Porcinis, black trumpets and candy caps, oh my! Mushroom foraging in the Santa Cruz area most likely brings to mind the beautiful fan-shaped yellow chanterelle, but the oak, redwood and mixed pine forests of the area have much, much more to offer in the way of fungus among us.

Chef Zachary Mazi of LionFish SupperClub, with 15 years of mushroom foraging experience under his belt, has been leading me on excursions through the damp forests of the area this fall and winter. These trips have become an exciting and productive pastime, and I recently made my first solo discovery of candy caps. Nothing can compare to the flush of excitement upon that first prized mushroom discovery – it feels like striking gold – edible, delicious, buttery gold.

For those interested in learning about mushroom foraging, the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz is a wealth of resources in all things fungi. Newcomers to foraging should join FFSC, go on organized forays, spend time with experts doing identification at events, take classes such as those offered at FFSC, and use a good field guide such as Mushrooms Demystified by local mycologist and founder of FFSC David Arora.

Leave the identification up to the experts, as most edible mushrooms have toxic “look-alikes,” some even deadly. Wild mushrooms are no joke!

Before you go, read ‘The Mycophagist’s Ten Commandments’ on the FFSC’s website to learn about responsible foraging.


This guide was originally published on Feb 1, 2016

  • Black Trumpet

    Craterellus cornucopioides

    A chef favorite, the unassuming black trumpet has a slightly smoky, nutty flavor and truffle-like aroma. It is shaped like a thin, hollow funnel expanding at the top, and is, on average, about four inches tall and three inches in diameter. The inner surface, which curls outward at the top, is black to dark grey, while the lower and sometimes slightly wrinkled fertile surface is a lighter grey. Its spore print is white to pinkish yellow. It is particularly hard to find, due to its dark coloring, and can be spotted by searching for black holes in the ground. Butter, garlic and cream are all wonderfully complementary. A little Pecorino Romano wouldn’t hurt!

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  • Blewit

    Clitocybe nuda

    The blewit, a litter-decomposing saprobe, is a medium-sized gilled mushroom with a broadly convex or nearly flat cap that has a rolled-under edge when young. The sticky and smooth surface is a lavender-purple that fades to pale tan as it ages. The gills are purplish when young and are attached to the stem, by a notch in most cases. They have a fairly thick, pale stem in hues of light blue, purple and white, that browns as it ages. Their spore print is pale pink, almost white, and the whitish-lilac flesh does not change color when sliced. The strong flavor with a hint of warm spice would lend well to a steak or stew.

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  • Candy Cap

    Lactarius rubidus

    These medium-gilled mycorrhizal mushrooms are a delight to glimpse growing under tan oaks and coast live oaks in the area. The reddish to orange-brown cap is dry to slightly sticky, with a somewhat bumpy surface. Its shape is convex when young, growing into a shallow vase as it ages. The gills are a pale orange and are attached to the stem, which is smooth and similar in color to the cap. The flesh is a light orange, and does not change color when sliced, unlike the candy cap’s potentially poisonous look-alike Lactarius xanthogalactus, which has white milk that turns yellow when exposed. They’re popular dried and ground for the maple flavor they add to dessert dishes.

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  • Golden Chantarelle

    Cantharellus californicus

    Likely the most widely known mushroom of the area, the famous golden chanterelle is a culinary delicacy. It is a sunny yellow, meaty and funnel-shaped, with a smooth, fluted cap. False gills run down the stem, and are often forked and cross-veined. The flesh is thick and white, and sometimes shows an orange-red bruising with age and handling. Golden chanterelles are mycorrhizal partners with coast live oaks and grow the largest of all chanterelles. They do have a couple of “look-alikes.” The toxic one is the jack o’ lantern, Omphalotus olivascens, which unlike the chanterelle, grows on dead wood and has true, deep gills with a greenish cast and orange flesh.

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  • Porcini

    Boletus edulis

    One of the heftiest, tastiest and most prized mushrooms, porcini is quite an impressive sight to behold. The king bolete (Boletus edulis) has a large brown cap (up to 14 inches) with a tacky surface. The underneath fertile surface is tubed rather than gilled, and white, but yellows with age. The spore print is olive brown, and the flesh is white. Its white to pale brown stem is large and swollen, and has a fine netlike pattern over the upper half. Porcinis form mycorrhizal partnerships in our mixed oak and pine forests and appear after the first fall rains. These delicious treats are subtle in flavor when fresh and gain more texture and flavor when dried and reconstituted. They are great with just about everything.

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