October 5, 2011
With the days getting shorter, cooler, and wetter, it is easy to mourn summer in the Northwest, especially the mediocre one we just had with few truly hot days and lingering snow in the mountains well into August. I counted myself among the mourners (part of the reason I didn’t post last week) until I remembered that fall weather brings with it several things to get excited about: changing leaves, revisiting all my pumpkin recipes, and most of all — chantrelles.
Yellow chantrelles (or Cantharellus cibarius) are a choice edible with a mild peppery flavor that can be found in the Northwest from August to November. However, October and November are the height of the season. Why? Because unlike all those sad faces I huddle around at the bus stop, these fungi love the rain!
Chantrelles most commonly grow in mature forests with a thick layer of pine needles on the ground and lots of moisture. With their bright, golden color, they stand out from the dark earth and are much easier to find then other choice edibles like morels, that camouflage themselves, and truffles, which grow underground.
While the change in weather this year from summer to fall has been rapid, September was a fairly dry month. So last Sunday when I set off for my first chantrelle outing with my trusty foraging guide, Chad, I wasn’t sure how many chantrelles we’d find. However, the two days of heavy rain the previous week were certainly going to help.
From Seattle we headed to one of Chad’s locations off I-90 before Snoqualmie Pass. We were fortunate to have the sun out that morning, keeping us warm and dry and giving the chantrelles a chance to pop their heads out of the soil. After a short walk through the brush we found more open forest with lots of downed, decaying trees and heavy duff and sure enough found two chantrelles right away.
Then we walked a while without finding any more, but saw lots of large polypores and coral mushrooms. As a fungi lover of both the edible and non-edible varieties, any trip out into a damp, fungi mecca is worthwhile even if I don’t find what I’m looking for. However, the scarcity of chantrelles made me wonder if the ground was still too dry, until I happened upon another fresh chantrelle and an older, dried out one.
Venturing further into the woods we reached the “money spot,” an overgrown road where we found several young chantrelles clustered along the embankments and hiding under baby pines and ferns springing up from the cleared ground. Many mushrooms, including chantrelles, like to grow in recently disturbed areas like abandoned roads and trails. At this point we had more than enough for a meal, so we left the youngest ones to reach maturity and started heading back.
Along the way we pocketed a handful of chantrelles before stumbling upon the real prize: a fresh, young cauliflower mushroom about the size of two fists. Like chantrelles, these guys are also a choice edible, but rarer and they can grow to an astounding 50 lbs in size! While ours was only 1 lb at most, it was young and tender. The larger, older ones are often very tough and require more cooking time to get a desirable chewing texture.
This leads me to the primary question of what to do with all this Northwest bounty. Stay tuned, some new mushroom recipes are on the way.
BRING ON THE RAIN! IT’S CHANTRELLE SEASON!
NOTE: If you are not 100% SURE of the type of mushrooms you found, don’t eat them. The Pacific Northwest does have some very poisonous mushrooms, and it’s not worth the risk. Chantrelles have a few look-a-likes, the false chantrelle and the jack o’ lantern, which can easily confuse the untrained eye. These cause a serious stomachache at best and severe medical complications at worst. Click here to learn more.