Even successful mushroom hunts can yield slim pickings

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You could say even the worst day mushroom hunting is better than the best day working.

That being said, this mushroom hunting season is proving to be one of the worst in quite some time for wild morel mushroom hunters.

“The trouble is we are just finding one here or there. If it were any scarcer than this, it wouldn’t be worth the trouble,” mushroom expert Paul Miller said, as he stopped to pick a single black morel from the ground.

It was a fine specimen. About three inches long and no signs of infestation.

In years past, however, Miller would have found several more alongside to form a patch, instead of just the one here or there.

Miller noted that the yellow morels, which should still be abundant, are almost done this year. And the blacks, which follow, are hard to find.

Nevertheless, Miller’s exuberant spotting cry of “there’s one” was heard dozens of times during a recent mushroom hunting trip in the Umatilla National Forest near Pomeroy.

“In the past, there were certain times of the year you would get them in bucket fulls,” Miller said. Instead, he had to settle for a total harvest that day of about five pounds. Not bad for even a bad year.

A man of many interests, Miller is mayor of Pomeroy. He is also a retired educator and school administrator, and he once taught mushroom classes at Walla Walla Community College. He also wrote the book, “Commonly Found Mushrooms of Garfield County, Washington.”

The U.S. Forest Service still hands out his 16-page booklet for free.

So what does the expert have to say about safe mushrooming?

Study extensive literature on what can safely be harvested in your region.

Find an expert. Some areas have mushroom clubs, though there doesn’t seem to be one in Southeastern Washington at this point.

Know your area and what it produces.

Only consume a small quantity of a wild mushroom the first time you harvest that variety because you might have an allergy to it. And if it is poisonous, you will be grateful you only ate a little.

If in doubt, throw it out; if you aren’t 100 percent sure, then don’t eat.

Finally, watch out for larvae, though they aren’t poisonous and are often treated by soaking mushrooms in saltwater.

Miller prefers to toss them if he finds one with larvae. So on each mushroom he collects, Millers cuts a cross section of the stem and inspects it for dark spots or trailings that are signs of larvae inside.

“I don’t like to eat them if they have been larvae infested, and I don’t like the taste of them if they have been soaked in salt water,” he said.

Miller said the best areas in our regions tend to be the transitional zones in the mountains where sagelands border forests. And though this spring is proving low on morels, he points out that some highly prized mushrooms, like King Bolete, start in late May and produce fruit through June. So there is still hope. And there’s the fall harvest, when Chantrelles are found from early September through October.

No permits are requires for mushroom hunting in the Umatilla National Forest, as long as you do not sell or give away your mushrooms and you do not exceed the one-gallon limit in Oregon or the five-gallon limit in Washington.

The USDA has plenty of safety tips when hunting mushrooms. The guide is posted with the online version of this story at union-bulletin.com.

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