Trust the Process
Knowledge + persistence eventually pays off
It had been hours since I’d seen another human, so when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, I thought it was a bear. It wasn’t. It was an old man, slightly stooped and gray-bearded, pulling a little cart down towards the river, which was roaring with spring snowmelt.
It’s trout season, but he had no rods. Odd. So I hailed him hello and ambled over. We got to talking, and as it happened, he was a gold miner. Yes, they still exist here in Gold Country, more than 170 years after the initial Gold Rush in this part of California.
He had a small claim nearby, and said that the spring snowmelt always brings opportunity. So much water flowing will unearth more gold. It always happens, he said. The only questions were whether he’d get his timing right, and if so, how much gold nature might reveal that year.
I told him I was doing exactly the same thing. He looked suspicious until I showed him what was in my bag: A perfect porcino, Boletus rex-veris, the spring king bolete.
Turns out we were both prospecting that day, each for a different sort of treasure.
The stretch of land the gold miner was walking through to get to his claim was mine, although the truth is that it is public land. The Sierra Nevada is almost entirely public land: BLM, national forest, or land owned by logging companies that is, for all intents and purposes, public. My “claim” is in the national forest, and it has served me well for going on two decades.
Porcini are my passion. I love hunting for them as much if not more than I love hunting with a gun for birds or mammals. I have traveled to hunt them, but the spots most precious to me are those within 90 minutes of my house. They are my home turf, spots I guard jealously - although Holly and two close friends also know about this one.
This stretch of land was part of the horrific, gigantic Caldor Fire last year, a catastrophe that likely extinguished our local mountain quail hunting scene, at least for a few years. And while yes, it has been a boon for morel mushrooms, porcini don’t like fire.
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Caldor didn’t incinerate my spot, although it did race through much of it. Early in the season, while we were scouting it for damage (and finding a few morels) I went to a spot deep in the center of this stretch of land, a hollow with old logging paths and berms, surrounded by old fallen trees. I call it the Golden Road.
The Golden Road got its name because in the spring of 2020, in the depths of the pandemic, my friend Joe and I hit the mother lode there. Perfect button porcini were everywhere, under their little mushrumps. It was insane. Joe and I had to make several trips back to the truck to drop off our load.
Shrooming was good for a week on either side of that day, and then, later, the butter boletes showed up. It was a bonanza.
I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since. So on that day in early May, I was stunned to to find two perfect little porcini buttons in the Golden Road. It’s on!
Only it wasn’t. I returned there at least once a week, and usually twice a week, chasing the memory of that bonanza of 2020. I knew when it was supposed to hit, more or less. I knew the spots. I knew that it would be late this year because we’ve had a cool spring. So it would only be a matter of time. I kept telling myself that.
I couldn’t miss this flush. I just couldn’t, and would do anything not to.
Let me stop for a moment to tell you why.
Porcini is a term I use loosely to describe all large, firm boletes — Boletus edulis, B. grandedulis, B. rex-veris, Butyriboletus primiregius, Butyriboletus autumniregius, B. rubriceps, B. subcaerulescens, and the like. They have many names all over the world: Cepes, steinpilze, penny buns, borowiki, yamadoritake. Porcini is Italian, and is most common here in the United States.
They are large, heavy, firm when young, and have the Platonic Ideal of what a woodsy mushroom should smell like. They range from musky-meaty to mild in flavor, and are arguably better rehydrated after drying.
Porcini play a starring role in some of my recipes, notably porcini risotto and mushroom ravioli, and a supporting role in many, many other recipes, from pasta sauce to stews to risotto. I grind their spongy parts (boletes don’t have gills, they have spongy pores) after drying to make porcini powder, which adds an intense hit of umami to anything I put it in or on. It’s why my seared venison is better than yours; I dust the meat with it as it rests.
Their shape is what we all think of as “mushroom shape” and the little buttons are as good as a steak. They can be preserved in oil, or dried, or sautéed, then frozen.
In short, they are a foundational ingredient in my personal cuisine.
After weeks of largely fruitless searching for porcini, the drive up and back from the mountains began to feel like a commute. And while yes, I’d usually come home with morels — they’re easy this year — porcini would range from zero to maybe two. The Golden Road seemed dead.
And then, on June 5, something weird happened: It rained.
California doesn’t normally get measurable rain in June, so this was a godsend. It meant that not only would the morels continue, but maybe, just maybe, the porcini would finally show.
Sure enough, I got wind that Joe found a few while picking on that rainy Sunday. That meant that the porcini were just late, because clearly they are not so fast that they’d fruit because of a rain that was still happening. Now, maybe, just maybe, it really was on.
That Wednesday I went up to The Spot. I gridded it out, walking back and forth for hours. This is when I saw the gold miner. And this is when I realized that the Golden Road was, indeed, dead. I’d found a dozen nice porcini that day, but none along the Golden Road or anywhere near it. Why? It had burned. Not severely, but severely enough. Porcini don’t like fire.
Only in the few areas spared by fire were there porcini. Not the bonanza of 2020, but a decent haul once I returned again the following Sunday — another weird, rainy day.
The reason I tell you all this is to show you that you need to trust yourself sometimes.
Everyone reading this is good at something. Everyone has been in a situation where you know a thing should be happening, but isn’t. Be patient. It will happen.
If you are training for a race, doing what you need to do, resting when you need to rest, the fitness will come. Just maybe not at the exact moment you expect. If you are in a tree stand waiting for a buck you’ve patterned to walk by in range, it will happen. No one knows when, but put in the time, and that buck will show himself. And if you are a gold miner, you know you’ll eventually see that shine at the bottom of your pan. The timing just has to be right.
The other point to all this is that we all need to have the flexibility of mind to adjust to new data, new conditions. Golden Road may be dead. My honey hole may be no more, at least for the foreseeable future. And that sucks. But it is what it is. Find new spots, in this case those that have not burned. Put in the time, and the miles, and the homework.
Trust the process. It’ll happen.