The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’m waiting for bay laurel nuts to get large and ripe enough to pick– these have the most unique, fabulous scent of any nut I’ve ever smelled. The flavors have been likened to cacao and coffee, but there’s a forest essence to it, an indescribable terroir of the laurel tree in its scent and taste. I’m planning on making bay laurel nut cacao with laurel leaf marshmallows to have around a campfire for our Winter Revelry on Mt. Tam on December 3rd.
I’ve also been searching out black oak to use their acorns for flour to use in noodles and candy cap cookies. I’m planning a trip to the Sierra for huge pinecones to extract
pine nuts. The results will most likely be a fresh perspective on the high cost of pine nuts in the store. Right now, small green cedar cones are packed into mason jars with turbinado sugar to create candied cones and syrup. Truth be told, I’m writing a wild foods cookbook that’s slated for publication by Sasquatch in spring 2024 and it’s due in January. Writing a cookbook about wild foods means having to be dynamic, as wild foods come and go in short, often unpredictable windows. And some wild foods, like acorns, have mast, or boom years, and in other years, virtually no acorns drop.
I’m obsessed with the acorn woodpecker that pecks holes the perfect size of acorns and stuffs them into oak trees. It’s believed that the woodpeckers do this to eat the acorn in the winter. As I stood under a giant, black oak tree in Hopland, marveling at the thousands of holes in the bark, I wondered why they hadn’t eaten the acorns. Someone told me that are eating the worms that are in the acorns. So they are actually baiting worms to enter the acorns, then they eat them! Yet when I find myself in the forest I'm supposed to be finding nuts, I'm distracted by the tawny caps of porcini that are popping under pine trees, and near oaks, the golden lips of chantarelles are poking out from the damp leaves.
Last week, Flora Jayne and I went to find nuts in West Marin, but then diverted to go find the mushrooms. I can’t help it. Humans can become addicted to just about anything. Love, rage, social media, sugar, booze – you name it. Anything that boosts the serotonin, norepinephrine or dopamine in our brains and delivers us momentary happiness highs, can be addictive. Wild mushroom hunting triggers the same chemicals in our brains as cocaine and anti-depressants! According to an article in The Atlantic by Pagan Kennedy, there are microbes in soil that make us happy “ M. vaccae, a living creature that acts like a mind-altering drug once it enters the human body. It has been shown to boost the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine circulating in the systems of both humans and mice. In other words, it works in much the same manner as antidepressant pills. And yes, it is possible to dose yourself by simply breathing in the smell of good dirt.”
The dopamine hit of gently working a sweet little porcini out of the soil is highly addictive. Right now, mushroom hunters are taking time off from work, traveling hundreds of miles and collecting far more porcini than they can possibly eat, just to give them away or dry them and stash away. They’re addicted. And I am too. With the early rain and current cycles of downpours and sun, Northern California is set to have an epic, possibly historic mushroom year. Communities may have to open clinics when it’s over and the mushroom hunters start crashing. But now is the time to get out there and learn about the wood-wide web through mushrooms.
If you can’t make it to my upcoming mushroom events, find a local mycological society and get out into the woods. For a mushroom deep dive, join us at Camp Earnest the weekend of November 17th – 20th. (Use the code “mariasfriends” to get 20% off.) Along with foraging, there will be workshops on how to inoculate mushroom logs, cooking with wild mushrooms, how to use medicinal mushrooms in tinctures and teas and mushroom growing as part of a closed-loop permaculture farm system.
My December 17th Porcini and Chanterelle Camp at Salt Point only has four spots left. There are six spots left for Sunday, December 18th. More mushroom camps that focus on hedgehogs, black trumpers and yellow feet are scheduled for January, and I’ve got one in the works for a February for culinary and dye mushroom camp, but we are still working out details.
Along with witchy, wild and wonderful foods, at the Winter Revelry on Mt. Tam on December 3rd there will be a mushroom tarot card reader, redwood rituals, candle making, and dancing.
On December 11th, I will be at Vibe Gallery in Petaluma, having a pop-up sale of Wild Food Swag – I’m rolling out illustrated tea towels with how to open oysters and clean crabs illustrated on them, porcini onsies for babies, and artisanal salts, along with prints of the Wildcrafting San Francisco by Sea map that’s on display at the SF Observatory Map Room. I will be doing a culinary mushroom crafting demo and tasting. So please support local shops and artists for your holiday shopping. My products will also be available at Books by the Bay in Sausalito this holiday season.
Also, I’ve got the dates for Lummi Island Wild Foods, and Alaska Wild Food Camp – the first two people have signed up for Wild Food Camp, Alaska; there are only 12 spots total so if you plan on going, register soon. Same for Lummi Island, only 12 spots in the farmhouse. So give the gift of getting a little feral for the holidays.