Bobbi Namath had to use both hands to carry in the bounty from her latest foraging mission in the woods of Summit County. As she spread open the corners of her cloth bag, mushrooms of all shapes and sizes tumbled out onto the table.
The centerpiece did not tumble, but sat majestically among the rest — an enormous king bolete mushroom with a smooth, dark brown top more than a foot in diameter and weighing several pounds. It was by far the biggest specimen that Namath has found in her six years of Summit County mushroom hunting. She attributed it to the recent rains, estimating that she’s picked at least 1,000 mushrooms this summer. The season, which usually ends at the beginning of September, has also been extended by the rains. She harvested the giant king bolete just last week.
Namath often goes hunting with her good friend, Evelyn Roisman, who visits from Florida. Namath spends her time between Summit County and Florida, locations which represent her two loves.
“I love the water and the mountains,” Namath said with a smile.
Mushroom hunting isn’t new to Namath. As a child growing up on a farm in the Hungarian countryside, she used to follow her mother out on foraging trips. The mushrooms there were much smaller, she recalled, although she remembers them having a much stronger flavor than those she eats now.
Yes, she eats the mushrooms that she gathers, and no, she isn’t afraid. That’s because she knows what she’s doing. Years ago, an advertisement for a foraging class at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge drew her attention, and there she learned which Colorado mushrooms were safe to gather and eat. She also purchased a book, which she still uses as a reference point. Questions that the book can’t answer are posed to the CMC professor, whom she’s still in touch with. As part of a further safety step, Namath only collects three kinds of mushrooms — the species that she knows for sure aren’t poisonous. If she finds an unknown mushroom, she leaves it. Even with this conservative method, she still has plenty of mushrooms to herself, particularly in a rainy season like this one.
“We’ve been eating these for the past five years, and we’re OK,” said Roisman with a laugh.
After gathering the mushrooms, Namath and Roisman cut them into slices and put them out on the deck to dry in the sun. The process takes a few days, depending on the amount of sunlight available. The next decision is what meal to make. Namath said her favorite dish is mushroom chicken paprikash, a Hungarian recipe. She also uses the mushrooms in soups, sauces, omelets and with roast pork or steak.
As Namath listed the different dishes, Roisman perked up.
“Hey,” she said, gesturing to the pile of mushrooms on the table. “We could do that for tomorrow night.”
Both women said they don’t get tired of eating mushrooms and they certainly aren’t tired of searching for them. Even when they’re on vacation in other parts of the country, such as a bike ride in Massachusetts last year, they’re on the lookout for tasty fungi.
“I feel like I have a nose for them,” Namath said with a laugh, “because wherever I am, I just stand there, looking around, and here it is!”
The best part of hunting mushrooms, she said, is the excitement of discovery, which adds something extra to any hiking trip.
“We have an agenda,” she said. “You’re not just walking, you’re going in with an agenda.”
Roisman agreed, adding that she enjoys taking her time going through the forest.
By now, Namath has her own mushroom hunting grounds, a secret collection of places, the location of which she keeps closely guarded. This precaution is common among mushroom hunters. Namath is also careful to cut all her mushrooms from the stem, leaving the root system behind to spawn more mushrooms next season.
The secrecy is of a friendly sort, and Namath encourages others to get involved in mushroom hunting, which, she said, “is like a dying art.”
Those who are interested should take a class and buy a book with good pictures, at the very least, said Namath and Roisman. They haven’t gotten sick, they said, because they are as careful as possible.
But as long as the conditions are right and the mushroom pickers are certain of their catch, hunting for the edible fungi of Summit County’s woodlands is something that both women, and many like them, look forward to ever year.
Although her latest mushroom haul will last a long time, Namath is already looking ahead to future expeditions. She hefted the giant mushroom again as she said with a grin,
“I can’t wait for the next season.”