Chanterelles: The Boreal Forest’s Golden TreasureJul 21, 2023 10:09AM ● By Content Editor
By Mike Kwasniewicz - Boreal Community Media - July 21, 2023
Editor's note: This article was originally posted on August 15, 2022.
Mushroom hunting is a rewarding yet potentially dangerous endeavor embarked upon by a growing number of intrepid individuals in the wilderness of northeastern Minnesota. While there are a handful of choice edible fungi in the area, only a few are easy to identify for the novice forager. Across all levels of experience, mushroom hunters should be aware that some fungi have potentially dangerous mimics that can cause mild gastrointestinal discomfort, severe alterations in consciousness, or even organ failure and death (in the most extreme cases).
Take great care if you wish to partake in mushroom foraging and be sure to get a positive identification on any species you pick before consumption. Never eat any foraged mushroom based solely on information gained online or in any book or article, including this one. Always be sure to get a positive identification from someone with practical experience in the field.
There are a few, nearly unmistakable, species of mushrooms an amateur can seek out relatively safely. Among them is the highly sought-after Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellale cantharellaceae). This blond toadstool can be found inhabiting old-growth forests and strewn among long-established grassy areas. It is highly prized due to its inability to be cultivated effectively and has a delicious, almost fruity, flavor profile. With an aromatic scent akin to fresh apricots, this sweet and earthy-smelling mushroom is a favorite of professional mycologists and amateur foragers alike.
Fortunately, the Chanterelle is quite unique in its morphology and only has a few mimics that can be clearly discerned if the forager knows what to look for. Chanterelles are usually found due to their distinct and vibrant yellow hue, which at times can have just a faint hint of orange. This is an unusual color scheme in the wilderness of Minnesota, and it is one of the very few yellow items a person may find when scouring the forest floor in the summer months. As they mature, they tend to range in color from a faint yellow, a chalky whitish color (if they are in the sun for too long), or to a mushy brown blob.
Chanterelles tend to be short and stout, and often will grow in small clusters, though strings of singles may be found inhabiting the mossy understory. The mushroom caps are somewhat bulbous with a curled edge and can come in a variety of oblong shapes. However, they are often semi-rounded with various irregular features (making them somewhat different than the standard circular or umbrella-shaped mushrooms).
Two of the most distinctive features of the chanterelle are the false gills and the stem. The false gills of these mushrooms are exceptionally unusual in the fungi world, and often form an odd “brain-like'' network of diverting veins when fully mature. These false gills can extend from the stem up through the underside of the cap to the terminal edges.
The stem will always be solid and filled with a white pith, or core, unless it has been bored out by insects. These stems can be tested by tearing away a small chunk. If the stem peels back similar to string cheese you likely are dealing with some variety of Chanterelle.
The mushroom most often mixed up with Chanterelles is the Jack-O-Lantern. True to its name, the Jacks are vibrant orange-yellow color and can even display bioluminescent qualities at twilight, making them radiate with an eerie glow. Jacks grow in large clusters and always are lignicolous, meaning they are only found stemming from tree stumps or other dead wood. (In contrast, Chanterelles will grow in soil or moss but never on woody debris.) The gills of Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms are non-forking and well-developed. They can be separated and peeled off from the cap similar to button or portabella mushrooms, and will look more akin to the true gills one would be used to seeing in grocery stores.
Once you have discovered what you believe to be a Chanterelle, do not pluck it from the ground (as you may be tempted to do). It is important to harvest them with a knife; cutting just above ground level so as to leave as much of the subterranean bulb intact. This is due to the fact that these mushrooms form a mycorrhizal network (a sort of root network) with other plants, fungi, and soil in the surrounding area. These networks exchange nutrients in a symbiotic fashion with other organisms, creating an interconnected and highly dependent system that is required for the Chanterelles to grow. This is one of the features that makes them so unique and impossible to cultivate.
It is also vitally important to remember not to pick an area clean of Chanterelles or any foragable you may be seeking. Overharvesting makes it difficult for future propagation, so it is always recommended to leave a third of any individuals behind.
Once you find a patch, make a note. Chanterelles can be considered perennial as they will grow in nearly the exact same location from year to year, so one patch should hold fungi for generations if the soil is not disturbed. Collection is done best in a whicker or breathable solid basket as the fruiting bodies are somewhat fragile and can break apart if treated roughly. When picking, do your best to remove debris or dirt from the mushrooms in the field. This will save a great deal of work once you get home.
When your picking expedition has finished and you are ready to enjoy your bounty, the next vital step is to study each individual mushroom to make sure they conform to the characteristics you are looking for in Chanterelles. One should be 100% certain of the species before proceeding any further. If there is any question as to the identity of a mushroom, separate it from the specimens you are certain of for further inspection. Additionally, if you find any soft or infested mushrooms, those should also be set aside and added to your trimmed bits later.
The next step is to clean the caps and stems as best you can. It is recommended that a soft brush be used to manually remove as much dirt and debris as possible. Avoid rinsing under water at all costs, as the mushrooms will soak it up like a sponge and this will make cooking much more difficult (while also diluting the pungent fruity flavor). Compressed air from an electric computer keyboard cleaner works great as well as it focuses a stream of air in between the false gills and will blow out most of the dirt while leaving the mushrooms dry.
Keep all trimmed pieces, uncertain specimens, and other byproducts not worthy of your plate in a separate container. They can be finely chopped up and mixed with water to create a sort of dirty mushroom slurry. If a bit of sugar and grain or bread is added to the mixture and allowed to sit for a few days, the spores or mychrozaesa may recolonize and create a rooting mother for the chanterelles. This concoction can then be spread in areas similar to where the original mushrooms were picked in the hopes that they “take root” and propagate new plants. The success rate with this sort of distribution technique is low but is worth the effort if a new colony of Chanterelles can be established.
After cleaning the mushrooms they are ready for cooking. It is recommended that all the mushrooms are at least halved (bite-sized pieces are best) in order to expose the center of the stalk, so they can absorb more of the flavor from the other ingredients. With Chanterelles, as little adulteration as possible should be employed when cooking. Most recipes will indicate a light saute in butter and that is all. Some people prefer to add a bit of garlic and onion to the pan, but these flavors can crowd out the distinct mushroom flavor and should be used very sparingly. Once cooked through, the Chanterelles will reduce in size by about two-thirds and will darken up slightly. They are often served over noodles in an alfredo-style sauce, or simply by themselves as an accompaniment to steaks or other protein. Chanterelles can also be used as an additive to soups, stocks, or other sauces, and will add a light aromatic note.
If one is lucky enough to find a large patch of Chanterelles, they can be processed and saved for later consumption. The ideal way to do so would be to follow all of the previous steps (including cooking in butter), then allow them to cool. Once back down to room temperature the butter and mushroom combination can be frozen for use in future meals. Dehydration is also an option, but will lead to a slightly leathery consistency once the mushrooms are reconstituted for use at a later time.
Enjoying the bounty nature has to offer is a rewarding but at times risky endeavor. At the same time, safe and proper foraging can provide many benefits. Always be careful when working with a new species, regardless of edibility. Some people have been known to have allergic or otherwise unpleasant reactions to certain wild edibles, so it is always a good idea to try a small bite of the finished product and allow yourself some time to digest it before eating a full meal. This will allow your body to process the food and any reaction you may have would be minimized. Adverse reactions are very rare with most edibles, but one can never be too careful when it comes to amateur mycology.
As always, happy foraging!