A Bear’s Head Tooth from the Forest…

Foraging in the shadow of coyotes...

All this week it rained.  For the first time in months, the rains washed over Marin and covered the fields and forest with a coat of mud, moss, and mushrooms.  So, on Saturday Misty, Moshi, Mr. Munerantz, and I headed out to Cataract Falls to hunt some fungi.

Mushroom hunting is a different sort of stalking.  The seasons vary, the fungi are many and difficult to identify (mycologists estimate we have identified only 10% of all fungi on earth), and there is always the risk of harvesting and consuming poisonous mushrooms resulting in multiple organ failure.  For us, mushroom hunting is really about seeing the forest, and listening to the wilderness.  There is something calming, almost meditative about foraging for wild foods; suddenly you see the birds whose song was simply background noise on a hike, you are aware of the deer and coyote paths weaving around the main trail, and under that thick litter layer of organic debris, the duff, you mine the jewels of the old woods.

Hericium (Bear's Tooth) on a trunk

Misty is a born forager.  While some of us move quickly through the forest to see what lies ahead, Misty, like Red Riding Hood, doesn’t get straight to grandmother’s house and instead sees all that is around her, stopping to smell a blossom, feel some moss, taste some wood sorel, or pick some mushrooms.  On a bend in the trail over the second drop of the Falls this Saturday Misty said “Hey check this out!”  About 7 feet up the trunk of a Doug Fir, she spotted a massive icicley clump of white fungus. It smelled fresh and sweet, and frankly is the only mushroom I’ve ever held that was so obviously edible.   I harvested it with my machete, leaving about half to continue sporing so the fungus would survive, and we continued on down the trail.

At home we identified it as Hericium americanum, or the Bear’s Head Tooth mushroom.  From American mushrooms:

“The great news is that these delicious fleshy fungi are among the safest, most unmistakable of all of North America’s species of edible wild mushrooms: If it looks like a cluster of white fungal icicles hanging off a decaying log, stump, or dead tree trunk, and it seems very fresh, bake it (or fry it slowly in a mix of butter and oil) and enjoy…. “

Bear's Head Tooth on the cutting block

A close up of Hericium's icy tentacles.

We took the Bear’s Head Tooth home, sauteed it on medium heat in about 2 tablespoons of butter with garlic (3 cloves minced), seasoned with salt and pepper, and served.  It’s like dining on a fungal version of buttery fresh lobster. Simply amazing.

Sauteed and ready to serve.

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