My friend Tom Scheibal, who is a local artist, is an ardent mushroom forager.
Over a dinner of fresh chanterelles, which he had just foraged, I asked Tom if I might accompany him on his next chanterelle hunt. His one requisite was that I be blindfolded so that I would not learn where in the deep forest his favorite patch of chanterelles grow – a patch he’s been foraging for 15 years. Hence the shot above – that’s me walking through the forest with a bandana tied across my eyes, on our way to the patch, north of Calistoga.
After recent, late winter rains, Tom has been picking chanterelles as though he were cropping tomatoes from his organic garden in summer; they’ve been growing like topsy on the wet forest floor. In fact, on his most recent field trip, Tom picked 15 pounds of golden chanterelles (Cantharella cibarius, in case you are taxonomically inquisitive).
He brought them home and his wife, Linda, who is a talented cook, sautéed them lightly in butter, then tossed them with some buttered, egg tagliatelle she had just hand-made. The dish was ethereal, exquisite, light and delicate.
That was the moment, over that plate of pasta, that I asked Tom if I might join him on his next mushroom hunt.
For the record: There are something like 10,000 species of mushrooms in North America, only 250 of which are edible.
In case you knew, but have forgotten: a mushroom is a fungus (from the Greek word sphongos, meaning ‘sponge’), not a plant. As such, mushrooms contain no chlorophyll and produce spores instead of seeds. They survive by feeding off other organic matter – the ultimate ‘sponge,’ indeed!
I’m not sure that I would call Tom a mycologist, the word for a fungi expert, but he is certainly a mycophile, someone whose passionate hobby is to hunt edible wild mushrooms.
You aren’t likely to ever taste Tom’s handwork in the forest… we’ve eaten up all the chanterelles he gathered this week, but you can see his latest handiwork this coming weekend; his colorful Horse Head portraits are being exhibited at the Robert Mondavi Winery, starting Sunday March 14.
If you‘d like to attend the opening reception this Sunday, 2 to 4 pm, to meet Tom, sip Mondavi wine and enjoy a few hors d’oeuvres (don’t expect any chanterelles!), you must RSVP by phoning 707-968-2040, or send an email to email@example.com, indicating how many are in your party.
See you there. But don't ask me where the chanterelles are to be found, because I haven't got a clue!