Peggy Hansen: Why I Forage

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It’s the time of year when highly-informed lovers of forest fungi forage for their favorites, and Peggy Hansen is one of them.

They're secretive and fussy. They hide themselves annoyingly and cleverly, under sheets or mounds of leaves, perfect dark, damp cover to hide them as they grow. They don't like just any kind of forest, or any kind of tree, or even any kind of soil. More often than not, they keep close company with poison oak, far too close for my particular comfort. They're dirty, full of frills and folds, packed with debris and soil, and sometimes bugs. And mistakes can be deadly: this game is not for the untrained. So, it's completely fair to wonder, why do I hunt for mushrooms?

These days, wild mushrooms can be found at many markets, cleaned and trimmed and without risk of getting 'oaked' when reaching out to harvest them. They're pricey, to be sure, but maybe not outrageous for a special treat with a short seasonal window. And when you figure in the time I spend foraging, and the average yield per outing, in truth they might be cheaper than ones I wildcraft.

So now you're thinking its just nuts to try to find them on my own, risking poison oak, or even poisoning--why not just buy them? The answer is all those things, all the mysteries that make them impossible to predict and difficult to find. It's the chance to find and follow deer trails, to visit and revisit secret spots year after year and see what may be waiting. It's the challenge and the lure of reforging a connection to our heritage, of retraining the senses to interpret so much more, and much more differently, than most of modern life allows. And, of course, it's the omelettes, or pasta dishes, or simple slices sauteed in melted butter. It's wilderness itself, and it tastes like nothing else.

With a Perspective, I'm Peggy Hansen.


Peggy Hansen is a photographer and organic farmer in Santa Cruz.