Friday, November 13, 2009

Mushroom Madness...

Bear with me, it does come back around to knitting...
Last weekend we visited our favorite Fall mushroom hunting area.  We made it in time for one of the lushest mushroom picking seasons we've ever experienced.  Usually we are happy to find a few here and there.  It is not uncommon for mushroom hunters to discuss in depth the formula for success for that particular season in hopes of predicting where to find more mushrooms.  For instance, what altitude they are growing at, whether they are in the grass, or under pine needles, or next to particular shrubs.  This year, when a new arrival asked for a hunting tip, our professional mushroom hunting friend simply replied, "Look down."  Everyone had some success:

I meant to write about our adventures sooner, only I've been too busy cooking mushrooms:

My husband has been hunting for Boletus Edulis, or Porcini, as they are called in Italian cooking, ever since his grandfather introduced him to the activity when he was 5 years old.  I have learned to recognize a few different edible mushroom species over the years, but the porcini is by far my favorite to cook and to eat.  On the other hand, our son has yet to acquire a taste for them, but still loves the hunt for these edible treasures, which means more for us!    And now I have an another, ulterior motive for encouraging this family activity...yarn dyeing!
First, synchronicity on the road trip:
Our usual route to our mushroom spot takes us through the Bay Area.  Not wanting to face that kind of Friday night traffic, my husband decided at the last minute to drive a different way.  This alternate route took us through the town of Ukiah, where we stopped for a meal.  To my surprise, this advertisement was on our dinner table:
It just so happened that a last-minute decision had put us there on Nov. 6th, and it just so happened that the nearest art gallery was the one with the "informative displays of mushroom dyes by local artist".  I spent as much time as I could soaking up the available information, and got to chat with a teacher, and board member, of the International Mushroom Dye Institute.  It was amazing to see the earthy tones of yellow, green, pink, orange, brown, and even purple, produced on wool and silk with mushrooms!  I hope to return sometime for a workshop. Meanwhile, I can't help but appreciate how life's little coincidences work out sometimes.
The next two days we were out with our baskets during most of the available daylight.  With the porcini being so plentiful, I felt free to take time to try to find and identify other mushrooms.  We use guide books and we are sure to never pick and eat any we can't positively identify.  Our favorite books include All the Rain Promises, and More..., and Mushrooms Demystified, both by David Arora; as well as The Rainbow Beneath My Feet, by Arlene Rainis Bessette. 
Parts of the porcini themselves are good for dyeing.  Here is a hat I knit out of last year's mushroom dyebaths: 

I like how the hat came out, and my husband is waiting for me to knit him a whole sweater out of porcini dyed yarn, but I've been hoping for some variety.  Last weekend I did find other mushrooms, but only one I thought was worth keeping for dye experiments. We are just about done handling the porcini that are still good to cook. Then I plan on making some dye baths with the leftovers, as well as one with a woody mushroom I found.  I hope to post photos of that process this weekend.


  1. I love reading about your adventures! The pictures are adorable!! H, B and I had your mushrooms for dinner tonight. Very yummy! Thank you for sharing your finds. You are such a good friend!

  2. Are you sure you didn't use Photoshop - some of those mushrooms don't even look real! Including the ones in the fridge that look like rolls. Tell more about the hat - are the lovely stripes both mushroom colors? - JS