Foraging for chanterelles on the California Central Coast
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
This post is about foraging for chanterelle mushrooms, but frankly the word forage makes it sound way too hard. We’re having such a great mushroom season around here, so wet and cold, that you could just go out to a good spot and call out “here…mushroom, mushroom” and the chanterelles practically leap into your open arms. That’s how easy it was. Not to mention plentiful – nearly 40lbs worth on one foraging trip alone.
Wait, what’s that I’m hearing? Is that you, mumbling something under your breath about mushroom toxin and people dying each year from eating mushrooms they foraged? It is scary, I know. Really, you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger coward than me when it came to that. So, what was I doing foraging for mushrooms death-in-a-bite, you asked? Well, that’s because there is help yet, even for the wimpiest of us. I went hunting for chanterelles, you see?
Chanterelle is a good mushroom variety for beginning foragers. They’re quite distinctive and easy to identify. The only poisonous variety that may be confused with them are the Jack-o-Lanterns, and even those are not going to kill you. Jack-o-Lanterns and chanterelles are pretty easy to tell apart, especially here on the Northern California coast – the Jacks are more orange, with deeper gills, and when you tear one in half you’ll see that the inside is also orange, while chanterelles are white inside, have shallow gills that look more like veins, and more golden in color.)
Another good trick for a beginning forager is to hitch a ride with a seasoned forager. You may have to ply him/her with gifts and drinks and food, or be required to swear an oath not to divulge their secret spots. Or you can join your local mycological society when they go hunting. As for me, I’ve got a secret spots or two myself, alas I’m not at liberty to tell you where they are. Something about that blood oath I took the first time someone took me out or something like that…
Or perhaps not really. Before I let you think I shed my city girl’s cred so thoroughly I went hiking for hours looking for mushroom, I should confess. We knew exactly where the mushroom were – at a usual spot on a friend’s property well off the beaten path. We even took his Gator out there so we didn’t need to walk!
Then again, I think I deserve just a little credit. Just because we knew the spot didn’t mean we could just walk around picking up mushrooms like we do flowers. These chanterelles are great at hiding in plain sight. It takes a measure of skills to spot them, and more importantly, not to trample all over the ones you haven’t seen. After all, we want to pick chanterelles, not chanterelle purée.
Up here in the Northern and Central California coast, chanterelles are often found under oak trees, but on the ground and not right on the trees (Jack-o-Lanterns are the ones that grow on tree trunks). So you look for suspicious mounds on the ground. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get to see a bit of bright, telltale orange peeking out from under the leafs and twigs.
To pick them, you slide your hand under the chanterelle, holding the base between your fingers like you do a wine glass, and give it a gentle pull to get it out of the ground.
This particular shot (above) shows the distinctive shallow veins on the chanterelles, which are very different from the gills on the underside of the poisonous Jack-o-Lantern.
Our loot grew, and grew, and grew, until we were tired of picking them. We ended up with two full containers, probably 40lbs.
One cardinal rule about picking mushrooms, never pick anything you don’t know. Like this one. I picked it with my camera instead.
…and another rule, appreciate the beauty around you.
Don’t mean to get all philosophical on you, but this season is perfect for finding beauty in decay.