Don’t be scared if, on a recent hike, you come across fleece and wool cap-clad folks armed with knives and hand-woven baskets wandering about seemingly aimlessly and staring at the ground. They’re not hippie zombies, they are mushroom hunters. And wet conditions along the North Coast are bringing them out in droves. While the early-season porcini madness has passed, the blossoming of winter varieties like chanterelles, black trumpets, candy caps, yellow feet and a dozen other incredible edibles has just begun.
Most mushrooms, of course, will kill you. Or if not kill you, make you very sick. Take, for example, the death cap mushroom, which doesn’t look particularly deadly at all and smells a little bit like honey. If you eat it, you will get sick, but then you will get better. And just when you think you’re out of harm's way, all of your organs will systematically begin to fail.
This is why novices should rely on resources like the Sonoma County Mycological Association, which, in addition to being a fountain of information online, offers lectures and monthly field trips from September through May. The three-day camp on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend (January 19-21) in Occidental is a great introduction to the magical world of mycology.
The other warning that we would offer is that mushroom foraging is a highly addictive activity and should not be entered into lightly. The best way to begin your journey (and one you can do without actually leaving your house) is to purchase Mushrooms Demystified, which is widely agreed to be the most comprehensive field guide and is packed with photos.