Puffballs and Angel Wings

Submitted by Kay Helbling


There were two reasons I moved to Oregon, the ocean and the mountains, the beauty for which I have appreciated for the past thirty years.


Having had neither in the Midwest where I grew up, I plunged into hiking, sand castle building and all the other activities that Oregonians can so easily take for granted. It was while hiking the many Mt. Hood trails in the fall and early winter months of the year that I was introduced to the Oregon mushroom. No, I don’t mean the kind that do crazy things to your head, I mean the kind that you can eat. I was amazed at the variety of colors and shapes I found on and off the trail.


Wanting to learn more, I picked up Mushrooms of North America by Orson Miller, Jr. and found names and descriptions and full colored photos. I learned there are many groups of mushrooms each having their own distinctive characteristics, some quite ugly and yet tasty. Others can be brilliantly beautiful yet dangerous to eat. Species within those groups may look similar but range from choice edible to downright poisonous. So, I was at an impasse. Do I simply enjoy their beauty and the joy of the hunt, or do I find a way to safely experience the taste of these delicacies. 


Methodically combing through his book, I separated the good from the bad. Puffballs were a safe bet, big white bowling balls that can grow larger than the expanse of your outspread hand. Then there were the elegant Chanterelle looking more like a bright orange tiger lily than a fungus. But, the most amazing of all to me were the delicate Angel Wings or more commonly known as the Oyster Mushroom. All these were not only edible but choice edible. All these had a unique appearance they could easily be distinguished from their dangerous relative.


Book in hand, pack on my back, I headed down the Salmon River Trail. What an experience. I guess the trail gods wanted me to return. What a bounty. I first came upon the Chanterelle. She was even more beautiful than showed in the photo.


Knowing the Oyster Mushroom loved to take residence on the side of old, wet logs I strayed off the trail. Staying low, I didn’t want to miss the possibility of a choice find. There they were, truly like a cluster of beautiful angels’ wings. Their brilliant white was a stark contrast to the green and the black of the moss laden log.


I turned to head back home, excited by the remarkable success of my first hunt. But, the trail had one more surprise. There, buried under a blanket of golden leaves, was what looked to be a mass of human brain. I grabbed my book and searched through all the pictures. There it was, Ramaria Botrytis, the Cauliflower Fungus.


The aroma of the mushrooms spread through the house as soon as they hit the pan, ready for their buttery sauté. A meal and memories only a real “Oregonian” can appreciate. I knew this would be my home for a long time.


Kay was an insurance adjuster and executive for 15 years, a small business owner and a teacher for 10. But, her most fulfilling work has been as a mother of her two boys. She is now looking forward to an empty nest with her best friend—her husband.






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