The weather around here has been a bit dry, and we’re not bragging . . . but also nice and warm. (We had temps in the sunny 70s last week!) Beautiful for us, but not the greatest mushroom weather. We went on a “Mushroom Madness” hunt last month when the weather was wetter and have had this centerpiece project in the back of our minds ever since. The lack of rain might make mushrooms in the wild scarce around here, but a great place to always find them is at Far West Fungi in the San Francisco Ferry Building. We picked up a few choice specimens from their booth at the farmer’s market last weekend and filled out our project with a few grocery store purchases. This kind of tablescape would look lovely with a few wildflowers for a woodland wedding . . . or maybe even a valentine with a little card attached that says “you’re my fun-gi” (sorry, bad mushroom humor).
We had a blast on the “Mushroom Madness” identification walk we attended last month in Livermore with Debbie Veiss from The Bay Area Mycological Society. It wasn’t an excursion to seek out specimens to eat, but an educational tour in basic identification. After a quick explanation on how to collect, we were set loose in the woods. A few tips we picked up to make identification easier were to take note of where the mushroom was growing (from the tree bark, is the tree dead or alive, etc.), to bring along a pocketknife to dig up the base and to use a basket to prevent specimens from getting squished. Debbie used a great little divided plastic box to hold the tiniest ones. — Studio Choo
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We were a bit discouraged when we first set out because we did not find a thing! It seemed like everyone else was running back to our guide with awesome specimens, especially the kids . . . maybe they could see them better because they were lower to the ground. But after a while, we got the hang of it and found a few nice little mushrooms (and a rotten one that we thought looked cool but was really stinky, and although it looked like a chanterelle, Debbie told us it was definitely not. It was so stinky, she did not want to touch it!).
We made our mushroom garden with a variety of wood scrap pieces. Find a friend with a saw and cut up some firewood or tree branch trimmings to different heights. Drill a small hole(s) in the wood, put a bit of glue in the hole, and insert a pin with the sharp side up. Layer on moss (if desired) and stick your selected mushroom on to the pin. We played with angles when we drilled some of the holes to make it appear as though the mushrooms were growing in different directions. We stuck to one mushroom variety per wood piece and used some of them in clusters and placed others on their own logs. Some varieties dry out quicker than others — if you are using this for a table centerpiece, it is best to make it just a few hours ahead of time. (Important note: all of the mushrooms we used in our table setting are edible; we purchased them at the market. Please be cautious when collecting mushrooms because there are poisonous varieties. These should definitely not be eaten, and to be on the safe side, do not even put them near food.)
If you happen to be in the Bay Area this weekend, stop by The Point Reyes Fungus Fair! There will be lots of beautiful wild mushrooms on display and several lectures, including one we wish we could go to by Dorothy Beebee on using mushrooms for dyes and color.