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.


Mycologista said...

Hey! Multi-small-bag idea is GOOD idea!

CamoShroomer said...

The rain did it, they exploded! The first little spot you & I hit last week was covered. Only went 100yds in the woods, selectivly picked a grocery bag full in less than an hour. There were many more, but I had enough fresh chants for the day and the skeeters were getting bad. Bug juice was in the truck as usual. Probably give some away and hit it again in the morning. Got other duties to attend to.

commoncents said...

Thanks for posting this! I love your blog!!

common cents

Nancy C said...

I'm new to the game but just ran across a hillside on my farm that is full, I mean full, of what I believe to be Chanterelles. They practically glow. I'd like to be sure of what I am picking. Is there someplace I could send pictures to make sure?

Nancy C

ahistory said...

Sure send them to mid.mo.mushrooms@gmail.com.