By Gretchen Ammerman For the TODAY
As the first drops of fall rain start to fall, it’s good to focus on the good parts of what they represent. Under the trees and along the trails begin to pop up the sometimes edible but always interesting varieties of fungus that are one of the characteristic features of the Pacific Northwest.
I was once running along a trail in Lincoln City, looking down to avoid tripping over a root, when like a mushroom rising from the duff, there was suddenly a woman in front of me. Since she saw she had startled me, she immediately assured me that she was a nice local lady and I needn’t be concerned, and then she complemented my dog. We’ve been friends ever since.
I soon learned that the woman, Freda Holloran, now in her mid-eighties, has a sharp and quite active mind and among many other accomplishments, was the founder in 1975 of the still thriving Lincoln County Mycological Society.
Holloran’s love for mushrooms came quite honesty as the descendent of a homesteading family who came to the United States from Germany in 1919 and settled in North Dakota, where they used their foraging skills to fill their larder with wild mushrooms.
“They grew by the buckets back then,” she said. “My mother tried to learn to grow them at one point but couldn’t, so we just kept collecting them.”
She married young and didn’t finish school, so after she and husband Larry moved to Lincoln City in 1964, she decided to obtain a GED, the first ever given in Lincoln County.
“The county trying to get the program together for that led to what is now the adult education program,” Holloran said. “It was through that I eventually started leading forays. The primary thing that sold the guy who gave me my first foray was the fact that I could usually identify a mushroom, but if I couldn’t, I’d say so.”
Her mushroom identification skills had been developing through her involvement with a mycological society in Portland, which was the closest resource available at the time.
“That’s where I really learned what I was doing,” she said. “The best way to learn is by going on forays. I’ve always said if you don’t have a good friend and a good book you don’t need to be out there collecting; back then there were few books and I didn’t know anyone else that was interested in the subject. So I would drive to Portland all the time for meetings. After a while I became afraid that I was going to get into an accident driving those roads tired so often.”
So she put an ad in the paper naming a date and meeting place to try and find other local people with the same interest in mushrooms- and got an unexpected response.
“About 75 people showed up but none of them had any books.” she said. “I had to say, ‘I’m afraid there’s been a misunderstanding; I’m here to learn with others, not to teach.’ Half of the people left; the rest became the first members of the club.”
Phil Lamberson joined what became the Lincoln County Mycological Society in 1985, and still remains active.
“Freda is the heart and soul of the club,” he said. “What impresses me is that she’s mostly self taught, but came to know mushrooms so well that she became a valued resource for poison control.”
Having been on speed dial for poison control is one of the things for which Holloran is most proud.
“The Oregon Mycological Society kept a list of people that could identify mushrooms if hospitals needed help identifying a possible mushroom poisoning,” she said. “It’s gone now, but they used to call me to the hospital, because they said I knew more than the doctors did. I got called out several times. I’ve been called to help with possible dog poisonings as well.”
Her intelligence is matched by a sharp sense of humor, which shows when she talks about a poster she made about toxic mushrooms.
“It said that all mushrooms are edible,” she said. “Once.”
Though since Holloran’s time many more books, like her favorite, the National Audubon Society’s “Field Guide to Mushrooms” have been published, it’s still groups like the LCMS that can help keep you from making a fatal mistake.
“At our meetings people bring something they found for the whole group to look at,” Lamberson said. “It’s a great way to learn or show a great find. In spring, we go east to hunt for morels and have a campout; that’s my favorite part of the year. Being involved with the group also gets me off my ass at least once a month,” he joked.
Though many people take up mushroom hunting as a free food source, for others like Holloran it goes well beyond a taste for the edible members of wildly diverse group of fungi.
“Basically it’s the hunting,” she said. “I once heard someone say that hunting gets in your blood, and I agree. But I’ve had more fun teaching people about mushrooms than I could have imagined. Teaching people has been my joy. Honestly, I don’t really eat mushrooms that often. And I don’t care about the fancy recipe’s, I just like them fried in butter.”
To find out more about the Lincoln County Mycological Society, visit their page on Facebook.
MUSHROOM MADNESS ON THE COAST
Saturday, Sept. 30 from 11 am to 2 pm
For those that would like to walk on the wild side of culinary arts, the Mycological Society will be in the house at the Lincoln City Culinary Center with special guest Willamette Valley Vineyards. They will feature a Q & A session on all things mushroom, plus a cooking demonstration. Hors d’oeuvres and wine will be served. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Mycological Society. $25 per person. 801 SW Hwy 101, 4th Floor, Lincoln City. FMI, visit oregoncoast.org