Foraging for Chanterelles Mushrooms
I recently made myself a little red osier dogwood basket that I could carry on my hip and collect mushrooms into while I was hiking. It's wasn't very large, maybe 6 inches in diameter and 8 inches tall. It's important to have a container with openings in it, such as a basket or mesh bag so that the mushroom spores can be spread across the woodlands as you hike home and create many more mushrooms for next year. I never thought that I would ever fill my little basket as I generally only find oysters and only a few handfuls at a time. Ha. Little did I know, chanterelle season was right around the corner and now I couldn't even fit a tiny fraction of my chants into this basket.
We've found over 60 lbs of chanterelles in the last couple of days and I'm losing my mind trying to preserve them all!
That's the great thing about chanterelles, though, if you find them, you usually find A LOT.
How to Identify Chanterelles
Chanterelles are a great mushroom for new mushroom hunters because they are common, widespread, easy to identify, and don't have any deadly look-alikes. They grow in every state, except Hawaii and can be found throughout most of the summer. Chants also grow in Northern Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Chanterelles are mycorrhizal fungi, which means they always grow in symbiosis with tree roots and are always found growing from the ground and not on rotting wood. They tend to grow around hardwood trees, although it is not uncommon to find them under white pines, or even certain shrubs and bushes.
There are many species of chanterelle ranging in color from almost white to yellow to orange or even red or black, but the most common are the yellowish-orange Cantharellus cibarius. All chanterelles have small, dull edged false gills that are forked near the edges of the fungus.
As you can see in the picture above, the false gills are barely visible, even on large chanterelles. This is an important thing to pay attention to in order to identify them from their toxic (but not deadly) lookalikes, false chanterelles or jack o' lanterns. The two species, while also often orange and trumpet shaped, have much, much deeper gills with sharp edges. Jack o' lanterns also grow on decaying wood, so if you see a chanterelle like mushroom growing from a log, it is definitely not edible. Jack o' lantern mushrooms are also glow in the dark and chanterelles are not!!
Chanterelles may sometimes grow in groups of one or two, but never in large clumps like jack o' lanterns do. Plus, they always have white flesh on the inside when you cut them open and have a white spore print. While it is easy for even a beginner to distinguish chanterelles from other mushrooms, it is important to always cross check yourself with a trustworthy guide before eating any mushroom. My favorites include the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms and the Peterson Field Guide to Mushrooms: North America .
To read more about the difference between these three species, check out this great post by Ben Starr, who describes it much better than I ever could.
Chanterelles LOVE the rain and the heat and are generally found within a couple days or weeks after heavy rains in the dog days of summer. Although they are found in July and August in most places, they can be found from June through November, depending on the location and weather. In my opinion, the best place to look is in small river valleys. Some of my best harvest have come from steep hillsides about 2/3 of the way up from a creek at the bottom. That isn't to say that they can't be found other places, though, and have a funny tendency to grow right in the middle of trails. Their orange color makes them easily to spot just so long as there aren't too many orange leafs on the ground. Once you see one or two, look around as there are often more close by. Chanterelles tend to come out in such numbers, though, that it is sometimes hard not to find them- they're everywhere!
Once you have found some, be sure to harvest them delicately. If you simply rip them up out of the ground you risk disturbing their mycelium below and reducing next years harvest. The best way is to cut them off with a knife or scissors at the base. If you catch yourself out hiking without a mushroom knife you can hold the base of the stalk with one hand and rip it off with the other. Remember that the main part of the fungus, the mycelium, is hidden under the soil and the mushroom itself is just the fruiting body. A mushroom is like an apple on a tree and it does not harm the rest of the organism to pick it. Still, you should always take less than 30% of the mushrooms you find in each patch to allow the fungus to continue its natural life cycle. Trust me, you probably couldn't take more than this even if you tried, as chanterelles are so incredibly prolific.
I found some chanterelles, now what?
Chanterelles are a dense, meaty mushroom, similar to chicken of the woods in taste. Some say they smell fruity, almost like apricots. I think apricots is stretching it a bit, but while they do smell more like fruit than mushrooms, they certainly don't taste like it. They are great on their own, but are also great in a wide variety of dishes. My favorite way to eat them is to sauté them until soft before adding to fajitas, eggs, or pasta sauce. Chanterelles can be eaten raw, but I've heard they are not nearly as palatable as when cooked through.
Too many to eat? Chants are easy to preserve and can be frozen, dehydrated, or canned. To freeze, simply sauté in butter and freeze in a ziplock bag.
I've been running my excalibur dehydrator 24/7. To read about how to dehydrate mushrooms, see my post Host to Dehydrate Mushrooms.
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