Foraging is a word that has popped up a lot more recently within the food world. More hardcore than farm to fork, it has sent authenticity-obsessed chefs wandering fields and forests in search of your rather expensive dinner. Enter Ryan Bouchard and Emily Schmidt, a couple combining their passion for mushrooms, with their talents in photography and cooking, respectively. Currently known as Southern New England Mushroom Hunters, the pair are launching the Mushroom Hunting Foundation in the new year. This nonprofit will continue their current offerings of classes, guided walks and more, but also look to publish more printed work and video content. The foundation’s mission is to promote and teach safe mushroom hunting as well as other outdoor activities.
How did you become interested in mushrooms and mushroom foraging?
Ryan: We both love the outdoors. With mushrooms, there are many, many different kinds. Once you start paying attention to them, there are suddenly an endless variety of life forms you’ve never seen before. But once we actually cooked and ate some wild mushrooms, we were instantly hooked.
Thanks to RI Mushroom Company, we’re all of a sudden seeing a lot more varieties of foraged and cultivated mushrooms at the farmer’s markets. Does it seem like mushrooms could be “a thing” for RI?
Emily: Mushrooms are definitely gaining importance in RI’s food industry, and across the nation. The Ocean State is a great state for food and there are lots of great chefs and creative home cooks.
What are some resources for the new mushroom hunter?
Emily: The internet can be useful, but it can also cause trouble. You never know if the person typing to you actually knows their mushrooms. We recommend taking a class with us. We arrange private classes, which can be for a single person, a family or small group of friends, or for a large audience. We have several different classes: guided mushroom walks, cooking demonstrations and living-room slideshow classes using our all-local photography.
What are your best finds in RI for mushrooms, and what are your favorites to eat?
Ryan: We love finding some of the famous edibles, like Black Trumpets, Lion’s Mane and King Boletes. But we have gotten equal pleasure from the Bog Bolete, the Pine Spike, the Hedgehog Mushroom, the Beefsteak Polypore, the Jelly Tooth… there are so many unique varieties. Many have flavors bearing no resemblance to anything else on Earth. We also love the Sand Laccaria. In fact, we feel it should be the official mushroom of the Ocean State, because it grows right on the beach. It does require careful brushing to remove the sand, but it’s delicious, and it has beautiful purple gills.
There’s a bit of a stereotype that floats around with mushroom foragers, associating them with people looking for hallucinogenic varieties. Have you encountered this at all?
Emily: There are actually a ton of different types of people who are into mushrooms for lots of reasons. Nature lovers, hikers, cooks, farmers, photographers… lots of people love to find mushrooms. Hippies are just one of the many demographics.
Ryan: When you go to a big mushroom hunting event, like a foray or a seminar, it’s all about the science of learning about mushrooms – mycology. Good mushroom hunters stay up to date with the science, and doing that is actually fun because mushrooms are so fascinating to study. People who just want to get wasted find themselves out of place. We certainly can’t teach people the subtle science of mushroom identification if they’re seeing imaginary colors.
After intently foraging, do you feel like you see mushrooms everywhere when you are just walking around?
Ryan: Not exactly. But after a great day spent hiking and scanning with our eyes for one particular kind of mushroom, and finding it many times, we’ll both see visions of it when we close our eyes to sleep.
Emily: We’ll start laughing because both of us keep seeing Black Trumpets, rising up out of the darkness.
Southern New England Mushroom Hunters