The strip of Mendocino County’s rugged Pacific edge, the North Coast, is the heartland of the Redwood Coast, home to a vast array of some of the world’s most delicious edible wild mushroom species. The exact season for wild mushrooms varies according to weather and species, but in general, the season begins late October and runs through early March.
Whenever I can, I like to go to the Mendocino coast for a getaway, especially during mushroom season. The coast is dotted with inns and bed and breakfast establishments, quirky and fine dining restaurants, small towns, and boutique shops of all kinds. The coast is sparsely populated, and the sense of space and freedom driving along the coastal plain, rising high above the Pacific, then dipping down to run alongside the surf, is exhilarating.
On a recent trip to the coast, I stayed at the Inn at Newport Beach. Built on the coastal plain just north of Fort Bragg, the inn has sweeping, unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean, miles of hiking trails, a world-class chef, and 2,500 acres of land, much of it forest, where you can go mushroom hunting. You can bring your finds back to the chef to cook for you. You can go mushroom hunting on your own (recommended only for the very experienced) or with a driver/guide.
Available to all guests of the Inn is the service of a guide who will take up to two people at a time in a state-of-the-art ATV for a two-and-a-half-hour tour to explore over a thousand acres of the ranch, and if desired, to hunt and gather mushrooms.
As you skirt the cliffs and gullies along the ocean, your guide will point out coves populated by sea lions, ruins of Newport’s pier and loading docks, the sites where a community of more than 2,000 people once lived, went to school, shopped, and worked. The site is also where native Americans gathered and traded the sea’s bounty with inland tribes.
Leaving the coastline behind, your guide will take you hundreds of feet above sea level, deep into the redwood and conifer forest, dipping into canyons, crossing streams, all the while identifying flora and fauna. When debarking at likely mushroom grounds for the hunt, basket and knives are provided, or you can bring your own.
I brought my own basket, and my own mushroom knife, which has a sharp, sheathed blade and a stiff brush on one end for cleaning the mushrooms, and I got them out of the back of the ATV when we stopped at a damp, fern-covered glen in the forest. Our guide pointed us up a narrow trail, and sure enough, there was a wide swath of glistening, purple-hued mushrooms — the highly desirable and tasty Blewits. My companion and I picked a goodly amount, cutting the stems about ½ inch above the ground, but leaving some behind.
The trek continued, stopping at the sight of various mushrooms, all fascinating, but sadly, from my point of view, not edible. Finally, our guide took us to a site where the inn cultivates mushrooms, primarily different types of oyster mushrooms. We were given an 18-inch-long log with holes drilled in it, and little pellets of mycelium. A mallet was passed between us, to pound the pellets into the holes, thus inoculating the log. “Water it every week or so, keep it cool, and then around October, watch for the mushrooms. Or, if you want, soak it for a few days to force a flush,” our guide instructed. My log is now secure in a cool shady place where I keep it well watered.
On returning to the Inn with our Blewits, we delivered them to the kitchen, where Chef Adam Stacy told us he would prepare something for us at happy hour, and also turn them into an omelet for us at breakfast. That night, with a glass of the complimentary wine, we were served sautéed mushrooms and grilled sourdough toasts. Sure enough, next morning’s omelet, delivered to our room, was replete with more of our tasty Blewits.
A stay at the Inn at Newport Ranch is truly a getaway from the hubbub of daily life, in the beautifully decorated and appointed rooms and lodge, the meals prepared by Chef Adam, formerly of the Michelin-starred Per Se in New York, Saison in San Francisco, and Harbor House Inn in Elk.
The food is local, some of it, like the foraged mushrooms and nettles and many of the vegetables from the Inn’s two gardens, plus local fish and shellfish. It’s worth a stay for the meals alone, but with the added attraction of mushroom hunting in a pristine forest, high above the pounding waves of the ever-present Pacific, the getaway becomes an adventure as well.
To double down on mushroom hunting and gathering, book a couple of hours with Alison Gardner and Merry Winslow, local mushroom experts and co-authors of “The Wild Mushroom Cookbook.” I’ve been out with them several times and it’s a little like taking an advanced class in mycology. Not only will they guide you through the forest in your hunt, but they will help you understand the unique ecology of the fungi and their fellow forest inhabitants. Your experience with Alison and Merry will leave you intellectually richer, and gastronomically prepared.
Should you decide on a North Coast getaway and mushroom adventure at the Inn at Newport Ranch and/or an excursion with Alison and Merry, call ahead to check on mushroom availability, and special rates and packages, as things change according to the season.
Chef Adam Stacy of the Inn at Newport Ranch generously offered the recipes below. If you would like to convert the grams to ounces, he suggested this website: www.thespruceeats.com/metric-conversion-charts-3054058
Newport Mushroom Duxelles
At Newport Ranch, we are lucky to have a vast collection of wild mushrooms growing on the property. After a rainy evening, we will wake up early the next morning to see what has grown overnight. Below is a recipe for the preparation of our mushrooms. We often serve it to our guests on our house-made sourdough along with our cultured cream and parsley from the garden.
50 grams cleaned Chanterelles mushroom
50 grams cleaned oyster mushroom
50 grams cleaned Maitake mushroom
50 grams cleaned Blewit mushroom
10 grams minced garlic
15 grams Cognac
15 grams Chardonnay
15 grams Shiro Shoyu
15 grams tamari
20 grams clarified butter
Lemon, sea salt and black pepper to taste
Melt the clarified butter in a large cast-iron pan. Add mushrooms to the pan stirring gently but frequently to remove moisture.
Once the mushrooms begin to caramelize, add the garlic. Once the garlic is aromatic, deglaze the pan with the Chardonnay and Cognac.
Remove the mushrooms from the pan to a sheet tray with a paper towel to absorb excess fat.
Finely mince the mushrooms and combine them in a bowl with the shiro shoyu and tamari.
Season to taste with black pepper, sea salt, and lemon.
Candy Cap Mushroom Ice Cream
One of our desserts is a sticky toffee pudding served with spruce oil and a candy cap mushroom-infused ice cream. We gather the candy caps from the property, then clean and dehydrate them slowly over wood coals. This allows a clean candy cap flavor along with a bit of smoke.
50 grams Candy Cap mushrooms, dehydrated
600 grams heavy cream
250 grams whole milk
1 vanilla pod
5 grams sea salt
6 egg yolks
175 grams raw sugar
Soak the dried candy cap mushroom in the heavy cream overnight.
Combine the milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a saucepot and warm to room temperature.
Whisk egg yolks in a double boiler until the sabayon is developed.
Slowly incorporate the milk and other components to the egg yolks and let cool.
Once the egg and milk mixture is at room temperature, combine with the strained heavy cream.
Allow the ice cream base to sit overnight in a refrigerator, and spin in the ice cream machine the next day.
“Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast, A Comprehensive Guide to the Fungi of Coastal Northern California,” Noah Siegel and Christian Schwarz, Ten Speed Press, 2016
“The Wild Mushroom Cookbook, Recipes from Mendocino,” Alison Gardner and Merry Winslow, Barefoot Naturalist Press, 2014.
For more about The Inn at Newport Ranch, visit www.theinnatnewportranch.com or call 707-962-4818.
Contact Alison Gardener and Merry Winslow at Info@wildmushroomcookbook.com.
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Georgeanne Brennan is an award-winning food journalist who lives in Winters, Calif., and the south of France. She frequently contributes to the Napa Valley Register. Read more about her on her website, georgeannebrennan.com.