Collecting Wild Mushrooms Part 2 , Chanterelles
As the recipes – more to come! – suggest, my job is to have a great time collecting, followed by having a great time cooking and preserving. HIS job is to know where and how to look, so here’s another guest post from mushroom expert Bill Bakaitis.
by Bill Bakaitis
Mention ‘summer mushrooms’ around here and someone is sure to say “Oh yes, Chanterelles! They are the only mushroom I collect.”
And for good reason. They are delicious, they resist insect damage, clean up easily, are distinctive and easy to identify, and are found in beautiful locations. Oh, did I mention that they are delicious?
The warm rains of summer bring about a profusion of fungi, in a bewildering array of sizes shapes and colors, all overlapping and intergrading in confusing splendor. Hundreds, if not thousands, of species can fruit in almost any part of the continent. No one, it seems, knows them all, but part of the fun of mycology lies in trying, and it becomes a consummate challenge to do so as many species compete for a relatively few identifying characteristics.
Adding to the challenge is the profusion of names, scientific and common, that get attached to the same mushroom over time and across locales. Anne of Green Gables might add in her signature way that “Mushrooms give scope to the imagination!” Here is a frontier for the naturalist with plenty of room to roam.
But for those of us who are less than expert, and particularly for those of us who want to collect for the table, finding a group that is safe to eat in spite of the inherent diversity is a blessing. I am sure this is one reason that for many collectors, summer mushrooming means collecting chanterelles, for with one notable exception, and a few ‘look-alikes’ almost all of the chanterelles are edible.
My guess is that if you have read this far, you have probably collected and eaten chanterelles and are waiting for the helpful hints on where to find more. I’ll get to that in a moment.
If you are a beginner and wish to forage for them, I would suggest at the very least getting a reliable field guide and preferably seeking the aid of an experienced collector. Best is to find and join a local mycological association and go out with them until you get your feet wet.
Below is a flow chart field key for the Chanterelles of the Northeast that might help. It has been modified (with appropriate additions) from Miller and Miller’s 2006 treatment in North American Mushrooms.
Chanterelle Key : image is attached but text is tiny….you will know what to do.
Of the 18 “Chanterelle” species treated, only one is usually considered toxic, Gomphus floccosus.
Gomphus floccosus: The toxic Gomphus floccosus is on the left. It has a hollow stem and scales over the top. The desireable Cantharellus cibarius is on the right. Note the smooth cap and solid stem. Both have the blunt edged “false gills” typical of Chanterelles.
Similarly, only one of the ‘look-alikes’ is reliably toxic, the Jack O’ Lantern Omphalotus illudens, although it is best to avoid all of the look-alikes until your second or third season of collecting.
Omphalotus illudens: Note the knife edge true gills of this orange to pumpkin colored Jack O’ Lantern mushroom. It grows in clusters at the base of mature trees. It smells good, but is quite toxic, reliably producing severe gastrointestinal symptoms.
In fact, the best advice one can give for collecting is to go slow. Learn one or two new mushrooms a year. Stick to the easy ones at first and move to the confusing ones only after watching them for several seasons. It is just like bird watching. Crows and Robins are easy. Confusing fall warblers are not.
The three chanterelles you might begin with are:
Cantharellus cibarius: This is the prototype Golden Chanterelle: egg yolk yellow, thick flesh, blunt edged “false gills” on the underside, with a fruity odor.
Cantharellus cibarius: These large C. cibarius were collected under Birch and Oak along a stream which flowed over deep glacial deposits.
Cantharellus cinnabarinus: A small mushroom, cinnabar red throughout, with blunt and wrinkled false gills. It is thin fleshed, but often appears as an ample carpet on the forest floor.
Cantharellus cinnabarinus: This small red mushroom with the wrinkled ‘false gills’ can carpet an acre or more of the forest floor. What it lacks in size is compensated by the numbers.
Craterellus fallax complex: These “Black Trumpets” are ash through brown to black, thin fleshed, with a smooth underside becoming grayish to salmon-buff. They are very fragrant, often smelled before they are seen.
Craterellus fallax complex: Hard to see, thin of flesh, but Oh, soooo good!.
Habitat: So here are the collecting tips. All three of these fungi are associated with rich forests, particularly those which have some age to them.
I recall a bit of video from the 1980’s or ’90’s which featured Julia Child on her hands and knees, head protected by a helmet and plastic face mask, hands encased in leather gloves, pushing her way through dense underbrush, squealing with delight when she found a stray clump of chanterelles. She emerged with her mushrooms but bloodied by briers and prickers, covered with debris and bugs. But that was in Louisiana.
Here in the northeast one walks erect, strolling easily down mossy paths, woods roads, or streamside under a cool canopy of tall trees. Like trout, chanterelles here prefer to live in areas of supreme beauty, and when we hunt them we come away satisfied even if our creels are less than full.
Most mycologists consider chanterelles to be mycorrhizal, that is, there is a symbiotic relation between the fungus and the trees under which they grow. Some mycorrhizal tree species are Oaks, Birch, Poplar, Pine, Spruce, and Hemlock, and here is where you will find your chanterelles.
The fungi bring moisture and minerals, chiefly phosphorus, to the marriage and also help protect the tree roots from infection from parasitic fungi. In return the tree provides sugars and proteins which allow the formation of the large fruiting bodies – the mushrooms we seek. So, once you find a patch of these chanterelles, you can return in future years and be reasonable sure of collecting more. They will be attached to the tree roots.
The hard part then is finding the first ones. Leslie and I like to look in moist low-lying mossy areas of mature trees or old growth mixed forests. These forest soils generally become more acidic as the trees mature and the fungi pull phosphorous to the tree roots. Chanterelles seem to prefer these soils. As Olle Persson puts it “Chanterelles grow best when the pH equals 5.5, a value that is very close to the pH of a normal birch grove” (The Chanterelle Book: Ten Speed Press)
I think of such a stand of birch, sandwiched between an old growth forest and a lake that in fifteen years has never failed to excite us with the sight of acres of Cantharellus cinnabarinus growing as a carpet in the fern and moss under the birch.
Another birch stand, along a mossy stream interspersed with spruce, pine and oak has given us exceptional fruitings of very large Cantharellus cibarius. We look forward to visiting it every July and August. It has failed only once, and that in an exceptionally dry year.
The Black Trumpets too seem to be associated with moist mossy forests where birch is interspersed among oaks, spruce, and hemlock. The word is that a little limestone underfoot helps them along.
But these guys are very hard to see. Recently I took Leslie to an area where I had made good collections of Trumpets in the past. Nothing! Boy was I disappointed. “They were right here under this Oak” I said, but look as we might we found nothing. Two hours later, on our walk back to the car, there they were. The slant of the light had changed and suddenly we were able to see them, right where we had previously looked, right where I had found them in years past.
As it happens, all of these areas are located on deep glacial deposits, and (in the Northeast) I am inclined to list this as another characteristic of a preferred location for chanterelle (and many other kinds of mycorrhizal fungi). From Maine to the Adirondacks, to the Hudson Valley of New York, a mature forest over deep glacial till is an area worth investigating.
Glacial deposit: A proven Chanterelle spot. Note the Birch and Spruce over the very deep glacial deposit. This pit is close to 100 feet deep.
The edge effect: There is something about the edge that seems to favor mushrooms. The speculation is that the underground mycelium grows, expanding outward ’till it meets an area where growth is inhibited. In an effort to ensure it’s survival it must then create a fruiting body – the mushroom – in order to produce spores which then can find new areas to exploit.
The edge can be the boundary between a field and forest, two kinds of trees in a forest, the barren scrape of a woods road, asphalt secondary, hard packed trail, or eroded stream bank. Such areas are almost always more productive than a pure stand of monocultured timber.
The edge: Another reliable Chanterelle spot. Here all the Chanterelles are found in the thin strip of vegetation between the forest and the road (the bright strip is the gravel road)
These areas are easy to navigate, and the mushrooms are easy to find. They are often right at your feet.
So, pack a small picnic lunch, hang a creel over your shoulder and plan on a graceful walk along a trail in a forest primeval. Listen for the liquid call of the wood thrush. When he sings the chanterelles will be nearby!