Perhaps it was the early fall rain and favorable temperatures that moved Mother
Nature to make this the best porcini season in anyone's memory. Maybe it was
the sour economy that inspired so many folks to pay the fee to enter this renowned
tourist venue, and then skip the scenic drive in favor of searching for pudgy
mushrooms that retail for as much as $10 apiece.
An acquaintance for whom an hour of searching in past years sometimes led
to a phone call with the news, "I found one!" reports she now has 186
porcinis in her freezer.
Two young men parked near my house last week and boasted they had a thousand
dollars worth of orders from restaurants in San Francisco. Indeed, the back of
their car was crammed with perfect Boletus edulis specimens, some with caps as
wide as Frisbees.
Encouraged by my wife, who is a great cook but not a nature-lover, I took
up the hunt. I managed to make every possible mistake - from using a plastic
bag (it makes the porcinis "sweat"), to washing off the dirt rather
than using a dry brush (they suck up the water and rot). I got poison oak on
my face, cut my left hand in two places, and twisted an ankle tripping over a
downed tree. Yet, it was exhilarating.
After a few weeks in the forest our dinner conversation began to sound like
the scene from "Forrest Gump" in which Bubba obsesses about uses for
shrimp. "You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it..." But
regardless of your culinary creativity, there are only so many ways to cook porcinis.
So I placed an ad on Craig's List offering "Grade AA" porcinis for
$12 a pound. Soon I got a call from a woman who fit the necessary profile: she
loves mushrooms but had been out of town since the harvest began, and wasn't
aware that this year porcinis are probably growing in her driveway. She paid
me $20 for six smallish specimens.
Next I went to the fanciest restaurant in town, where the chef estimated I
was the 25th porcini seller to come by. Nevertheless, he paid me $50 for a seven-pound
The moral of this story - not the morel, because that's an entirely different
type of mushroom - probably has something to do with weather, economy, nature,
human nature and capitalism. However, I can't quite figure out which.
I recall my mother reminding me on dozens of occasions that "money doesn't
grow on trees." She never talked about the times when it pokes out from
under pine needles.
Anyway, mushroom season is ending. The woods look like a battlefield, with
rutted earth and scattered carcasses of mushrooms that were ripped from the ground
and then found to be either spoiled or the wrong variety. Foragers are hanging
up their Boletus brushes, wondering if this bounty will occur again next fall.
Diehard scavengers will now turn from nature's exquisite plan to duffers'
errant shots. The woods here provide hiding places for thousands of misplayed
golf balls, some worth a buck or two at local golf shops. They can be found by
anyone caring to do the Titleist Trot.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.