October 19, 2016 - 12:39 PM
Terrace, Nakusp, Hope, Boston Bar, Anahim Lake, Bella Coola, Kitimat, Vancouver Island, Powell River, Pemberton.
This is an incomplete list of regions in B.C. that are currently producing a wild cash crop, the pine mushroom.
The pine mushroom business is as wild as the forest that produces them. If you are driving across B.C. you are bound to see a temporary mushroom buying station. Thousands of mushroom hunters are selling to these buyers and generating an entire industry from the mossy undergrowth of the rainforest.
This year, pickers are being paid anywhere from $60 per pound, down to $3. The price can change overnight, sometimes in the middle of the day.
There are a few people in Vancouver controlling the price and moving the fresh product around the world by the ton. The largest consumer of pine mushrooms is Japan. The Japanese call them Matsutake. This name is also commonly used in B.C.
The best word to describe the flavour of Matsutake is umami. Umami is a description of a flavour that has no equivalent in English. Seafood and garden herbs are good examples of umami flavour.
There is a general reverence for Matsutake in the Japanese culture. If you want to get on a person's good side in Japan, buy them a #1 pine mushroom. They are renowned for their benefits and eating almost becomes a ritual. A common Japanese recipe is to add chopped pine mushrooms to a pot of uncooked rice. No other ingredients are added.
These are the only wild mushrooms in B.C. that have a complex grading system.
There are five grades, all based on maturity. The price for a #1 can be five to ten times greater than that of a #5. Many experienced consumers of Matsutake would argue that there is no difference in flavour between the grades. The grading system is a modern invention that originated in B.C. There is a lot of speculation on why the system was created, but it definitely keeps the price low for the pickers. It is a shame the person who hikes all day might get a few dollars, and the next day they could be in Japan selling for $80 per pound.
Because of the unforgiving nature of the commercial pine mushroom industry, I have always chosen to sell direct to restaurants and farmers markets. It is an adventure in itself putting these fungi on display at the market and seeing how locals react to a new and exotic local mushroom.
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