CHANTERELLE MUSHROOM HUNTING
Longtime chef and local restaurateur and all around Oregon adventurer, Leather Storrs, figures it’s simple: if you want to harvest wild mushrooms, learn their habitat.
In the Tillamook State Forest – where sun and shadow dance through the towering Doug fir trees while Storrs’ well-trained eyes are fixed down close to the ground where there’s a culinary reward.
“Ohhh, there we are – chanty number one – it’s always good to get off the dime early,” exclaimed Storrs with a hearty laugh.
Chanterelles have a golden-orange hue and their chalice shape make them hard to spot – but their allure is a woodsy flavor that’s hard to resist.
Since 1999, the gorgeous fungi have been Oregon’s official State Mushroom.
“As soon as you see the first one,” noted Storrs. “There is this chanterella-vision that allows you to see that unique sort of peachy-orange color, but with the weather change and the alder leaves turning yellow on the ground it’s getting trickier.”
Chanterelles are not the only mushrooms in the forest. Storrs, an experienced mushroom hunter said that there are dozens of other mushrooms that grow here and most are none too friendly to people and many are downright dangerous.
“When you’re doing it without knowledge and confirmation, there’s no reason to take any chances. I learned in culinary school an old saying:‘There are old mycologists and there are bold mycologists, but there are no old, bold mycologists.’
Leather Storrs may not be an old, bold mycologist, but he is one of Portland’s finest chefs.
His restaurant, the “Noble Rot,” set in NE Portland, is where Storrs has mastered the art of cooking a wild chanterelle recipe that can be with many other foods.
He cleaned an approximately one pound of chanterelles – (he never washes them in water but prefers to clean them off with a soft rag or brush) and he also prefers smaller, button-sized mushrooms.
Storrs then proceeded to slice them lengthwise, (he likes to preserve their overall shape and size as much as possible.)
Approximately one pound of the wild chanterelles hit an oiled (olive oil) pan with a “bounce, sizzle and snap.”
“Chanterelles are one of those things the really depend upon a hot pan,” added Storrs.”
While the mushrooms cooked, Storrs finely diced one large shallot.
When the mushrooms were nearly done, in went the shallots and two chunks of butter. And more:
“I’ve some big beautiful parsley here that I will chop and add near the end of the cooking time – along with a small amount of lemon juice.”
Meanwhile, from out of the oven Storrs pulled a cracked egg that was nestled inside a rich, grainy bread – It was warm and toasty and called ‘Egg in a Hole.’ Soon, he smothered the dish in the richly cooked chanterelles.
“That’s one way to treat a chanterelle ragout,” noted Storrs. “Not only is this a dish of the place and seasonal, it’s also virtually free.
Storrs is a big believer that the meals that you contribute to are the most rewarding – that is, the ones connecting you and tie you to the source of your food. There’s something exciting and magical that comes about when you find it and prepare it and when you share it with friends and family – I don’t think it can get much better.”
The Oregon Department of Forestry allows you to harvest up to one gallon of wild mushrooms on state forestlands, but any more than that, you are considered a commercial picker and must buy the $100 permit at any state forestry office.
Storrs stressed critical safety points if you choose to head into the forest at this time of year – First, pick only mushrooms that you know are safe. If you don’t know go with someone who is experienced and does know or take a mushroom ID class. (He suggested the Cascade Mycological Society.)
Storrs also suggested that mushroom hunters who are in unfamiliar territory stay close to the road and never out of earshot of the road traffic.
OREGON BIRDING TRAIL
There’s a new way to explore Oregon and this one is really for the birds!
But it’s designed for people – especially folks who like to explore new destinations where half the fun is in the getting there.
The first “Willamette Valley Birding Trail” is a new partnership between varied birding groups and Travel Oregon.
It offers people a chance to explore 130 legitimate birding sites in a region that is home to 70 percent of the state’s population.
Joel Geier and I recently met at W Finley Refuge where he told me that variety is the spice of his birding life along the new Willamette Birding Trail.
“They’re such fascinating creatures; they’re feathered and for me, they have a little more variety than mammals.”
Geier knows his birding game well! After all, he’s a longtime member of the Oregon Field Ornithologists. His organization along with several others including Travel Oregon joined to identify 130 birding trails in the Willamette Valley.
“We’ve set it up as 12 different loops in the valley so that if you live in one of the communities in the valley, you can go out on a weekend and visit a loop that includes 10 or 12 different sites.”
It’s easy to locate a trail online. A click of your mouse takes you inside one of the dozen different loops where you’ll find directions to the sites plus photos of the species that you’ll see along the way.
“On each of those loops,” noted Geier, “There will be sites that you never thought about visiting before and you’ll be surprised that they are pretty special places.”
Sallie Gentry and Molly Monroe agree that the new Homer Campbell Memorial Boardwalk at William Finley Wildlife Refuge near Corvallis is one of those special places where you can go birding.
“The boardwalk is on pretty level, even terrain and there are two benches along that they can rest if they get tired,” said Gentry.
It’s an astonishing trail that is wheelchair accessible along 1700 feet of elevated boardwalk that leads to an observation blind that overlooks a small pond that attracts many different birds.
“It is a magnet for wildlife,” noted Monroe. “We’ll have thousands upon thousands of ducks and geese and swans here within the next few months.”
Gentry added, “We’re kind of a little known secret right now, but I think we’re going to become more well known because there are such excellent wildlife viewing opportunities here and you can get relatively close without disturbing the wildlife.”
Not only wintering waterfowl, but also raptor species like bald eagles make the Finley Refuge their winter homes.
“It’s one of the easiest birds for most people to identify so it’s fun for them.
Often, you just look out on a tree line of snags and say, ‘Oh, there’s an eagle perched right there.’ Eagles are good because they’re well known by most people and they’re recovery from near extinction is such a success story.”
If you’re eager to learn more about birding, but you’re not sure how to get started, Gentry said that there is good news for the casual first time visitor this Fall season.
“Many people come here and don’t realize the wealth of birds that they may find on the refuge and so lack some basic tools. We’ve developed “family kits” that include everything one would need here.
Check out binoculars or a field guide, take it with them out on the hike or drive the auto-route and just bring them back at the end of the day. It’s really a great deal!
All agree that wildlife viewing along the new Willamette Birding Trail is just the ticket to see Oregon from a different point of view.
“Oh, I think it’s a huge deal,” exclaimed Monroe. “Birding is a growing pastime – and it is one that brings a lot of enjoyment to a large variety of people of all ages.”
SAUVIE ISLAND SANDHILLS
Each fall, a feathery invasion drops in to Oregon’s fields and wetlands as a quarter million Canada geese arrive on fixed wings with a rowdy chorus.
On the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, look closely and listen carefully for another bird species that stands head and shoulders above the crowd.
Sandhill cranes are hard to miss and it’s not just their 3-foot height and 6-foot wingspan, noted Asst Wildlife Area Manager, Dan Marvin.
“This is the spot! This is it as far as opportunities to view sandhill cranes goes in the Willamette Valley. The most popular places to look for them on the island are the agricultural fields.”
It’s not only their distinct size, but adult cranes also have a striking red color across their faces.
“Adults have a bright red crown – a bright red forehead really - and the chicks don’t have that. In fact, the chicks look a lot paler in the face.”
There’s an even more distinct feature according to Gary Ivey – Oregon’s sandhill crane expert. He said that the sandhill sounds are unlike anything you’ve ever heard:
“Well, it’s kind of a loud trumpet that has kind of a trill to it. You can hear it from a long way off and the flocks use it as a contact call. Often, when they are migrating you will hear that call – even when they’re almost invisible so high up. Once you hear the sound you never forget it.”
The big birds fly to Sauvie Island from as far away as SE Alaska and British Columbia and they spend the winter lounging across the refuge grounds.
The peak of their arrival is mid-October when up to 4,000 birds show up on Sauvie Island. Most continue flying further south, but approximately a quarter of theme stay here all winter long
The best time to see them is during the early morning or late afternoon when birds are actively feeding in harvested grain fields.
Be sure to bring good optics too – either binoculars or a spotting scope – each will make a big difference enjoying the view to the birds.
The “view” to all Oregon wildlife has recently improved according to Rick Hargrave – a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
He said that a recent survey showed nearly two million people spend more than a billion dollars each year to travel and watch Oregon wildlife.
“We knew right then that we needed to get something out there that will make viewing a little easier for folks to enjoy and also highlight the wildlife that the department oversees and manages.”
The new interactive Oregon Wildlife Viewing Map will help you see more of Oregon’s fish and wildlife species. It is a Google-based map that details 235 great places to see wildlife in the state.
It will help you discover where to see bald eagles or sage grouse or migrating snow geese. It will point you to good sites to view Oregon’s largest mammals including migrating gray whales or high desert antelope or Rocky Mountain Elk.
Hargrave said the map’s sites reach into each corner of the state.
“The state agency manages fish and wildlife for the people of Oregon and we want people to understand the connections between wildlife viewing, conservation and the habitat. Without an emphasis on all of those, you’re not going to see the variety of wildlife that we have in this great state.”
You’ve plenty of time to enjoy the sandhill show and hear their haunting calls. Sauvie Island Wildlife Area is their winter home through winter and the colorful birds will return north to their breeding and nesting grounds in April.
CASTING FOR SILVER
Mark Anderson says the time is right to catch a salmon and he loves to cast lures from shore – especially the lures that he’s designed.
His Dad taught him much of what he practices today. It’s a technique called “jig fishing” that relies upon a weighted feathered jig that is fished below a floating bobber… and it works!
“When you can put it all together and your bobber slips under,” noted Anderson. “Then you come back and feel the weight of a heavy fish on there – that’s alright. It’s a great feeling.”
I recently caught up with Anderson along the Wilson River in the Tillamook State Forest where he told me that twenty years ago, he bought his first jig off a store rack.
Now, he makes the jigs and they are some of the finest around and in huge demand.
What do they look like to the fish?
Anderson said – try squid!
“When you see a squid moving in the water, it pulses,” noted Anderson. “That’s really how this looks. It pulses like a squid. Fish react to it like it’s something really tasty and they eat it.”
Anderson added that crafting the colorful jigs is an “addictive passion” and his love for the craft evolved by simply making them for friends.
“I’d give buddies 3 or 4 jigs and say, ‘Here, try these out.’ They’d come back and say, ‘Boy that one worked out, but this one here with this color, this tail or flange color, that really seems to out produce the others.’ That feedback has really made the difference.”
Now, after ten years at the helm of “First Bite Jigs,” Anderson said that he has more “friends” than ever --- across England, Switzerland, New Zealand and Chile – anglers who keep coming back for more.
He boasts that the jig making parts – from hooks to feathers and beads --- all come from Oregon. He even made a “how to” video on an Oregon stream:
“It’s called “The Art of the Jig,” he noted. “Probably the biggest project I’ve ever done: spotting a fish, casting to it and hooking it and showing people how it’s all tied together.”
“First Bite” has hooked thousands of anglers to a new technique for catching salmon and steelhead, but Anderson said a successful business is not enough for him.
He believes that he and the angling community can do more by giving back.
“Mainly it’s just the everyday trash that people leave behind.Tires, diapers, household plastics…everyday garbage that litters our rivers.”
Anderson leads by example and teaches an ethic of responsibility caring for Oregon’s outdoors. In fact, he has spearheaded an Oregon Adopt-a-River campaign the past 16 years and encourages anglers to clean the rivers they like to fish.
That often means getting his hands dirty too.
”Trash isn’t going away,” he acknowledged. “There’s a certain number of people that just don’t care… but my approach is a win-win because the trash is picked up, the landowner is happy and fishermen can walk down and fish the property. So, I pick up the trash so others can recreate because I love the outdoors.”
Mark Anderson believes most anglers love the outdoors too or they wouldn’t be out there. He also thinks anglers could do more to bring their sport full circle and he’s pleased that he can help point the way.
“Especially at this time of year,” he added. “We get those cool nights, the first rains that bring in those fresh fish. The cycle continues and it is my favorite time of year.”
HOOD RIVER HARVEST
It’s harvest time in Oregon’s Hood River Valley and you don‘t want to be late for the Mt Hood Railroad “Harvest Express.”
The train rolls in to the Hood River city depot at 10am sharp each Friday and Saturday to take on passengers for the valley run.
According to Ron Kaufman, the Hood River Railroad’s General Manager, the ride gives a glimpse into Hood River history and dates back more than a century:
“The rail service is how people got to this town back in 1906 and we’ve been in continual operation ever since. We haul freight year round and we take passenger excursions too. It’s a blast to feel the jostle of the rail cars as you travel a line that’s pretty much the way it was back then.”
Local resident, Roman Fey, is the Mt Hood Railroad conductor who noted that passengers love to step aboard and touch the past:
“There’s something really old fashioned about this that folks can’t find anywhere else. So, I feel pretty lucky to do this and it’s great to do it in my hometown.”
The train rolls out and immediately offers spectacular views to the river and valley that you cannot see from the paved highway – and Kaufman added, there’s a bonus to the pace of the ride:
“It’s a bit slower and that takes folks back to kind of a bygone era when life wasn’t quite so fast. I tell folks to just look out the window and enjoy the scenery and unique views.
Soon the views include scores of family owned farms and orchards where the fruit trees are heavy with the fall bounty.
Kiyokawa Family Orchards near Parkdale, entices shoppers with many apple favorites grown on their fertile land. Popular apples like ‘Gala’ and ‘Fuji’ are available alongside lesser known varieties like ‘Ginger Gold.’
Randy Kiyokawa said they offer more than 80 varieties including the dinner plate sized giants called “Hanner’s Jumbo;” it’s an apple variety that can weigh up to 4 pounds.
He also held up a stunner of an apple with an incredible surprise called “Mountain Rose.” With a quick flick of his pocket knife blade, Randy showed off the gorgeous inside of an apple that looked more like a crimson red watermelon.
“This has become one of my favorites,” noted the longtime apple farmer. “It maintains this brilliant color and it doesn’t brown quickly – people love its sweet taste and it really is absolutely delicious.”
Be sure to check out the many U-Pick rows of fruit trees too. More than three acres of apples and pears are grown adjacent to the family store and Randy said picking the fruit is so easy anyone can try
“The fruit is within easy reach and no ladders are required. It’s really a lot of fun whether you’re a youngster or an oldster, there will be an apple there for you to pick.”
Ingi Song brought his family to the valley from Beaverton and they were having a blast loading up boxes of beautiful apples. He said the activity was perfect daylong getaway for his family: “It’s away from the city and gets us out to do something different together. The scenery is gorgeous up here in the Hood River Valley too.”
You’ll love hearing the Mt Hood Railroad call you back so to ramble along the Hood River Valley. It’s a chance to leave the driving to someone else on a scenic ride that’ll leave you wide-eyed and slack-jawed for Oregon’s abundant beauty.