Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Nature's Fungal Fireworks - Chanterelles

Right now the woods are really starting to come alive with some vibrantly colored and just as tasty mushrooms. Chanterelle patches paint the forest with glorious sprays of red, yellow, and orange. They light up the forest floor much like the fireworks everyone will be enjoying this upcoming weekend.

True to their golden nature they can even give one a sense of that prospectors of old, discovering hidden veins. Stumbling on a hillside of chanterelles can bring back feelings reminiscent of the spring rush of finding morels. However, you can quickly be overwhelmed by the shear numbers you can pick, as that hillside could easily contain three, four, even ten thousand mushrooms.

So, if you are one of those feeling overwhelmed, here are a few tips that I follow to help ease the anxiety.
  1. Become a picker - accept the fact that in the summer, in Missouri at least, there is almost no competition for chanterelles or other mushrooms for that matter. Unlike morel season, where the local public spots become parking lots and every good tree has a path to it with every leaf and rock log, stick and rock disturbed, your only competition in sumer is the maggots who like to grow up in the meaty caps. And even when the chants are buggy, you can usually still pick enough to trim off good mess of clean bug-free edges to eat.

  2. Become a chooser - when you have many choice you can really move beyond picking to choosing. I generally will not pick any chanterelles unless the cap is bigger than 2 inches. This means that I mainly pick smooth chants, since they grow larger than the common ones and the cinnabars. But that is OK by me. The smooth chants come in larger patches and are much more prolific. They are meatier and I think a little tastier. Also they store a little longer when kept fresh in the fridge. I usually keep them in paper bags stored in a paper towel-lined vegetable drawer.

    One note on taste. Since I rarely pick any under 2 inches I don't pick a lot of cinnabars. I do pick some to add color to chant dishes, but I don't really eat enough of them to be a true judge. Several people recently have told me that they think the cinnabars have the most flavor (black trumpets excluded). I'll let you be the judge.

  3. Become a saver - there are many ways to preserve your bountiful catch of chanterelles. You can of course dry them. They are good reconstituted in soups and stews, but tend to be a little chewy. Also drying them doesn't seem to concentrate the flavor like it does with other mushrooms, like black trumpets and morels. I only recommend drying a few. I am experimenting with some dried batches by soaking them in brandy to make my own chanterelle-infused liquor. In another 6 months we shall see if it was successful.

    You can also cook them up a bit like you would normally and then freeze them in usable batches. I have not tried this, but it has been recommended by many hunters and it works well for morels. However the best way to preserve taste and texture is to can them. This takes a lot of time and a lot of mushrooms, however it can really pay off. One good week of hunting and canning will ensure fresh chanterelles for many years to come. I provide the canning directions I use along with more information on this old post on Preserving Chants.

That should help with the anxiety, but let me give you a few tips to make the picking easier when they are really numerous.

  • Ditch the basket...if you normally use one. It is heavy and needless. I use paper sacks instead. Start with small paper bags like you used for a sack lunch. These work well because you limit crushing because you can only stack so many in one of those lunch bags. Once full, I carry these bags in a larger grocery store paper sack, preferably ones with those nice handles. Hy-Vee is a good source for these.

  • Ditch the knife! I know people who pick and snap off the stem, but there is nothing like a nice clean cut. Chanterelles are usually barely standing there propped up by leaf litter and sticks, and often take two hands to cut to be sure you don't damage them. Using scissors instead makes the process a lot faster. You can lop off entire clusters in one quick snip. the only downside is the occasional stick that pokes up and clogs the blades.

  • DON'T ditch your discretion! Last but not least, this is most important of all. When you are home cleaning hundreds and hundreds of the suckers, please stay vigilant and check every single mushroom to make sure they are all chants. You don't know how many times I have found a lone gilled mushroom hiding out in a bag of chants. Almost indistinguishable amidst its fungal brethren and perfectly hidden, you have to be very careful. Generally these are lacarria or some russala species; however, one quick oversight could easily be your last, as all it would take is a single deadly galerina to sneak into the mix. So make sure all of them are clearly chants. I throw out anything that is even the least bit questionable just to be safe. Your mushrooms should all look like these.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Mushrooms - Boletus Atkinsonii

Every summer I try to focus on finding and identifying at least 1 or 2 new edibles and giving them a try. This year I decided that I would focus on boletes. Generally the boletes in our area are fairly safe. There are no known deadly boletes but there are still a few that can get you quite sick, so it is still good to be cautious. Now I have found and eaten a few boletes in the past. Everyone must try the Old Man of the Woods at least once (though if you do, I highly suggest trying them dry and NOT fresh), and I have had my share of easy to ID shrooms, like the easy to ID gilled-bolete.

The main reason I have waited this long is that when you get into some of the better edible boletes it can be very hard and challenging to identify them. Take for example, the bolete photographed above. Micheal Rogers found these early on in the week. He sent photos around to several experts including Tom Volk who thought it matched pretty well with Boletus Nobilissimus. Missouri Mycological Society member Jay Justice, probably the leading expert on Bolete ID, for our area suggested that they were either Boletus variipes or B. atkinsonii. So which is it?

Tom Volk has probably the most experience, having seen mushrooms across the country and around the world, and based on the cap color and description it really does align well with the noble bolete. However, there is something said for local knowledge and the noble bolete has only been found in New York . Jay who knows mushrooms of the MIdwest and Missouri knows what has been found and so his suggestion is probably a more reasonable educated guess. Lucky in this case all of these are edible, so you don't necessarily have to have a exact ID to be comfortable enjoying these. And let me tell you they are well worth it. Not bad at all fresh, but rivals the King Bolete himself, the porcini, in nutty flavor and richness when dried.

This only highlights the difficulty of merely trying to ID a bolete by only using macroscopic features, or only those features that are visible to the naked eye. Often times, you must look at the spores to be truly sure. Luckily there is a short cut that can often help you avoid purchasing and dusting off your microscope skills. Luckily, many boletes can be ID'ed by judging there chemical reactions to certain substance. There are actually three chemicals that professional and amateur mycologists use to ID boletes, however, two of them, iron salts & potassium hydroxide can be rather hard to come by for the average person. Luckily the last one is ammonia which is readily available in any grocery or household store (though get the pure form and not some lemon-scented version). Using just a few drops can often tell you what bolete you have in front of you.

So let's return back to the suspect bolete in question. I had the two options above and in my own research, I found reference to another bolete common to the Midwest (mainly Illinois) that fit the bill, boletus reticulatus .
In fact, after going out with Michael on Friday to see some of them myself,
I was pretty convinced that what he had found was indeed reticulatus because it was a perfect match. However, when I finally tested a cap with ammonia here is what I saw. The drop flashed and then turned a nice shade of magenta, which meant it was most likely boletus atkinsonii. B nobillisimus turns purple as well, but since it hasn't been found outside of NY, I am ruling it out. B reticulatus was the other one, but ammonia will either not react with the cap, or it will turn it a dull orange, which was not the case.

So do not be afraid of boletes, generally anything that doesn't bruise blue or have red or orange pores is fair game in our neck of the woods. But if you add and carry around a small dropper of ammonia in your bag, you can be more certain of which boletes you have as you experiment with tastes and flavors, so you know which ones are the best to seek out in the future.

Here are a few other pictures that Michael took of these fellows:

This one had a cap color that was more of an almost greenish tan, or a light brown with a green hue. Most of the ones I picked were this color. If you click on the photo and zoom in you can see the net-like reticulation on the stem. This is important to know because most of the choice edible boletes have this characteristic.

Going back to cap color, several of them, mainly the younger ones, like this prime button had a more yellowish tan color. I also picked a couple that had a dark brown cap, but all reacted the same with the ammonia. Also as you can clearly see the stem was white. The flesh and pores were as white as the stem and it did not bruise any color nor were there any signs of bruising around worm holes and damaged areas of flesh.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chanterelles - Up and Coming

Well as you can tell from my total lack of posts, I have been busy doing other things and have not been out hunting for fungal morsels just yet. Part of this is because of the hectic nature of my work and home life, but it is mainly because everything and the chanterelles especially, seem to be behind a little bit this season.
This certainly was the case at last weekend's foray in Ha Ha Tonka State Park. The last two year's the group had found between 150 to over 300 species, but this year we barely broke 50 and most was wood loving species which are still prevalent in dry weather.

Now I reckon things have picked up down there in the last 10 days as they have gotten a nice progression of rain, so I will probably check it out later this week.

In the meantime, many local hunters around Columbia have begun sending me reports of finding small buttons, so it will soon be on full force around Mid-MO if it isn't already. You can expect more posts and photos in the coming weeks. The photo above was taken by Michael R. of Fulton, who was out hunting today and, in addition to chanterelles, reported finding something that sounded an awful lot like a bolete that was a close relative to the King. Hopefully, I'll know more on that soon.

So if you have been waiting for chants you can start to satisfy your desires. They are small but the buttons are always the best (NO BUGS) and worth the extra effort to have them in hand.

Photo by Mycologista of Columbia

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Ha Ha Tonka Foray

OK so maybe this post is partially to prove CS (camoshroomer) wrong in his prediction, but more importantly, a great mushroom foray snuck up on me or I would have mentioned it before now.

If you want to find some trumpets and maybe even a few chants among other fungal things, do check out the Missouri Mycological Society Foray this weekend in Mid-MO at Ha-Ha-Tonka State Park near Camdenton. Lots of great fun, food, libations, and a great way to learn more about mushrooms for the more experienced folks. Find the group camping site and you will find us. Someone should be there from Friday afternoon through about Sunday mid-day. Most people clear off by then.

Hope to have some good photos of finds when I get back. Lots of nice rain this week, so something should be up and going. Hope to see you there. Happy hunting.