By Matthew C. Durkee
Triplicate Features Editor
CRESCENT CITY Bob Burch's favorite mushroom is the prince.
The flavor is amaretto, and "it's a tease," Burch says.
Unlike chanterelles or morels, which are reliably seasonal and can be collected by the armload, the prince has a limited niche in which it will appear, and its timing is erratic.
But the thrill of a rare find is just one of the reasons Burch hunts mushrooms.
An amateur mycologist for 25 years, Burch has been sharing the art of mushrooming with others since he began.
"I became interested in mushrooms, took a course, got with a mushrooming club, and there was a need to teach."
The Oregon resident has been teaching mushroom identification classes along the coast for 20 years now.
He will teach a class Friday night and Saturday at College of the Redwoods, and the following weekend he will teach the class in Brookings.
The Northern California coast is one of the most popular locations in the world for mushroom hunting, which is also widely practiced in northern Europe, according to Wikipedia.
Burch explains that the region is one of the best in the world because of its abundant moisture and variable elevations.
"The great benefit we have is within a couple of hours you can change your elevation from four or five thousand feet down to the ocean," Burch says. "The variety we get in that range is remarkable."
Burch encounters a lot of people whose knowledge of mushrooms goes no further than that white, tasteless thing kids pick out of their spaghetti sauce. But in fact mushrooms can have flavors ranging from amaretto to black pepper, shrimp and even jalapeo.
And then there's the danger.
Although many mushrooms are safe to eat, others can kill.
"It's important to know the ones to avoid," Burch says. "It's not worth losing a liver over."
Burch is on the phone list for the Oregon poison control center. Recently he got a call about a couple who picked some mushrooms from their own yard. An old book they had said the mushrooms were edible if cooked.
"They picked the death cap. They were in liver failure. So it's very serious."
Many varieties are easily recognizable as safe, but there are some safe and unsafe varieties that bear strong resemblance to each other.
"There's so much to learn you can't do it in one weekend," Burch says. "It's a lifetime pursuit. This class is not going to make you an expert."
People take his course yearly as a refresher, Burch says.
"The goal is to learn one or two mushrooms each time and know them well."
The second day of the class features an excursion along the Winchuck River, where they collect mushrooms, bring them back to the classroom and identify them.
Then they cook and eat the edible varieties.
"The reason I teach this class," Burch says, "is that friends I know taught me great spots and all the little tricks and things that you need to know. A lot of those people are no longer with us.
"This my chance to show other people the bounty of the forest. It's absolutely amazing."
Mushroom Identification by Bob Burch is $30, and classes are 6 p.m to 9 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call College of the Redwoods at 465-2300.
Reach Matthew C. Durkee at 464-2141 or mdurkee@triplicate.