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What a fungi. Christopher ``Chris' Bell's whopper of a fungus story could grow on you.
The Burbank man was mushrooming around the Tollgate area with family over Memorial Day weekend when he came upon a gargantuan helvella mushroom.
``It's so big, we could cut steaks out of it,' said his father, former Walla Wallan Charles Bell, who dropped by the U-B on Tuesday.
In his 40-plus years of mushrooming Charles, also of Burbank, has only seen such mushrooms growing maybe as big as a fist. Typical ones are about the size of a large chicken egg.
Charles said this discovery is as big as a person's head. The 5-pound find measures 9 inches wide by 5 inches long by 8 inches deep.
The family hit mushroom paydirt on this camping trip. They usually pick morels and other edible mushrooms to use in winter.
``We give thanks to God and go up in the mountains during holiday weekends. I thought it would be a good time to hunt mushrooms and it was,' Charles said.
``We brought in 20 pounds of morel mushrooms. It was unbelievable, because we usually gather only about 4 to 5 pounds.
Of the helvella variety, they typically locate 10 to 15, but this year they gleaned an estimated 400 to 500 of them.
Through the years, they have hunted mushrooms from Dayton all the way to John Day.
``They're pretty plentiful in the mountains. This year is exceptional for the spring season.
``They lurk in the undergrowth. They're sporadic and love damp areas that get a certain amount of sunshine.'
His family also likes the stringy but tasty cauliflower type, which doesn't usually come on until July.
Once the hoopla subsides, the prize find is headed for the frying pan. Charles's wife, Theresa, has some good recipes. They'll slice it up, then saute the pieces in butter and garlic, he said.
``Helvella is often mistaken for calves brain, but there's no comparison to the taste of helvella, which is infinitely better,' he said.
They normally clean and eat their harvest. But with the superabundance this year they will cut up the bounty, spread it out to dry on the pool table with fans all around, then bag and freeze the pieces for later consumption.
The Bells take their dried mushrooms out a couple of hours before they're needed and reconstitute them to their original size by adding water.
Chris is considering submitting his find to Guinness World Records.
``It was amazing to see. I'm sure it's got to be the biggest. It's a really good year for mushrooms,' Charles said.
In terms of safety, Charles' son, Heath Bell, cautioned that people not pick any mushrooms they're not sure are edible.