Saturday, October 2, 2010

Chanterelles - a beautiful thing indeed

It's official. I am hooked on mushroom foraging. Today I went out into the woods somewhere west of Portland (a good forager never reveals the exact location of their cache) with a couple of friends for my first ever chanterelle hunt. I've wanted to do this for years but didn't know where to go and didn't know what signs to look for to unearth the fungal treasure. The forest as a lot of surface area to cover and without some success throughout the afternoon, it can quickly become discouraging. But when you do find's like being 5 years old opening presents at Christmas.

The benefits to an afternoon spent mushroom foraging - 1 pound, 2 ounces of fresh chanterelle mushrooms for dinner. The drawback - I could tell you very little about the beauty of the forest we walked through or how far we walked. Head down, eyes scanning left and right, looking for a gleam of orangey-yellow pushing up through the pine needles and moss. Time passes. Just one more rise of the hill to search, maybe there will be the motherlode.

Chanterelles must be foraged from the forest because they do not take to cultivation and are very particular about where they grow. Chanterelles reappear in the same spot of the forest from year to year so it is important when harvesting to bring a knife to cut the mushroom off at the base, leaving the ground undisturbed where the mycelium grow. The underside of the mushroom is what makes the chanterelle particularly distinctive and easy to identify. Delicately ruffled gills running down the entire length of the stem.

Chanterelles have a meaty flavor and every resource I've sought out recommends starting with a simple preparation to fully enjoy and isolate the mushroom flavor. Sauteed in butter or olive oil with a sprinkle of salt and maybe a splash of cream at the end.

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