Wild mushroom foraging in the Pacific Northwest
Bill Jones lives on a homestead farm in the rainforest of Canada’s Pacific Northwest.
As a chef, Bill cooked in Michelin-starred restaurants in France and England. His passion for wild foods has brought him back to Vancouver Island where he’s become a renowned author and expert on foods from the forest, fields and oceans. Today, he also teaches hands-on wild mushroom foraging workshops.
Deerholme Farm, Vancouver Island
This October morning, I’m driving on a windy country road to Deerholme Farm to catch one of Bill’s courses. Through autumn-lit forests, past juicy meadows and occasional farms with antique cars on the front lawn.
We’re a multi-cultural group meeting around Bill’s cozy dining room table. As far as Scotland and as close as a couple of farms over, we’ve all come prepared, dressed in sensible boots and rain jackets.
Bill’s home looks the part of unique-specialty-chef. The kitchen gleams with professional equipment and a handy larder. Everything else has a mushroom motive: from the pepper shaker to the wallpaper. From the tablecloth to an emergency ladle in the loo – (we are in the country!). 🙂
Before our forest-foraging walk, Bill imparts many interesting facts about mushrooms: their lifecycle, amazing range of spread and symbiotic relationship with the trees around them. Neither plant nor animal, mushroom are fungi, yet the part above the soil is still referred to as ‘fruit’.
Ideal growing conditions
In general, rain, followed by a gentle warm sunshine is the ideal scenario for an explosion of edible mushrooms.
Conditions that are ideally met in the Pacific Northwest, one of the best edible mushroom growing areas on the planet. Once breaking through the ground, mushrooms can easily double in size within 24 hours.
Of an estimated 10,000 different species of mushrooms, approximately 60 are most widely used for consumption. Bill mentions the statics: close to 80% are non-toxic, 20% are poisonous, 1% is deadly.
Getting our small group out the door and into the woods, he quotes another forager with a mischievous gleam in his eye: “Every mushroom can be enjoyed. At least once!”
Walk on the wild side
A heavy rainfall the night before makes for ideal conditions today. The forest is moist, misty and somewhat mysterious as we follow our leader, looking for patterns of light between the browns and greens.
Treading carefully, we turn over moist leaves and smell the intense scent of freshly picked chanterelles, shaggy lepiotas and the highly prized pine mushrooms. We return richly rewarded under our guide’s eagle eyes. Back in the cozy, warm kitchen, Bill serves us a delicious dinner.