If you think the Mushroom Society of Utah will tell you the most fantastic places to foray, just because you asked, think again. But if you think they will teach you and help you identify the myriad mushrooms of the woods while leading groups to likely hunting spots, well, then you have found yourself the savviest and friendliest fungus community around.
Wait … there are mushrooms in Utah? Yes! And lots of them.
Established about 20 years ago, the society is dedicated the study of mycology and the collection of fungus.
For Ardean Watts, the original organizer founder, the pursuit of mushrooms is more than just science or fun. The way Watts described it at the Fall Foray, it was essentially spiritual. And I get that, because fungus are the web of life that lies just below the forest's floor. They're kinda magical, really.
Held in Francis, Utah, the three-day Fall Foray is the society’s largest annual gathering. More than 30 people come together to collect, identify, and study all types of fungi, molds, and lichens.
During the foray, folks are broken up into groups led by volunteers and master identifiers, such as Don Johnston (pictured above). The groups depart for the Uintas or other promising environs to hunt. In the field, Johnston and others answer questions (Johnston was impeccably patient with my barrage of queries) and educate on particular identifiers, like if a ’shroom is poisonous or if the picker has found the occasional edible.
The prized delicious delicacies include varieties such as Boletus edulis, chanterelles, morels, oyster, and more.
While the Mushroom Society of Utah loves to eat what comes from of the earth, they are fervent about the science behind mushrooms.
A team of experts amasses at the City Hall during the Fall Foray to help foragers identify species and genus of their crop. On this occasion, Watts was aided by two other experts, who mainly are there to identify mushrooms if the forager is stumped utilizing his own resources. Most current members are novice, so this is extremely helpful.
Additionally at City Hall, there are cleaning stations and tables upon tables filled with plates of mushrooms, each labeled with the picker’s best guess as to species, the location it was picked, and hopefully some foliage from nearby.
So while the group doesn’t discriminate if you are there to only pick the edibles, the emphasis is on creating a collection, such as the one pictured above. Here, the picker has made sure to grab several of a wide swath of mushrooms, so that he and the society could learn as much as possible.
After time is spent identifying the mushrooms and a few short lectures are given, the society gathers for a family-style dinner, which, of course, include some of what was harvested earlier that day.
As of 2014, you must be a member to participate in club actives. The annual cost of membership is $20 per household, which includes newsletters published several times a year, in addition to the monthly meetings and the Fall Foray.
To stay in the loop of current Mushroom Society of Utah happenings, visit its Facebook page.
Additionally, UtahMushrooms.com is a great resource for things like a recommended list of essential harvesting tools and cooking tips.
Photographer's Note: Mushroom poisoning is a serious issue. Please consult with an expert before consuming wild mushrooms. And if you can't identify it, throw it out.
Photographer and award-winning journalist Austen Diamond specializes in creative portraiture, commercial photography and editorial photojournalism. For booking inquiries and to view his portfolio, go to www.AustenDiamond.com.