Wild mushroom picking, specifically the pine mushroom (Matsutake) is something of an event back in the Kootenays. Since pine mushrooms are such a lucrative crop, you will find many different people out picking. Whether it is someone with a job just out to get a bit of extra spending money, or a student trying to save up for his first car, or even a retiree, you are likely to find them out in the bush come September. For as long as I can remember my mom has been one of the most religious pickers in the area. So this Thanksgiving at the tail end of the pine mushroom season, I went out in the bush with my mom for a short picking session.
My mom has been picking in the same location for the last 20+ years. Actually I think most of the Fauquier community picks at this one location. So during the pine mushroom season, you are almost more likely to run into your neighbor in the bush, than you are on the streets of Fauquier!
So what makes pine mushrooms so special? Well they are a bit a delicacy in Japan, and are sold at extremely high prices. They are also a mushroom that is near impossible to farm. Pine mushrooms form a symbiotic relationship with the trees in the forest through a network of mycelia in the forest floor. So it is very important when picking that when you pick the mushroom you take care not to damage the ground of the mycelia when you dig out the mushroom. Pine mushrooms are also a difficult mushroom to find. Largely because they often grow below the forest floor. Often times you might only seem a glimmer of white, or even just a bump. Really good pickers like my mother, almost have a sixth sense when it comes to picking.
It is important when picking pine mushrooms to know what they look like. There are many different mushrooms in the forest, many of which that are highly poisonous. Several of these mushrooms tend to resemble the pine mushroom to the untrained eye. So how do you tell a pine mushroom? Well a young pine mushroom, called a button, will be fully contained without a detached “hat”. Somewhat resembling a lightbulb.
Pine mushrooms are creamy white in color, and generally found barely above the surface of the forest floor. As a pine mushroom grows older the outside of the hat begins to detach from the mushroom stem, and eventually when fully matured the mushroom will look like a table top.
It is important when picking the mushroom to be very gentle. Pine mushrooms are very fragile, and especially if you wish to sell the mushrooms, you will want to make sure the mushroom stays in excellent condition. So to begin, start by slowly uncovering the dirt that is on top of the mushroom.
After the mushroom is uncovered, then you can use your fingers to gently dig around the stem of the mushroom until you reach the bottom of the stem. Then very gently rock the mushroom back and forth with your fingers until the mushroom becomes loose enough that it will come out of the ground.
Once you have picked the mushroom it is extremely important to cover up the hole it came out of, to protect the mycelia, and promote future growth. If the mushroom’s “hat” is already open, before closing the hole you can tap the top of the mushroom to knock the spores back into the hole. This is said to also promote future growth of mushrooms. Once the whole is closed you are done and can continue to look for more mushrooms. Be sure to look around where you found the mushroom as well, as pine mushrooms often grow in bunches. To protect your mushrooms it is best to carry them in a cloth bag, as plastic bags tend to make the mushrooms age quicker after they have been picked.
It was really nice to get out into the bush with my mom this Thanksgiving and take part in a bit of tradition. The excitement of the hunt, and getting to explore the forest makes mushroom picking a fun activity, and getting paid at the end of the day is icing on the cake.
Here are a few additional photos I took out in the forest of some other mushrooms. Be sure to leave these ones alone, as I am pretty sure none of them are edible.