|A 'Prince' fit for a meal
I joined Ben and his Beagles, Lucy and Buddy, at the River Road transit parking lot. We were off to foray for the elusive Agaricus Augustus (the Prince), the summer mushroom that grows on the drip line of coastal redwoods.
This is the “cover girl” of the local mushroom bible: “Mushrooms Demystified,” by David Aurora. It is a stark white beauty with chocolate freckles. The Prince sports a beautiful skirt on its heavy stalk.
For the table, this is the one that you might gently push your own mother to the side, once you spot it. It is also such a blazing white that it can be hunted from the truck, but Lucy and Buddy would have none of that. After an hour and a half of riding in the back of the pickup they were ready to get out and stretch their legs and noses.
Ben and the dogs went south. The pups were running, nose to the ground, as they inhaled a world of scent that is lost on us humans. Their tails beat a quick rhythm as they pulled at their leashes; Ben was in for a stiff arm today. I trekked to the north along the upper boundary of Salt Point Park in search of the perfect mushroom.
The Prince is similar to the grocery store mushroom in that it is basically white and has definitive gills under the cap. Once you eat the Prince, the grocery store Agaricus Bisporus becomes the ugly step-sister to the Prince’s Cinderella. The texture is meaty and firm, the cooked flavor is an amplified version of the Portobello. They can also grow to 23 cm across the cap and weigh three pounds and still be in perfect condition.
The A. Augustus cooks up nicely on the grill; add a little butter to the gill side and you are in heaven. I like this mushroom dried as well, the scent in the storage jar is of almond biscotti, and to some noses has a faint anise odor. Rehydrated and added to a wine and butter sauce with a light sauté of minced shallot and you will pick up the deep flavors unique to this choice edible.
It does not carry the overbearing, bold flavors of the European truffle, instead it has an aftertaste of earthly beauty, an understated elegance.
The dry spring and early summer this year has produced very little fog to drip on the forest floor, essential to this mushroom. No Princes were found in the forest kingdom, it is still too dry. We also checked some secret spots for summer Chanterelles with the same result. On the other hand, the ocean was breathtaking, Pacific blue out to the horizon. The forest was perfumed with redwood and bay, the duff, soft and quiet.
Lucy and Buddy had a great day; they had to be lifted into the truck and instantly flopped down on the dog bed to sleep all the way home. I am sure they had sweet dreams of small creatures and heroic chases in the redwoods.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in the Community Voice each week.