During the summer, our local scrubby oak groves are covered with water-starved, crispy yellow field grasses. But thanks to the recent deluge we're now seeing Live Oak Chanterelles at several farm vendors' stands, some as big as your hand. Our December rains also plumped soils from San Diego up to the Bay Area, turning them into the spongey proofing round for a bumper wild mushroom harvest. Clearwater Farms, which sells at the Sunday Hollywood market and at the Saturday and Wednesday Santa Monica markets, has baskets full of both cultivated shitakes and maitakes alongside some of California's best wild harvested mushrooms.
The wild picks come from the areas around Shasta, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Napa, where seasoned wild harvesters are plucking piles of dramatic Black Trumpets, earthy Yellowfoot Chanterelles, textured Hedgehogs, and coveted California-grown black and white truffles.
“Those gigantic Live Oak Chanterelles are great,” said Carl Oldnettle, Clearwater's vendor at the Hollywood market. “Totally different from the Yellowfoots though. I think the Yellowfoot's have more earthiness. And they're very delicate. Not meaty and steak-like.”
To prove the point he tenderly stripped one into two flacid ribbons, revealing a hollow stem and releasing a loamy fungal scent.
Oldnettle said the season for wild mushrooms, especially the truffles, is unpredictable. “Maybe until March,” he said. But it's entirely dependent on how much rain and freezing weather the mushroom growing areas get. Right now, Clearwater has a mostly steady supply of the Yellowfoots (feets?), Hedgehogs, and Black Trumpets. The truffles — both black and white — will set you back between $10 and $15 an ounce, but compared to truffle prices elsewhere, it's worth a little splurge.