Fungus flourishing this season

  • Sep. 23, 2009 5:00 a.m.

By Heather Ramsay-It’s the best mushroom season in four years, says Betty Foot of Sandspit. “There’s a big, big crop out there this year. with lots of nice sized ones and babies coming too,” she said of the abundant number of chanterelles in the forests near Skidegate Lake. Ms Foot, who has been in the mushroom business for at least 30 years (when her company Madame Mushroom started shipping to Europe), said there have been lots of buyers on Moresby Island too. When we talked with her on Sept. 18, the price was hovering around $2 to $2.50 a pound and the only hold-up in getting the fresh crops out of here and into high-end markets and restaurants is cargo space, she said. There used be a 737 operating out of Sandspit, but cargo space is limited now on the Dash-8. On Graham Island, the only mushroom buyer has been the Haida Gwaii Local Food Processing Co-op in Queen Charlotte. General manager Lynda Dixon said it’s been frustrating for pickers because it’s been such a good year. But the co-op is new to fresh mushroom sales, with all of its transportation and sorting challenges. Ms Dixon said they had to limit buying to members only and then shut down on Sept. 18 for a time because their cooler was stuffed to the gills. In other mushroom news, “beware of the Jack O’Lantern mushroom,” advises Lana Wilhelm, a local registered professional forester and mushroom enthusiast. Although these bright orange fungi look somewhat like the sought-after chanterelles, in fact they are poisonous. “They can make you sick digestively,” she said. Jack O’Lanterns, which grow in clumps on rotting wood, can induce painful stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. She said a lot of beginner pickers mistake them for the choice and tasty golden chanterelle, which grow singly on the forest floor. Another one that fools beginners is the false chanterelle. A cool mushroom to look out for is the blue chanterelle, she said. She said a lot of mushroom buyers would purchase them, but they are very rare, so keep that in mind. “Don’t pick it out.” Ms Foot said buyers are paying $8 a pound for the blues, which her partner Kenny has called the Queen’s mushroom ever since he was asked to pick them for her plate when she visited the islands. Ms Foot said they also picked them for Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. Although some pickers have been concerned about potential logging slated for prime picking areas, Ms Foot has a different perspective on the second-growth habitat that is providing thousands of mushrooms this year. “They’re there because the [forests] have been logged in the first place,” she said. In fact, the old skidder trails are often where the best patches are found. Ms Foot said no logging has been taking place around Skidegate Lake this year that she’s aware of, but added that pickers will never harvest all the mushrooms that are out there anyway.