The search for the elusive, wily, Puget Sound spot prawn launched (and concluded) Saturday. With just a four-hour season this year, there would be no messing around.
Three kids–Weston, Skyla, and Skyla’s buddy, Ava…
Five adults (that’s Neal putting all his crossfit training to good use)…
Two boats (Smarty, Helene, John and the girls on the hunt)…
One quick selfie in the brief moments before Weston returned to his customary job, napping…
…and 640 spot prawns. Not to mention countless great meals ahead.
Back at the dock, Weston woke up just in time to haul gear. “Going shrimping,” he said, rubbing his eyes and yawing, “is really relaxing.”
Jed showed up to fish one morning and before we hit the road, he handed me a single, perfect matsutake mushroom. I stashed it in my pocket, and from time to time throughout the day, I’d catch whiffs of the unique scent–a mix of pine trees, cinnamon and something earthy and mushroom-y. Someone once described matsutakes as smelling like red hots in a dirty sweat sock, but I don’t get the sweat sock part. They just smell delicious to me. More than once, my mouth watered at the thought of it.
Fast forward to dinner prep. Bruce and Aaron had a stack of enormous moose steaks; Calvin and April ran out to the truck, dug through a cooler, and produced a deer backstrap; Yvon broke out a magnum of Chateau Musar Bruce had given him; Rick was outside burning logs into perfect barbecue coals. I washed some rice, added the hydrating water from dried shiitake mushrooms, a bit of rice vinegar, a pinch of salt. Then, with great anticipation, I cut into that gorgeous matsutake. Inside, something moved. It was alive with small, white maggots. I recoiled. What to do? Figured I should give the crew the option. I showed them the wriggling mushroom slices and said we can either add it to the rice as planned, or toss it out and just go with plain rice. Someone said, “The rice is going to boil, right?” Another said, “Hate to waste a good matsutake.” There was a moment of silence, then the crew voted “Go for it” without objection.
It was delicious. And part of one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in a long time. Great food, great friends, great spirits. And a few maggots just to keep things on the adventurous side.
One of the things I really love about picking chanterelles with the kids is the chance to just walk through the forest chatting about whatever comes up. It’s such a relaxed way to spend time together, without all the intensity that rises when we’re doing other activities, like fishing or team sports.
On the afternoon above, Skyla and I talked about everything from her new teacher at school to potential Halloween costumes. Nothing all that consequential, but nice.
I also really appreciate that picking mushrooms isn’t as gear-intensive as our other pursuits–nothing to prep, no gear to wash off afterward, not even any lunches to make. We just go when we’re ready, walk around as long as we want, and quit when we’re done.
Some would say, “just go hiking or walking in the woods,” but I don’t think I’m there yet. I still need to have some kind of goal, or purpose to our outings, and I think searching for mushrooms provides just enough of it. For both me and the kids. As Tom McGuane once said about fishing, “I have to have a game to play.”
And I haven’t even touched on the eating part: chanterelle pizza, pasta with cream sauce, sauteed chanterelles on polenta…
Or the beauty of walking slowly through the woods this time of year. Or how close to home we can pick chanterelles. Or…
Okay, so that’s more than one thing I love about chanterelles. But you get the point.
Not many yet, at least where we were, but the ones we found were prime. Seems like we’ve had more than enough rain for a true bonanza, but I’m wondering if it’s because the summer was so dry, the soil still needs another good soaking or two.
Or perhaps someone was picking ahead of us and all we saw were the ones they missed?
Hard to say, but few-and-far-between is okay…we just wanted enough for a meal, and a little walking between scores makes it all the more fun. Anyway, we ended up with a couple of pounds for a pretty casual hour’s walk in the woods. Perfect.
Here we are, just a few days before our delicious, sweet Rainier cherries are ripe enough for human consumption…and this happens. I spotted the little furry bandit after he’d cleaned out an entire tree except for one last bunch hanging just out of reach. Every time he reached for it, the branch he was standing on would start bending and threatening to break; the little guy was clearly in a quandary.
Weston came out and we tried scaring the “rat-coon” away by yelling and making threatening gestures. He glanced at us over his shoulder, rolled his eyes in disdain, and continued trying to solve the puzzle of good eats on a branch too thin. I threw some driveway gravel at him, and again, the look of disdain.
Weston brought out the slingshot. He loaded it with a little rock and fired. Miss, low. No reaction from Mr. Furball. Another shot. Miss, high. Still no reaction. Finally, Weston reared back and let fly right in the middle and the rock found furry forehead. THWACK! Ol’ Fuzzy leaped up in surprise and landed farther out on the branch, which promptly swayed downward, cracking. He shot us a dirty look and let go, and as he dropped through the air, he reached out, snagged the last bunch of cherries, and hit the ground on three legs. He paused there, looking right at us, then stuffed the cherries in his mouth and sauntered into the woods. Have a nice day!