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For some people, finding a basketball-sized fungus resembling a yellow brain would make a walk in the woods turn into a nightmare. For hiker and semi-amateur mycologist Linda Quiring, the recent discovery of Sparassis radicata was reason to celebrate.
Quiring is a devoted member of Salt Spring’s Trail and Nature Club and has been hiking on the island for 30 years. Her late October find was only the second Western cauliflower mushroom she’s seen in that time.
“We’re in the woods constantly, so this is quite rare,” Quiring said.
According to the website mushroomexpert.com, the Western cauliflower mushroom is typically found under conifers, especially pines and Douglas firs.
“The physical appearance of Sparassis radicata is pretty much unmistakable and it is one of only a few mushrooms that can be successfully identified with comparison photos,” the write-up states.
At 18 inches long by 12 in ches high, the mushroom was not only unmistakable but too big for the Quirings to eat, although Linda’s husband Bill fried up a small section when they got home.
The rest was donated to Bruce’s Kitchen, a restaurant devoted to serving local fare and one that Quiring’s been known to gift with over-sized produce in the past, including a cabbage as big as “a torso.”
“We kind of love Bruce’s Kitchen and we love Bruce. I think he’s a real resource on Salt Spring,” Quiring explained of her decision.
“I really like his philosophy — you know the big truck isn’t coming with asparagus from Argentina.”
Bruce Wood, a chef and restaurant owner, reported he was “overwhelmed” by the gift.
“I thought it was quite wonderful and I was very flattered they brought it to us,” Wood said.
He described the mushroom as having an earthy, fragrant and lovely taste.
Although its many folds take a lot of cleaning, Wood said “the fact that Linda thought of us is wonderful, and we’re going to treat it with as much respect as we can.”
Plans for the fungus are still in development, but Woods will most likely feature it during his upcoming communal dinner on Friday night, perhaps in a barley risotto. He said barley has the advantage of being a Canadian grain that also makes a good accompaniment to local meats as well as the earthy wild mushroom.
Mushroom enthusiasts hoping to enliven their own meals with discoveries from the wild will likely have more luck in the coming weeks — Quiring said so far there hasn’t been enough rain to produce a good crop.
She also warned amateurs to get educated on their sport, as several poisonous varieties exist locally.
A former member of one of the world’s largest mycology organizations in California, Quiring has participated in a half-dozen walks with experts and typically cross references discoveries between several books.
She’s even been known to take spore samples before making a positive identification and eating a tiny sample of her finds.
Alex Olchowecki, a qualified mycologist living on Salt Spring, agreed that becoming educated is a good idea for mushroom newbies. He recommends the South Vancouver Island Mycologist Society, a group he belongs to that leads a major foray every fall.
Olchowecki said that people who have grown up hunting mushrooms generally “know the good ones,” but that information can change depending on location and culture.
One tip for this area and time of year is to avoid any pure white mushrooms, especially those with white spores.
As for the giant cauliflower mushrooms, Olchowecki said two were found during his group’s recent outing near Lake Cowichan.
“They’re considered quite a prize, but they’re not rare.”