The enthusiasm of mushroom lovers from across the Cowichan Valley and beyond has once again helped to make the Salmon and Mushroom Festival in Lake Cowichan a success, following the annual event’s 17th incarnation last weekend.
And according to its organizer, there has never been a year quite like this one.
“It was the best ever,” said Ingeborg Woodsworth, who has been holding the event since 1998. “It takes 17 years plugging away before your hard work is recognized, not just by the local politicians but also Ottawa? I’m so impressed.”
Woodsworth was referring to Alistair MacGregor, MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, who officially opened the festival with an address on Saturday morning. She said this year the festival received considerably more attention from media outlets, local and regional businesses, and government officials. This last group Woodsworth was particularly pleased with because she hopes that with the help of interested politicians, Block 33 — the provincial forest behind her property — can be preserved as a mycological research site.
Attendance at the festival was also up. Woodsworth prepared five large pots of mushroom soup, all of which were eaten.
“I’ve never had anything like that,” she said. “I think of my humble beginnings in 1998, my barbecue with two flames and everybody going home to get their own bowls. So there they stood like refugees at a hot kitchen, end of October with our breath out in front of us. I’m happy about it. “
More soup wasn’t the only new addition. This year Bev Maahs, a trainer with the Truffle Dog Company, gave talks and demonstrations on both days.
“It’s quite fun, also. It doesn’t matter what breed — any can do it. Most people doing this have all different kinds of dogs. They’re companion dogs, and that’s what they should be,” she said. “We train totally force-free. It’s fun, it’s a game, and we reward them for finding [by using] treats or toys. Whatever your dog finds rewarding.”
Maahs said that while there is a shortage of truffle-hunting dogs in Canada, prospective hunters shouldn’t expect to make it rich hunting for truffles with their dog. It should be a fun activity for both the animal and the owner to do together.
The dogs Maahs works with are trained using truffle oil in order to get them familiar with the scent. She offers classes at three levels — the first takes place indoors, the second outdoors and the third outdoors in a protected forest in Chemainus.
“The reason we use the dogs is it’s environmentally friendly and it’s one of the most ethical and sustainable ways to [hunt truffles],” she said.
Other activities over the weekend included crafts and artwork for sale at Centennial Hall, mushroom vendors, a fungi identification demonstration and a tour of Block 33, during which participants set out in the forest to collect as many species of fungi as possible.
Woodsworth said bringing people into the forest — and there was a caravan of more than 20 cars heading there from Centennial Hall — is all part of the festival’s ethos: conservation and preservation through education.
“I’m trying to connect people to understand what treasures we have in this Valley,” she said.
For more photos from the event, go to www.lakecowichangazette.com