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Originally published October 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 11, 2007 at 2:00 AM

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Fungi fest offers a taste of treasures

It's been raining, and they're glad. Friday, armed with GPS units and trowels, woven baskets and whistles, groups of organized treasure hunters...

Special to The Seattle Times

Wild Mushroom Show

Details

The 44th annual Wild Mushroom Show, presented by the Puget Sound Mycological Society. University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41st St., Seattle. Noon-7 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $7 adults, $5 seniors and students, under 12 free

Special guest: Taylor Lockwood, author of "Chasing the Rain: My Treasure Hunt for the World's Most Beautiful Mushrooms."

Contact information: 206-522-6031 or www.psms.org

More information

• Bring mushroom specimens from your yard for identification.

• Get there early (doors open at noon Saturday, 10 on Sunday).

• Take a tray tour. Kids will enjoy the mushroom scavenger hunt.

• Attend a cooking demonstration and stick around for the payoff tasting.

• Check out Taylor Lockwood's all-ages artful mushroom slide show (repeated throughout the weekend).

• Visit the arts-and-crafts area for mushroom-growing kits, golden chanterelle earrings and mushroom-dyed pieces.

• Bring a picnic lunch and eat on the CUH grounds or plan to eat before or after the show.

Clinic and classes

Mushroom ID Clinic held in conjunction with Master Gardeners' Plant ID Clinic, 4-7 p.m., every Monday until the first freeze. UW Center for Urban Horticulture. Bring mushrooms for identification by experts.

Other Puget Sound Mycological Society offerings, 206-522-6031: Mushroom classes and field trips (open to families)

Get ski and boarding conditions all winter long with webcams, snow alerts and more at seattletimes.com/snowsports

It's been raining, and they're glad.

Friday, armed with GPS units and trowels, woven baskets and whistles, groups of organized treasure hunters will scour the earth within a 150-mile radius of Seattle.

Eyes peeled and noses alert, the Puget Sound Mycological Society members will be on an urgent mission to collect samples by day's end of the more than 300 varieties of mushrooms found in Washington. Their finds will be divided by genus and transformed overnight into forest-evoking displays at the region's most elaborate fungi festival: The Wild Mushroom Show.

"As the mushrooms start to come in, it gets pretty hectic. Identifiers race around all night sorting them," said Marian Maxwell, tray-arranging chairwoman for the society for the past 25 years. As overseer of 120 trays of mushrooms displayed according to their preferences in the wild, she said one of her favorite groups, from a visual standpoint, is the toxic fly amanitas.

These attractive, red-capped "toadstools" of Alice and Wonderland fame are geotropic, meaning they turn their caps toward the ground to improve their spores' chances of success. "If it's laid flat, the cap will tip by the time it gets to us," she explained, noting that collectors take elaborate pains to baby the show specimens, packing the amanitas upright in padded containers.

The display tables are a focal point of the show, and a fitting place to begin your visit. Experts lead hourly "tray tours" to give an overview of the mushrooms, explaining how they grow and are collected, and pointing out defining characteristics.

Hildegard Hendrickson, a former business professor and veteran collector, enjoys introducing people to the fungi with un-mushroom-like appearances: the sulfur shelf with its golden ruffles, the aptly named otherworldly purple fairy clubs and red corals that look as if plucked from the sea. A volunteer identifier for the society, her phone rings frequently in the boom time of fall, when rain-dependent mushrooms begin to spring up en masse across the Northwest.

Made up of 90 percent water, mushrooms are the fruits of fibrous bodies called mycelia, which zigzag beneath our feet in vast underground networks. You may have encountered their white, hairlike tendrils under decaying logs. Certain types of mycelia and certain trees have developed relationships that help mushroom hunters with identification — specific mushrooms "bloom" under their corresponding trees.

With a penchant for matsutakes ("I sauté them with butter and Walla Walla onions, spread them on toast and I'm in heaven"), Hendrickson benefits from these mychorizzal relationships by keeping logs of her most successful mushrooming spots.

If the conditions are right, the choice edibles (up to two dozen varieties in our region) pop up under the same trees each year. Some entrepreneurs are profiting from this fact by inoculating sapling trees with the corresponding mycelia. An Oregon company sells whole orchards of "truffle trees" to people around the world. But truffle-lovers beware — the payoff is slow. It takes 15 to 20 years for the first mushrooms to appear.

As a mushroom-class teacher, Hendrickson can't emphasize enough the importance of identification before ingestion.

"There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters," she says wryly. This maxim sums up the central tenet of mushroom hunting: Don't eat any mushroom unless you are absolutely certain of its identity. This is one reason why the mushroom show's identification table is so popular. Here experts pore over specimens brought in by visitors, pointing out the sometimes complex characteristics that lead to a positive ID.

Kids are drawn to the "Feel and Smell" area, where they can sniff mushrooms reminiscent of grape soda, licorice, coconuts and maraschino cherries, while coral and brain mushrooms are squealed over for their beguiling textures. Another hot spot is the black-light room, where you can witness the glowing shapes of certain UV-sensitive mushrooms. Interested visitors can use microscopes to reveal the miniature mysteries of mushroom spores-fungi reproductive cells.

"People are taken with the show because of the diversity of how mushrooms look, taste and are used," said Patrice Benson, mycological society president. She will head to the Eastern Cascades Friday (like any good mushroom-hunter, she won't say exactly where) gathering bounty for local chefs like Kathy Casey, who will perform their culinary magic at the show. (Casey cooks Saturday noon-2 p.m.)

Benson hopes to fill her basket with matsutakes (also her favorite, she says they smell like candy red-hots), certain boletes, chanterelles, cauliflower mushrooms (Sparassis), and goat's beard (Hericium).

Insider's tip: Don't miss the tastings at the end of the cooking demonstrations, a great way to explore the diversity of wild mushrooms flavors.

"Many people get into mushroom hunting as a culinary thing because they're so taken by the variety of flavors, so different from store-bought mushrooms," said Maxwell, who is partial to the matsutake as well. "It's also the thrill of the hunt. Finding mushrooms is like finding treasures, and it's not without a considerable amount of effort. You put your time in, but it's rewarding."

Freelance writer Kathryn True of Vashon Island is a regular contributor to Northwest Weekend.

Contact her through her Web site: www. kathryntrue.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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