Up The Road: McCloud Mushroom Festival

May 18, 2016

McCloud, onetime mill town in the shadow of Mount Shasta, is famous for its wild spring mushrooms. Buyers show up every May to gather in the best of what local fungus hunters have found, then quickly pack and ship the fresh mushroom crop to appreciative chefs as far away as New York. What better theme could McCloud choose for its Memorial Day weekend party? 

The McCloud Mushroom Festival runs Memorial Day Weekend: Saturday, May 28th and Sunday, May 29th.
Credit Image courtesy of the McCloud Mushroom Festival

Among the native delectables growing wild in the forest duff are morels, bolete mushrooms (better known in Italian as porcini), puffballs, shaggy manes, and rare golden chanterelles. Mushroom season in Shasta-Trinity National Forest starts in early May, with the best hunting after a warm spring rain, and runs through July. Rangers from the Shasta-McCloud district can provide you with basic info, sustainable harvest tips, and a free permit if you’re pursuing mushrooms for personal use—up to 20 pounds per family per year. To sell what you find, you’ll need a commercial permit.

But before you dash into the woods with the remembered taste of mushroom lasagna on your tongue: Don’t pick it, eat it, or take it home to cook if you’re not sure what it is. Many mushrooms are inedible, and some are toxic. Scariest of all is the aptly named but apparently delicious death cap mushroom, which can look just like edible wild species, including the common meadow or field mushroom and paddy straw mushrooms of Southeast Asia. By the time cramping and other symptoms of toxicity begin, fatal liver and kidney damage has usually already been done. The good news is that there is drug under development—derived from milk thistle—at a Santa Cruz hospital that can prevent death cap damage.

A bolete mushroom.
Credit Alan English / Flickr, Creative Commons

So: be cautious, but relax. Get out and celebrate forest foraging at the 12th annual McCloud Mushroom Festival on Saturday, May 28th and Sunday, May 29th. The emphasis is on artisans and agriculture, such as mushrooms and herbs. Buy wild mushrooms from experienced area hunters, or take home a DIY mushroom-growing kit. Or sign up for workshops on how to identify mushrooms, how to cook with mushrooms, and how to use herbs and mushrooms medicinally. 

Don’t miss the festival’s Candy Cap mushroom ice cream, made from Mendocino area candy caps—mushrooms that, when dried, smell and taste just like maple syrup. If you come for Saturday night’s festival finale, the gourmet local foods dinner—hosted this year by the McCloud Guest House—sample the Candy Cap cocktail. In addition to great live music, special this year—upstairs in the McCloud Mercantile’s great room—is fine photography from John Rickard, local fly fishing guide, photographer, and author of the book McCloud River.

The McCloud Mushroom Festival doesn’t advertise much, but local inns may be full. So consider a nearby town, or just come for a day. For more information and dinner tickets, see the McCloud Chamber of Commerce website or call Darlene Mathis, (530) 859-2634.

Kim Weir is founder and editor of www.uptheroad.org, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project dedicated to sustaining the Northern California story. A long-time member of the Society of American Travel Writers, she is also a former NSPR reporter.