumps like this one all around. Those two notches are logging platforms. Lumberjacks of yore cut notches in the side, then stuck boards in and stood on them while working the big two-man saw.

Along the way we'd seen many mushrooms, but very little edible. I'd harvested a few small puffballs near the car. (Right where I parked actually.) Otherwise we'd seen a lot of one kind of mushroom, some kind of Lactarius I think. But right near the entrance to the mine Al spotted a mushroom, which at first I dismissed as another of the lactarius until I got a closer look. Behold! Cantharellus formosus, the Pacific Golden Chanterelle. We looked around the area and managed to find a few more, about 1/4lb in total. This marks our first foraged chanterelles! Victory! But by this time it was really raining. Soaked, we figured it was time to go into the mine.

The chanterelles were near the stream that ran in front of the mine. I imagine the extra moisture is why we found them there, it's still pretty dry in the rest of the forest. But here's the mouth of the mine. Originally it was dug as a prospect shaft and it goes straight back over 900 feet, with a few small anti-chambers off to the sides. The prospect was abandoned a hundred years ago after they didn't find whichever mineral they were originally searching for. And so the mine sits, rusty old mining cart track, some old ventilation pipes, and other bits of random mining detritus left all around.

Though they didn't find what they were looking for, there is obviously plenty of other minerals in the mine. It is pretty wet in there, barely better than the rain outside. The first hundred feet or so are flooded to about calf height. If you walk carefully you can do a tightrope walk along the old mining cart track and with tall boots keep fairly dry. I somehow convinced Meredith to carry my duckboots in her pack, so my feet were nice and dry... Unlike hers.

Over the last century the minerals have leeched into the mine, forming amazingly cool little formations all over the place. The walls and ceiling are covered with a muddy mineral layer, and little proto-stalactites are forming on the ceiling. Here's a few photos:

It's also pitch black in there so you'll need flashlights and preferably headlights. As you can see, by this point I am in good spirits but pretty well soaked from all the rain and crashing through the wet brush. I need a new hiking hat. One without mesh holes all over it...

The mine thoroughly explored and us soaked to the bone, we headed home. We had some friends coming over for dinner later, so I got to cooking. I had a whole Coho from the farmer's market, so I decided to do salmon with a sortof wild mushroom ragout.

Here are the chanterelles that we found.

The small puffballs I found near the car are pretty common in the Cascades this time of year. I found some more by the mine, and some by a roadside up higher in another nearby valley. They were recently renamed Morganella pyriformis, but many people still refer to them by their old name Lycoperdon pyriforme. Lycoperdon translates as 'Wolf Fart' and I think I, and many others, will continue to call them Wolf Farts. Pyriforme relates to their pear-ish shape if I remember correctly.

The idea is to get them when they are firm and young. The ones past their prime will be squishy, probably have a crack or opening on the top, and shoot out a poof of olive drab spores when poked. ALWAYS cut them in half before eating, just to make sure they aren't actually a young budding form of any of the various white mushrooms that can kill you dead. The inside should look like a marshmallow, like the one above, and not like the one to the left, which is overripe and filled with mature olive drab spores.

I also had some White Chanterelles, Cantharellus subalbidus, that I'd purchased at Foraged and Found at the farmer's market the day before. They differ from the golden chanterelles in being more ivory colored, a bit tougher, and growing in slightly older forests.

So dinner.

Salmon with Wild Mushrooms

Take your mushrooms, in this case about a half pound of wild golden and white chanterelles and wolf farts, and slice. I would have preferred more mushrooms, but it was what we'd foraged so that was it. Into a pan goes a couple tablespoons of butter, some chopped shallots, a clove of garlic. Once this has cooked till the garlic is done but not burnt and the shallots are softer add the mushrooms. Cook off the liquid that comes out of them, then deglaze with a 3/4 cup of white wine. I used a Sav Blanc. Add some salt, pepper, herbs de provence, to taste. Cook until reduced to a nice mushroom sauce. You could add a couple tablespoons of heavy cream here if you wanted to. (I forgot.) It's ready to go on your salmon.

For the salmon, first pin-bone the fillet. It was about 1 1/2 pounds, maybe 2 lbs. Again, man I suck at filleting salmon. Portion it out. Brush the fillets with lemon juice. Then with melted butter. Then salt and pepper. Into the broiler until just before they look done (they'll finish while resting). To plate, top with the mushroom ragout. I used some green beans for a side (steamed, butter, salt, pepper). My guests brought some potato salad for the side as well. Serve with a slice of lemon.

It was awesome. The mushrooms were delicious. The wolf farts kind of turned into little squishy pouches for the sauce, which was tasty. Otherwise I don't think they taste like too much on their own. Salmon was perfectly done, I am definitely going to do the lemon/butter brushing again.

Finally, I'm not a professional mycologist or speleologist. I'm not an expert in caving or mushrooming. But I am a lawyer. So by way of a disclaimer I say unto thee: just be damn sure of what you're doing and don't be an idiot. Make sure you have positively identified any mushroom you plan to eat, and even then it's a good idea to only eat a little bit of one you haven't tried before. Do you're homework, make sure you know what you're doing. Crashing through the brush and going into old mines is inherently dangerous. Seriously, don't do it. Unless you really want to.


Chloe said...

I love reading your blog. Keep it up. The disclaimer really made me smile. Thanks for being Russell!

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