On a recent trip to a piece of family property, I had an experience of the Chanterelle kind. I normally don’t venture out in search of mushrooms during the summer months, but this year I decided to try something a little different. So, I took a trip just to look for mushrooms, and I’m so glad that I did. I saw more mushrooms in a day than I usually see in passing during the rest of the year. I was lucky enough to see Black Trumpet, Puffball, and Cinnabar-Red Chanterelle, but after a few huge cold drops of rain began to hit the back of my neck, I decided to head for the truck.
By the time I came across the Chanterelles, I had already walked a few miles, and was packing several bags of mushrooms of all kinds (some I’d already identified, and others in quarantine bags for later study). It began raining in earnest, and I stowed my camera equipment, and was high tailing it to my truck which was about a quarter of a mile away. I was deadheading it down a ridge to shortcut the journey for fear that my video & still camera would get wet, when a flash of yellow in a wash off of one side of the ridge caught my eye.
I walked over, and what to my wondering, wandering eyes should appear, but a Chanterelle mushroom?
I looked around, and sure enough, I could see the popping of little yellow caps all around in the wash. The rain was beating down, so I pulled my camera, and snapped a few quick pictures, then smushed it back in my pack before it was ruined.
I checked them to make sure that they had false gills on the underside of the cap. I pulled the first one, and smelled the mushroom, and even in the rain I got a whiff of that characteristic fruity aroma. I grinned like the Grinch with the last can of Who-Hash, because I knew that I had Chanterelles.
1. The most dangerous look-alike is the Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom, Omphalotus olearius, which is more common in Europe, and Omphalotus illudens, found more often in the good ‘ol USA. Reports are that you likely wouldn’t die from eating a Jack-O-Lantern, but that it would Jack-O-Your stomach all up, and you might wish your were dead. I have not had the pleasure (and don’t intend to). Either way, it is to be avoided at all costs.
The Jack-O-Lantern has true gills. It is important that you learn the difference between true and false gills, because it is essential to identify when picking Chanterelles. The Jack-O Lantern is an orange color, but can sometimes have a similar hew to Chanterelles, so don’t necessarily go by color. They do however, have bioluminescence, so the gills will glow in the dark. They contain a compound called luciferin, like Mr. Devil, so yeah…avoid that. Another critical difference is that Jack-O-Lanterns are Saprophytes, meaning that they grow on dead and decaying things (like Oyster Mushrooms). Chanterelles are Mycorrhizal, meaning that they have a symbiotic relationship with other plants, but don’t feed off of dead or decaying plant matter. Jack-O-Lanterns also have a tenancy to grow in a cluster from a single base as apposed to the Chanterelle which grows as a single mushroom from a single stipe or stem. The last think is that when you cut open the mushroom, the flesh inside of the Jack-O-Lantern is orange. The Chanterelle has white flesh inside.
2. The most difficult to distinguish is the False Chanterelle, Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca. This little guy, still gives me fits sometimes. The False Chanterelle used to be classified as poisonous to humans, but it is now classified as edible, but it allegedly tastes like crap. Some literature still lists it as poisonous, so try to avoid as much as possible. The easiest way to distinguish the False Chanterelle from the true Chanterelle is that the False Chanterelle has relatively closely spaced true gills. The Chanterelle does not. The gills of the False Chanterelle are narrow, decurrent (extending down the stem below the point of attachment), and forked. Sometimes the base will have a darker brownish color than the Chanterelle.
About the Chanterelle:
Like many of the best tasting, and most prized mushrooms the world over, the Chanterelle can’t yet be grown in captivity. Like today’s outdoorsmen, they have resisted attempts to be domesticated (just ask my wife). Because they are mycorrhizal, and grow as part of a much larger relationship between plants, and fungi, science has yet to determine how to farm this golden delight. So, chubby fingered little folks like me have to go out, and pick them from wonderfully wild places.
I don’t recommend eating any mushroom (especially one picked from the wild) raw. First of all, that sounds like it would taste like crap. Second, you don’t want any bugs or other contaminates to be consumed without purification by fire. Finally, and most importantly, certain mushrooms can be eaten cooked, but can cause upset stomach if not properly cooked. There have been reports of it busting up peoples’ stomachs after eating Chanterelles raw. So Cook Dat before you Eat Dat!
Where to Find Chanterelles:
So far this year, I’ve found Chanterelles in washes, or wherever the soil holds some moisture. They are almost always found in heavy leaf litter. My entire property is somewhat hilly, and is a mix of hardwood and pine. I’ve noticed them on North facing hills, on the transition line between the pines on the hill tops, and the bottom oaks, and beaches. So, not always in the bottom of the bottoms, and not quite the top of the tops. I know that this seems to narrow it down to almost anywhere, but you just have to burn up some shoe leather, and you will be successful.
When to Find Chanterelles:
I’ve been going as soon as possible after a rain. This accomplishes a few things:
- The leaf litter is a darker color, making the brilliant yellow color of the Chanterelles stand out against the forest floor;
- The rain compresses the heavy leaf litter where these guys like to pop up, thus exposing more of the mushroom to a chubby explorer like me.
- The rain seems to trigger new flushes of mushrooms.
- The recent flush of mushrooms will help you to find mushrooms that are more fresh, and haven’t yet been attacked by bugs.
Here in Louisiana, I’ve only found these from late Spring through early Fall. So, basically during the Summer months. In northern states it will be different, so check around to see what time of year others are finding these delicious little wild things.
Prepare yourself for requisite warnings: Here’s where I tell you not to be a boob, and don’t eat things that you can’t identify. Don’t run with the scissors, don’t sweat petty things, and don’t pet sweaty things, and if a blogger jumped off a bridge, would you do it too? Use multiple reputable guides and an expert before you have a positive identification. If one small thing seems out of place, or doesn’t match the plant or mushroom you are attempting to identify, then it probably isn’t what you think it is. Don’t try to force an ID. Always assume that the plant or mushroom you are trying to identify is poisonous until you have proven otherwise, never the other way around.