My father first introduced me to the concept of foraging when I was just a wee thing; he would share his seemingly never ending stories of adventure in “the old country” (Germany) foraging for mushrooms and young Fir tree tips to make syrup and sweeteners. His stories were fairy tale-like; the thought of searching for wild edibles was something of a dream. I pictured, warm sweaters, hooded ponchos, wicker baskets and misty forests. It wasn’t until several years later that my first foraging experience actually took place…it was almost exactly as I imagined (save for a few minor details).
My hubby got me hooked on fresh Chanterelles back in 2011, not only for their taste, but the adventure in seeking them in our big backyard (Vancouver Island, BC). Ever since, mushroom foraging has been an annual tradition for us. Granted, we took a brief hiatus after our son was born, but the lure of foraging is too strong to keep us away for long. This year, we ventured to the wild woods with a few good friends and a camera in tow to capture the experience for you all. I’ll share a couple of tips on foraging and cooking with these beauties and our awesome go-to recipe featuring none other than my favourite mushroom. There is a reason Chanterelles are so widely sought after (and pricey); they truly are one of the most delicious wild edibles around.
Before you read any further, note that the information contained herein is provided for sharing purposes only; I am not providing an exhaustive list nor professional mycological information or expertise related to Chanterelle foraging. Always do your own research and speak to you local mycological (mushroom) association/experts before considering foraging for yourself.
Chanterelle mushrooms aren’t a commercially grown commodity; as such, they fetch a high price at the market. When you spot them at your local grocer, it’s because someone took the time to forage locally and source them for you. They are somewhat elusive and, in order to proliferate, they rely on their specific symbiotic relationship with the ecosystem around them; man-made settings fall short when it comes to providing the unique conditions needed for their growth.
Foraging is a wild art. It takes patience, expert knowledge on the subject, physical fitness, a keen eye, and the right tools. I learned to forage through hands-on experience gifted to me from those with decades of practice, knowledge and skills. Lets be honest, some species of mushrooms are deathly poisonous; you would never want to mistake something that could kill you for a Chanterelle. There are species of mushrooms, such as the toxic Jack-o-lantern, that look very similar to a Chanterelle but will do serious harm if touched or ingested! We always make a checklist of essentials to pack along, and equip ourselves with the right gear to withstand the environmental conditions. We make sure we have two (2) working manual compasses, waterproof gear (including hats and gloves), folding harvesting blades, baskets/buckets, food, water and, most importantly, each other. The thick woods are a place one could easily become lost, where cellphone GPS systems may fail you, or you may encounter wild animals; it’s important to always be prepared. If you’re at all interested in the idea of foraging, talk with your local mycological experts first, and perhaps ask to join them on a forage to better educate yourself.
Orange Chanterelle – distinguished by a wavy ridge around the cap, false “gills” and a pale orange-white underbelly/ stem. About 3″ tall.
Foraging typically starts between late September to early October on the West coast; Chanterelles really start to reveal themselves after the first big rainfall of the season. Their availability depends on your general geographical area, however, if you live on the West coast of Canada or the U.S., or certain parts of Europe for that matter, you’re one of the lucky ones. As mentioned, Chanterelles need specific environmental condition to grow; wild woods and damp weather are key (and we have plenty of that on Vancouver Island). Throughout the Pacific Northwest, Golden and White Chanterelles are the most common variety, however, there are several varieties which grow all over the globe… some species we would never find in our region (Red-cinnabars, Yellow Foots, Blue or Black Trumpet Chanterelles, for example).
Golden and White Chanterelles are typically found growing around the base of Douglas Fir, Hemlock, and Pine trees. They vary in colour from dark orange, to yellowish to white. The golden varieties are easier to spot because of their soft apricot colour which contrasts against the dark forest floor. When one is found, it’s a good idea to look around because, more often than not, there are others close by.
A white Chanterelle about 6″ in length
A wild and expanse growing environment…
Chanterelles have a distinct subtle-sweet aroma (very fruit-like), with the golden variety being more pronounced than the white. Chanterelles have gills, or ridges which extend from their stem along the underside of their cap. These gills are know as “false gills” or “forked ridges” which are different than the gills you would see on other types of mushrooms. Chanterelles typically have a wavy-like ridge around their cap with fibrous flesh that shreds rather than tears. They can range in size from a few inches tall to over 6 inches. If we’re not 100% sure it’s a Chanterelle, we don’t take a chance- we certainly don’t pick or eat it! If you’re new to foraging, it would suggest taking your findings to your local mycological association for professional examination.
When harvesting a Chanterelle, it’s very important leave the base of the stem intact; a clean cut taken 1/4″ above the ground will allow the Chanterelle to grow again. Chanterelles are essentially the fruiting body of a larger organism; leaving the base intact will help the organism proliferate from year to year…which means more Chanterelles!
Harvesting a Golden Chanterelle – cut the stem about 1/4″ above the ground to leave the root base in tact.
After a day of foraging, it’s time to warm up and then clean the harvest. Any specimens which are soggy or decayed should be sent to the compost. Some Chanterelles may have a small mushy section on the cap or stem which can simply be cut off to save the rest of the mushroom. Using a soft brush will help to gently remove large pieces of debris and prevent bruising. A damp cloth gently wiped on the mushroom will help remove any additional dirt the brush may leave behind. A general rule of thumb: the less water used to clean them, the better. The cleaning process can take a good hour depending on how big your harvest is; if you’re not able to clean them right away, place them in a brown paper bag in the fridge until you’re ready.
Once cleaned, we typically leave them at room temperature on a lint free towel overnight for use the following day. Chanterelles can also be dried and stored for later use. We cut them in 1/2″ slices, place them in a dehydrator at 125-140’F for a full day and then store them in an airtight glass jar. It’s imperative to ensure you’ve remove all of their moisture before storing, otherwise you’ll likely end up with lots of mold and an entire batch of inedible Chanterelles (spoken from a very disappointing personal experience). Fully dried chanterelles will last you all winter and then some (assuming you don’t eat them all). Note that their texture changes once dried, and re-hydrating them will not return them to their natural state nor flavour. Dehydrated Chanterelles are well suited for soups and stews, and I would recommend adding to your recipe the water used to reconstitute them; this will enhance their flavoring (simply adjust the liquid measure in your recipe accordingly).
Like most mushrooms, Chanterelles are composed of a large percentage of water, which means they will drastically reduce in volume when cooked. Don’t be surprised when your full basket is reduced to a fraction of the size once heated. There is a silver lining though; each mushroom imparts so much flavour, their size is somewhat irrelevant. And, as a side note, Chanterelles are almost always consumed cooked, I wouldn’t suggest eating them raw. They cook up fairly quickly as well!
We tend to prepare Chanterelles the same way each year: cooked in olive oil, with sliced garlic and sea salt. It’s a simple preparation that allows their beautiful flavour to take centre stage. I am sharing this same recipe below, however, I’ve added a tangy herb cashew spread to a slice of toasty french bread to go along with their earthy sweet umami. And of course, let’s not forget about the crispy garlic slices…omg, so good. This is an easy to prepare small bite which highlights and compliments the aromatic flavour of these mushrooms. You will love it!
Putting together this post has been a labour of love. Foraging for Chanterelles is an experience I cherish each year; being able to share it with you makes me so happy. I hope you found this somewhat engaging, interesting or maybe even inspiring…especially when you think of the tasty delights mother natures provides for us!
CRISPY GARLIC & CHANTERELLE CROSTINIS w/ HERBED CASHEW SPREAD
- 3 cups fresh chanterelles roughly chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic sliced
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- salt & pepper
- fresh parsley for garnish
- 1 small whole wheat baguette sliced on the bias 1/2" thick
For the herbed cashew spread:
- 1-1/2 cups raw cashews
- juice of 1 lemon
- rounded 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 cup filtered water
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
Place 1 cup of the raw cashews in a bowl and cover with filtered water.Let soak for minimum 2 hours. Rinse and drain the soaked cashews and add to a high powered blender with the remaining un-soaked cashews, lemon juice, sea salt, water and nutritional yeast. Blend on high until the mixture is smooth and even, taking time to scrape down the sides to ensure everything is well incorporated. Spoon the cashew spread in a small bowl and stir in the fresh thyme leaves. Cover and refrigerate for minimum 30 minutes before serving to allow the mixture to firm up.
In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and cook until the garlic becomes fragrant and just starts to turn golden around the edges (about 1-2 minutes). Add the chopped chanterelles and cook, stirring frequently until the garlic is browned and the mushrooms have reduced in size (about 6-8 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool slightly in the pan.
Meanwhile, place the baguette slices under the broiler at 375'F for 5 minutes, or until toasty and slightly golden brown. Remove and let cool slightly. Spread a layer of the herbed cashew spread over each slice, then top with a portion of cooked chanterelles. Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley or thyme and coarse sea salt. Serve right away.
This recipe makes extra cashew spread; any leftover will last in the fridge for 3-4 days in a covered container.