Aldona Bird, Editorial Author

Hunting for chanterelles in the wild


Raise your hand if you are a mycophagist. I am — I eat fungi. I like most mushrooms, and particularly enjoy those growing in the woods on my family’s property in Preston County.

Last week, I went for a walk. I had seen mushrooms growing in the woods a few days before, so I took a basket telling myself if I came across any good ones ready, I’d pick just enough for dinner.

Harvesting mushrooms is such a joy that I couldn’t stick to the plan. I filled my basket to the brim. Then I went out again. And a third time that day.

Some of my harvest went right into my belly, some into jars to ferment, some into ravioli to freeze for a quick future dinner and others sautéed with onions and garlic and then frozen for use stuffing dumplings for holiday meals.

On my hunts I’d found a few types of mushrooms I felt confident identifying (I don’t mess with any with deadly look-a-likes), but the most plentiful were chanterelles.

If you aren’t familiar with these wild mushrooms, I’ll fill in some blanks (but do not use my description as an identification guide!). Chanterelles is the common name for a variety of mushrooms in the Cantharellus genus.

The Golden Chanterelle, which I find, ranges in color from pale apricot to brighter orange. It has a trumpet shaped convex cap with wavy uneven edges.

A key way to tell these chanterelles apart from look-a-likes is their absence of true gills. Many mushrooms have gills on the underside of their caps, but chanterelle have forked ridges.

Chanterelle often grow in patches, as they are mycorrhizal with tree roots. While cultivation attempts have been made, these mushrooms remain a wild treat because the symbiotic relationship cannot be reproduced. I read that attempts to grow chanterelles resulted in tasteless mushrooms.

Apart from their delicate flavor, chanterelles are nutritious — they contain high amounts of D2, along with significant amounts of protein, vitamin A, potassium, iron, chromium and eight essential amino acids.

Wanting to showcase their flavor in the dinner I cooked with my first chanterelles harvest, I followed a new recipe which turned out to be a keeper.

First, I sautéed the roughly chopped chanterelle in a little olive oil and salt on high heat for about 10 minutes. Then I turned the heat down, added lots of garlic and some herbs, plus water and butter and turned the heat down.

The mushrooms cooked to perfection — flavorful, with the right amount of moisture. The recipe called for adding ricotta gnudi — dumplings made with ricotta, parmesan, flour, an egg, butter and nutmeg.

It sounds and tasted quite fancy, but overall the recipe was simple and pretty quick to prepare.

While I’m singing the praises of wild mushrooms, I also want to extend words of caution. Last year I let my hubris get the better of me, and poisoned myself and a family member. We ate some jack-o-lantern mushrooms along with chanterelle, a mistake I had been sure I could never possibly make.

Since to err is human, I stick only to mushrooms which even if misidentified won’t kill me. My sense of diligence in double checking my foraged bounty has multiplied tenfold since that experience though, which I hope never to repeat.

If you choose to take up mushrooming, please use identification guides, trustworthy internet sites, and an old and experienced mushroomer to check your picks. And remember, when in doubt, throw it out!