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Finding fungi
Occidental mushroom camp introduces participants to many uses of 225 varieties

  • Mushroom hunters found a variety of edible fungi, such as black trumpets, craterellus, chanterelles and hedgehogs. (MARK ARONOFF / The Press Democrat)

Charmoon Richardson was playing hookey from his pre-kindergarten arts and crafts class when he wandered down to a creek and saw a strange, white, shelf-like growth on a fallen tree.

The 5-year-old excitedly hurried the nearest adult to his fascinating find, only to be told: "Oh, it's just an old mushroom."

But Richardson, now 54 and an expert on the 3,000 kinds of wild mushrooms that grow in Northern California, will tell you there is no such thing as "just an old mushroom."

"It was a thing of wonder then - and it still is," he said Sunday as he helped lead a weekend mushroom camp in Occidental. "There's mystery and variety and beauty of form. Every year science is identifying new mushrooms."

More than 100 people had gathered at the CYO-McGucken Center for a mushroom camp, sponsored by the Sonoma County Mycological Society.

Participants learned about mushrooms as food, medicine, dye and even for papermaking and pesticides. They also did some serious mushroom hunting in the woods above the center on Bohemian Highway.

"We were talking for hours, crawling around, looking under trees," said Beth Riedel, a Forestville herbalist, who returned triumphant from the hunt with several bags of mushrooms. "Once you find the right place, it's easy."

Some 225 different species of mushrooms have been identified in the Occidental woods. This year, mushroomers returned to the center with dozens of varieties, including orange candy cap mushrooms that smell and taste like maple syrup and can be used in cookies and cakes.

Also found were black trumpet mushrooms, which grow like underground petunias, and are good sprinkled on top of pizza with a little caramelized onion.

A pile of shiny, daffodil-yellow mushrooms with no known use sat at one end of the center's display table, flanked by bright purple mushrooms called blewits and a cluster of orange, green and brown mushrooms the size and shape of pine needles.

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