FORAGING HIGHLIGHTS – NOVEMBER 2020
Getting the last of the gourmet edible fungi
Hit the woods for chanterelles before season really ends
By Michael Foster/WDFW
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the right spot in one of the damper areas of the state this month, you might find that chanterelles are still standing even while other forager favorites are fading back into the moss.
Check your favorite spots and while you step over crumbling lobsters and pass over fading chicken of the woods and oyster mushrooms, keep an eye out for golden chanterelles still in good enough shape to pick. Though they can be found as early as late summer and earlier in autumn is really the high time, chanterelles can still be found as late as the first few days of December when conditions are right.
Though on-the-ground conditions will have the final say, chanterelles can sometimes even stand a frost or two before their condition degrades. While a hard freeze will end the hunt, frosts in October and November this year didn’t stop many chanterelle pickers. At this time of year, you might have to pass up some sizable specimens that are past their prime, but it is still quite possible to come out of the woods with a good haul.
Below you’ll find a starting point for working with this versatile and abundant edible mushroom so that you can introduce it to your dinner table. Keep in mind that chanterelles can fetch as much as $35 per pound at some grocery stores, so you can feel good about providing one of the finer things in life for your family courtesy of Mother Nature and a hike.
Since this is an introduction to chanterelle hunting, a few words on safety are needed:
- Confirm your identification: Find a good field guide at your local library or bookstore and learn the ropes of identifying mushrooms to make sure what you have is definitely the edible you think it is. Chanterelles are a great species to start off with because they have a unique appearance and few lookalike species, but those just starting out should confirm ID as they learn the ropes. If you have a friend or family member who is knowledgeable on the topic, show them the specimen before eating. Many areas have mycological societies welcoming new members where you can safely learn identification. Before long you’ll be confident in making your own identifications, but when in doubt, skip harvesting. While many toxic mushrooms will cause discomfort or gastric distress, some cases of poisoning can be fatal.
- Study surroundings: It can be easy to get lost when mushrooming because you’re often leaving trails and roads behind, so be aware of your surroundings. Often described as a treasure hunt, mushrooming can be exciting when you find a productive patch and before long you can wander far from known territory, carried by each new mushroom you spot. It’s a good idea to hunt uphill from roads and trails where possible so you can easily travel downhill to your starting point. As with any outing into the woods, leave your hike plans with someone, pack the 10 essentials into the forest and dress for conditions.
- Start small: If you’re new to harvesting wild mushrooms or just trying a new one, start by trying a small portion. While chanterelles are perfectly safe, if it’s new to your system, you could have a mild adverse reaction and you’re better off then if you only ate a small amount. The same goes for if you find you’re allergic or a misidentification was made in your harvest.
The Forest Floor Sample
The chanterelle is perhaps the most common edible mushroom you might encounter. This delicious mushroom is usually yellow in color but can range from nearly tan to a light yellow/orange. It’s usually found in mature conifer forests, with a preference for Douglas fir. Old-growth forests can be especially productive, but if the timber is at least around 30 years old then you could find a flush of chanterelles. The mushroom can range in size from no bigger than your finger to a prize the size of your hand. It usually has an irregular cap.
Chanterelles are set apart from many other mushrooms because they don’t have the gills found on the underside of the cap of some mushrooms. Rather they have false gills that look like forked folds or wrinkles that run part way down the stem. The chanterelle’s main lookalike, the jack-o-lantern, has gills and will be found growing from wood where the chanterelle grows out of the forest floor. The jack-o-lantern can also be bioluminescent.
While some choose plastic pails for holding their harvest in the woods, cloth shopping bags are a great tool for the job and can help prevent what you’ve picked from getting damaged as you move through the forest.
When you’ve brought some chanterelles home, get as much debris off the mushrooms as you can. Some prefer to bring a stiff brush into the woods to do this as they collect or use a knife to harvest and flick off dirt, moss, and conifer needles. Laying your haul out on newsprint can help drain some moisture out before processing.
Then get a skillet ready. Like most mushrooms, you’ll want to remove the excess moisture from them to make them palatable before really cooking and seasoning. Put your rough-chopped, quartered or halved mushrooms in a hot skillet with a little salt and no oil and the moisture will “weep” out. Some people like to keep that stock that collects in the pan for flavoring soups, but once it mostly evaporates or is removed is when to hit the mushrooms with some butter, salt, pepper, garlic, and maybe some onion. This simple approach often works well with chanterelles and once cooked they can be added atop salmon, beef, or nearly any meat for a delicious meal. Other culinary options abound, from deep frying to pickling, and they can be added to a variety of dishes. Nearly any dish with cooked store-bought mushrooms can be a good place for chanterelles.
We hope this information helps you get out to explore the outdoors near you and make use of some great all-natural foods for the dinner table. Good luck and stay safe in your foraging!