‘The Mushroom Queen’ reigns on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula

written by Matt Wastradowski

Every fall, the 43-square-mile Long Beach Peninsula becomes the unofficial mushroom capital of the Pacific Northwest.

Foragers scour the region’s damp forests, set on finding chanterelles, porcini mushrooms and more. Restaurants make mushrooms the centerpiece of seasonal dishes. This six-week Wild Mushroom Celebration includes restaurant specials, mushroom-centered dinner events, fungi-themed art workshops, foraging hikes and more.

The queen of the region’s fungal fiefdom is Veronica Williams, an 88-year-old native of Hungary who does seventy sit-ups every morning before crawling around the forest floor to track down mushrooms—in addition to ferns, berries and other wild plants. She then supplies her foraged goods to restaurants throughout the Long Beach Peninsula and the northern Oregon Coast.

Mushrooms are mysterious. When you think they’re going to be there, nothing. But sometimes, they surprise you. And I like surprises.

Veronica Williams

This is a practice Williams has spent eight decades honing. Growing up in Hungary’s Carpathian Mountains, Williams first joined her mother to forage for mushrooms at just 3 years old. “We lived off whatever you could pick,” she said. “And everything was there for you to pick—everything.”

Williams was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of mushrooms she found—and hasn’t stopped picking since.

Her family left Eastern Europe in 1949, and Williams eventually settled in South Bend, Washington, just inland from the Long Beach Peninsula. Since then, Williams has become something of a local legend for her foraging prowess.

Williams insists she can spot mushrooms while cruising along Highway 101, has foraged all over the United States and Canada, and has written two books on mushrooms—one a foraging guide, the other a cookbook.

She’s sold her finds at farmers markets and to numerous restaurants throughout the region, including Pickled Fish at Adrift Hotel, Astoria’s Bridgewater Bistro, Blue Scorcher Bakery & Cafe—and the list goes on.

For all Williams’ expertise, she brings more to the restaurant than mushrooms and wild celery, said Chína Martinez, general manager at the Pickled Fish.

In addition to her friendly demeanor and passion for foraging, Williams takes time to educate the Pickled Fish kitchen staff, often giving instructions for cleaning and preparation alongside her hauls. “One thing I really appreciate about Veronica is that she’s the freest and the best form of education,” Martinez said. “She’s so open with all her knowledge. She’s very eager to teach people and share her knowledge.”

For Williams, the thrill of the hunt—and sharing that joy with others—is no less enchanting than when she first stepped into the forests of Hungary more than eighty years ago. “Mushrooms are mysterious,” she said. “When you think they’re going to be there, nothing. But sometimes, they surprise you. And I like surprises.” 

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