Dane Osis and His Morel Motherload
Dane Osis is a 35-year-old Park Ranger at Fort Stevens State Park, just outside of Astoria. He grew up on the Oregon Coast and learned to forage beginning in his early twenties from a neighbor. For the past nine years, Dane has led mushroom programs and hikes at State Parks up and down the coast. Recently he’s also begun teaching courses at Clatsop Community College focused on mushrooms, which include field trips and a cooking lab.
This interview is part of the Oregon Mushroom Stories’ Community Reporters Project. Please participate if you have mushroom stories to share or want to interview a mushroom lover you know.
Q. Why do you forage for mushrooms?
A. I forage for mushrooms because it is fun, and they are good to eat. Living in rural Oregon, most of the things I like to do involve the outdoors. Mushroom hunting is just another activity I like to do in the woods along with fishing, hiking, hunting, berry picking, woodcutting, etc. My father is from Latvia, so I think that mushroom hunting is in my blood. Mushroom hunting is HUGE in Eastern Europe. Everyone does it.
Q. What was your most memorable foraging experience?
A. It is hard to narrow it down to just one. But the first successful morel trip still stands out in my mind as unforgettable. In the summer of 2003, the B&B fire scorched thousands of acres of mountain conifer forest near Sisters, Oregon. The following spring I was making plans to do a camping trip to Central Oregon to hunt for the elusive morel. I had hunted for morels the previous two springs but was unsuccessful as I was living in coastal Oregon, which is lousy for finding that particular mushroom. Generally, May is the prime time to find morels, but my buddy and I in planning our trip could only schedule a trip from April 14 to 20. So we packed our gear and headed over the Mountains for our morel hunt, with neither of us ever having picked a morel. There would no doubt be morels in the immense burn area. The only question is would it be too early? Weather had been in our favor though, two weeks prior to our trip unseasonably warm weather had kicked off the spring followed by mild rain followed by warm weather again… ideal conditions for morel growth.
Soon we came to a road and behind it were thousands of acres of charred forest. There was a sign posted saying the area was closed due to the fire. We cautiously snuck past the closed sign and began to search.
Shortly after setting up camp we set out on foot to hunt for morels. The area around our camp had not been touched by the fire, and we located no morels. Soon we came to a road and behind it were thousands of acres of charred forest. There was a sign posted saying the area was closed due to the fire. We cautiously snuck past the closed sign and began to search. My friend Andrew was the first to find one. He picked it not knowing what it was and brought it to me to identify, sure enough it was a morel. Upon scanning the area we found it was one in a patch of about 15. We continued to pick, collecting about a quarter basket in an hour, not bad for beginners. The next day we returned to find Forest Service rangers removing the closed signs and opening up the area. We were literally the first people to pick morels on that particular burn. Now that we had an eye for what we were looking for we found mushrooms by the thousand. You would find a single mushroom, and then look up to see dozens in a patch. We filled baskets of morels some as big as Corona bottles.
When I got back to Astoria I had to figure out a way to preserve my cut of the harvest, about 30 lbs of morels. I removed my screen door on the back porch and scattered the mushrooms over it. I built the biggest fire in my wood stove and dried batches in my living room. Never again have I found morels in that quantity.
Q. What are your favorite mushrooms and why? How do you use them?
A. There are so many it is hard to choose, but my top 10 favorite mushrooms are:
1. Morels – These don’t grow that commonly on the coast so I don’t get them as often as other mushrooms, maybe that’s why they are on the top of my list. What I don’t eat fresh sautéed and served over pasta, I dry for later
2. Prince (Agaricus augustas) – The Prince is another rare mushroom. The flavor is incredibly sweet like almonds. One summer at Harris Beach we were irrigating new planting areas that created an unusually favorable growing environment. I once found over 50 prince’s that summer.
3. Shrimp Russula – This mushroom is the seafood of the forest. It tastes like crab and shrimp! I find huge fruitings of this every year while deer hunting near Mt. Adams.
4. King Boletes – This is my favorite mushroom to pick. Finding big king boletes is exciting. Their fruitings are so predicable I mark on my calendar three weeks after we get our first inch of rain in the fall.
5. Shaggy Parasol – These taste like a more flavorful version of a portobello. Their flesh turns red when cut.
6. Shaggy Manes – I often pick these after they have pushed up through packed gravel on logging roads. They are hard to beat when fried up with potatoes.
7. Chanterelles – These are my bread and butter mushrooms. They are what sustain me through the fall and winter. I usually try to pick around 100 lbs a year for processing… I sauté and freeze them.
8. Cauliflower Mushroom – Another unusual mushroom that can grow to colossal sizes. I have found them over 20 lbs and know a guy who picked one that weighed 45 lbs! He sold it to a local restaurant, the Columbia Café, and they used it in recipes for an entire week.
9. Candy Caps - The dessert mushroom. I dry these and use them to make mushroom cookies. They taste like a cross between maple syrup and butterscotch.
10. White Matsutake – I like the smell of these more than I like the flavor. Like Red Hots crossed with Dirty Socks, [they] are fun to find and are wonderful grilled.
[Click here for Fort Stevens State Park Guide to Mushrooms (1.8 mb pdf), which Dane developed.]