Every year in October, the Northwest Mushroomers Association (NMA) hosts a Wild Mushroom Show at Bloedel Donovan Park. It is a unique event and a remarkable demonstration of the diversity of nature.
Members of the NMA gather fresh examples of as many varieties as possible of mushrooms that grow wild in our area. Tucked in with moss to help keep them moist, hundreds of mushrooms are displayed in trays. Labels identify the Latin names, common names (if any), and icons indicating edible or poisonous varieties.
Mushrooms are grouped according to how they distribute their spores (gills or tubes) and according to the color of the spores. Both of these traits are important considerations in identifying and classifying mushrooms.
This year there was a special three-dimensional, naturalized display of mushrooms at the entrance showing mushrooms as they might appear in the wild - attached to trees, under leaves, and so on. It was colorful and lovely and I spent some time circling the table taking samples with my camera.
Later, in the center of the room I found a popular exhibit of the most easily and safely identified edible mushrooms. Samples here ranged from the familiar "boletus" and "chanterelles" to the exotic "shaggy mane" and the fabulous "Matsutaki."
In ancient Japan, member Jack Waytz explained, you could lose your head if you found a Matsutaki and didn't turn it over immediately to the emperor! They're supposedly that flavorful. I can't wait to try some. And to think they grow wild here!
Viewing the incredible range of sizes, delicate colors and strange shapes of mushrooms is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. However, NMA members do a lot more to enhance your experience and help visitors learn more about fungi.
For example, perhaps you've found mushrooms growing in your yard and wondered what they are and whether or not they are edible. The show always includes an identification table where you can bring mushroom samples and have them examined by members who are mycological experts.
Always hands on, I visited the "touch and smell" table. It included a selection of commonly found mushrooms with distinctive textures and scents. I learned that the "prince," a large edible mushroom, has a nutty almond-like smell.
"Microscopy" was a table I hadn't seen before. Member Christine Roberts helped me view the developing spores and spore tubes of a tiny "orange peel" mushroom. She and other members were helping people sample, stain and make slides of mushroom samples they brought to the show.
Cascadia Mushrooms (Bellingham) was on hand with expert advice on how to cultivate edible mushrooms yourself. They also had kits for sale for growing mushrooms at home.
Other tables included cooked mushrooms to sample, books and T-shirts to purchase, and NMA membership information. I also particularly enjoyed a display of handmade paper made with mushrooms. The colors and textures were fascinating and lovely.
This year the NMA had a contest to select the artwork used on the poster advertising the show. Prints of all the artwork submitted were hung for viewing, and there were also special mushroom craft activities for kids.
Besides the exhibits, the Wild Mushroom Show offered live scheduled presentations. Subjects included something for everyone, such as "Choice Edibles and Inedible Look-alikes" by Dick Morrison and "Natural History of Psychedelic Mushrooms" by Pete Trenham.
There was standing room only at the "Cooking With Mushrooms" talk by Jack Waytz, and I quickly learned why. Jack's lively speaking style and humorous stories were highly entertaining, and his recipe descriptions had people salivating throughout the room. For example, he so vividly describe a favorite dish made with lobster mushrooms, roasted red peppers, a little hot pepper and some tiger prawns served over rice that a few people actually moaned as they imagined the taste.
Northwest Mushroomers are obviously passionate about the complex and fascinating fungi they enjoy studying, and their interest is infectious. The Wild Mushroom Show requires a monumental amount of effort.
If you haven't ever attended the show, I highly recommend making a note on your calendar to check the NMA website in early October next year for the 2014 show date. Their website is at: www.northwestmushroomers.org/
For more information about the NMA, their forays and classes, or mushrooms in general, see their website or send a note to: Northwest Mushroomers Association (NMA), P.O. Box 28581, Bellingham, WA 98228-0581
BRAISED SHORT RIBS WITH MUSHROOMS
3 pounds beef short ribs with bones (Second Wind Farm, Everson)
1 tablespoon hazelnut oil (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
1 onion, chopped (Hopewell Farm, Everson)
2 carrots, chopped (Hopewell Farm, Everson)
2 stalks celery, chopped (K&M Red River Farm, Ferndale)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, coarsely chopped (Cascadia Mushrooms, Bellingham)
2 cups beef broth (homemade with beef bones from Second Wind Farm, Everson)
2 springs rosemary (home garden, Lummi Island)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
On the stove top, put the hazelnut oil in an oven-proof Dutch oven or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the short ribs and sear for a few minutes on every side until meat is nicely browned. Remove meat from the pan and set aside on a plate.
In the same hot pan, add the onion, carrots and celery. Sprinkle with salt. Sauté for a few minutes until onion is translucent. Add the mushrooms and continue to saute for another 10 minutes or so, until the mushrooms begin to soften.
Add the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn off the heat.
Lay the sprigs of rosemary on top of the vegetables. Add ribs back in on top of all. Cover pan and put into the oven.
Braise in oven for 3 hours. When done, the meat should pull away from the bones easily. Remove bones with a pair of tongs before serving, if desired.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Co-op, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Red Barn Lavender Farm (egg CSA), 3106 Thornton Road, Ferndale; 360-393-7057
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.