Hello fellow mushroom lovers! A quick update on the local hunting situation ...
I was a bit skeptical because of our recent warm and dry weather, but I had seen reports online of some people finding early Chanterelles and Lobsters, so I went out on a preliminary (exploratory) foray into my usual productive spots in the foothills of Mt. Rainier on Saturday.
I enjoyed beautiful weather and a lovely 3-hour hunt. Two good things happened during that time ...
1) I made a new friend, a fellow shroomophile I met named Kevin, and his two beautiful dogs who were thankfully very happy to meet someone else tromping around with a basket in the woods! Kevin has been hunting in the same spots I've been hunting in for a number of years, and yet we'd never met before. I enjoyed getting to know him. But he was frustrated because he wasn't finding much. He showed me his basket with a few small Lobsters, and a few quite immature Chanterelles. "It's simply too hot and dry still," he said, and I agreed. He told me he probably would come back in a month. I hope to see him again sometime soon.
2) I proceeded on to see for myself if I could find anything. And during 3 hours of hunting, I only found one mushroom! Although it was a very nice Lobster, so that was a little bit of a consolation. (The attached photo is of a similar lobster from a previous hunt, as I neglected to get a photo of this one before I dehydrated it!)
By the way, while many people enjoy cooking and eating lobsters fresh, my favorite thing to do with them is dehydrate them and grind them into a powder which I use as a base for soups and stews. It thickens wonderfully and retains its good, lobster-ish flavor and color. For this reason, Lobsters are very popular with vegetarians and can even fetch upwards of $30 per pound when they are harvested for profit (often illegally for sending into Asian markets, where they are prized).
I've found Lobsters that were upwards of 3 pounds in size, so you can do the math. But they have to be good quality, and they are often not. In September you often see piles of slices of Lobster out in the forests, where hunters have cut through the stipes to try and determine their quality.
The Lobster has a fascinating story, by the way. It is born a very basic, white, tasteless mushroom called Russula brevipes, but somewhere along the way many if not most of them seem to get infected with another invading fungus (Hypomyces lactifluorum). The result of this infection is these boring Russulas balloon in size, turn bright (almost flourescent, at times) reddish-orange (and are hence quite easy to spot), and take on the flavor of lobster! Amazing.
Lobster mushrooms are found in very damp forest floors, usually near streams, where Skunk Cabbage and Devil's Club abound. They cohabitate very nicely alongside Chanterelles, but typically come forth slightly earlier.
Anyway, I know many of you are excited about going out on a foray (as soon as there are mushrooms to be had in abundance). After we get a good rain, I will go out again and take another look and bring back a report. If we have lots of mushrooms out there, I will schedule a foray and invite everyone who is interested to join in!
Cheers! Pray for rain and cooler Fall-like weather!