Sunday, July 24, 2016

Chanterelle Season

The 10% chance of rain on Friday turned into a steady downpour which left the woods in an incredibly steamy state. Hiking through some hay fields and into the dissected terrain rich with large white oaks and a relatively poor understory of sedges and little else, my trouser legs were soaked only twenty steps in. Nevertheless, a day in the woods beats any day at a desk, and a day in the woods with a stellar mycologist is even better.

When I first moved to Missouri, I gobbled up every kind of natural history information I could gather, so impressed with the intact nature of many thousands of acres. By late June in the chert woodlands where I worked, small, brilliant orange mushrooms began to appear on a trail growing upon relatively bare soil. They weren't very big at all, but my trusty colleague identified them as chanterelles, edible mushrooms that grow each summer throughout Missouri. I collected a few, washed off the dirt that had kicked up on the underside, and sauteed them just as I did regular button mushrooms: olive oil, Cajun seasoning, garlic, and red wine. These little guys barely made a side dish, but they were certainly scrumptious.

The relatively regular rain events in the northern reaches of the Ozarks this summer has resulted in a bumper crop of the beefy, much larger chanterelles, Cantharellus cibarius. On the steamy Friday afternoon, days after I had mentioned to my mycologist friend that I would gladly accept a donation of chanterelles this summer, we came upon a hillside chocked full of large, fresh, beautiful chanterelles. These weren't the small ones I first met, these are huge mushrooms, so large that it would only take two to cover a pizza. The serious mycologist carries paper bags and a knife on forays into the woods. We left the patch to finish our scouting event, and came upon two more hillsides covered in bright mushrooms, patches so large one could spot them many hundred feet away. We had to collect. I was giddy with excitement when my friend handed me a knife to cut the mushrooms at the base so as to keep the mud off of them (easier to clean that way). We filled three sacks on one patch.

Not only has this been a great summer for chanterelles, but for many other kinds of mushrooms. There's a toxic look-alike to chanterelles in Missouri, so before any foraging of edible mushrooms, take extreme caution and positively identify them. I'm fortunate to know a scholarly mycologist. After our trip to the woods, I brought him to my house to help identify the fungi growing in the backyard. The squirrels and insects are doing a great job of devouring them all, but a few remained intact and now I have a curated list for the yardforest! Spending time with experts in the field of natural history is fabulous. I never want to stop learning. Oh, and my large batch of chanterelles will be prepared in many different ways with so many delectable recipes highlighting the natural flavor of this beautiful mushroom.

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