DAY 87 - Chanterelle Occupation of Georgia - Daylight scarce. Boots encrusted. Jeans mildewed. Beard green. Fridge full. Freezer won't close. Body weary. I find myself powerless. I can't stop. Mushrooms encroach.
It's been raining for days and days and weeks and I can't stay out of the woods. I slog through mud in search of spilled gold. It's everywhere. I bring it home by the half-bushel basket - ten, twenty, thirty pounds at a time. Daily. I can't wait to see the shine of gratitude in Cindy's eyes as I lay bare my quarry. Forty-five minutes and an easy hike: a small price for feeling mighty. More mushrooms. More mushrooms. More mushrooms. Bright appreciation fades to dull apathy. More mushrooms. Her eyes descend into woeful darkness.
I wrote that a year ago during the Summer of Chanterelles when chanterelle foraging turned to crisis. It was a struggle to stay ahead of the onslaught and I abandoned my blog post. All available refrigerator space was appropriated to chanterelles queued for processing. More mushrooms waited in baskets and bags scattered around the house.
Our Toyota Tundra dehydrator took on even more of the overflow. It was triage and we couldn't possibly save them all.
Most years, the chanties are not so pervasive, although even in a dearth of wet, we're sure to get at least a few pounds just down the hill from the house.
This season, I found the first chanterelle at the beginning of June, which is about on schedule, but they really just started coming on a couple of weeks ago (early to mid-July) when the steady rains started.
Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), or "golden chanterelles," are probably the most well known wild mushrooms. They're sought after by chefs and foodies due to their delicate flavor, which some describe as "mildly peppery." Ranging in color from yellow to deep orange, golden chanterelles are easy to spot in the summer forest.
They can be as big as 5 inches in diameter, but 2 inches is closer to average. The cap is wavy and generally funnel shaped.
Their false gills appear as wrinkles that are forked and wavy with blunt edges and run down the stem, the same color as the rest of the chanterelle. Chanterelles also have a distinct fruity apricot-like aroma.
They are sometimes confused with Jack O' Lantern mushrooms, which are poisonous but not known to be lethal. The Jack O' Lantern usually grows in clumps on wood (not from soil like chanterelles) and has true unforked gills.
Chanterelles generally occur from late spring through late summer or early fall here in North Georgia. They love moisture, shade and lots of organic matter. Drenching rain followed by a couple of days of stifling heat is the natural sauna necessary to spawn a good bloom.
Chanterelles largely grow near hardwoods like maple, poplar, and oak but it's not uncommon to find them around white pines.
I've seen a few online sources advising foragers not to waste time searching near blueberries. They say the two can't coexist. I've found this to be completely false. A stand of blueberry in the dappled shade of hardwood canopy can be very productive.
Other tree species associated with chanterelles include birch, hemlock, and bay.
Look for chanterelles close to streams and other low lying damp areas. They tend to pop up in the path of runoff or drainage where surface water carries their spores downhill. After locating a few, a quick search up and downhill is generally a good bet for finding more.
How to Harvest
Once you've found your chanty honey-hole, tread lightly and carry a sharp knife. Or scissors. Cutting wild mushrooms to harvest serves two purposes. First, it helps keep dirt out of your harvest basket and away from your bounty. Second, you'll have a better chance of getting more chanterelles later by leaving the base intact in the soil.
Having a careful step will ensure that you don't unnecessarily trample and disrupt the mycelium that spawns new growth.
I usually leave the smaller chanterelles behind - especially if there's a good chance of rain within a week or so.
A revisit after a thorough soaking will almost always result in much bigger chanterelles provided they're in good shape when you find them the first time. Otherwise, checking an area more than once every couple weeks is probably a waste of time.
Half-bushel baskets seem to be the perfect size for carrying chanterelles out of the woods. They're big enough to comfortably walk with a good haul of mushrooms - several pounds. And they're small enough that your chanterelles won't be piled so high that they get crushed.
And don't bother with overly dirty chanterelles. Leaf litter and organic matter are fine but dirt and grit can be nearly impossible to remove.
How to Clean
The first step in processing chanterelles, or any wild mushroom, is cleaning. We've found that a toothbrush works best. You'll need to pull them apart for a good cleaning. Grit can work it's way into the stem as the mushroom grows. Unless you split the stem to clean away any internal dirt, you'll likely get an unpleasant, cavity-causing bite of sand.
There are a few "grades" of dirtiness. Perfectly clean? Perfect. A little dirt or grit? Acceptable and fairly easily remedied with a toothbrush. A fair amount of dirt? Acceptable for soup stock but not much else.
If you find yourself scraping away half of the stem to get rid of dirt, it's not worth the effort and you'll probably never get it clean. The best thing to do in this case is make stock and strain with a coffee filter.
How to Preserve & Store
Once you've cleaned your harvest, use them right away, dry for storage, or saute in butter and freeze (our favorite method as it preserves the most flavor).
But chanterelles are best when fresh and will last about ten days in a paper bag - not plastic - in the fridge.
Cooking & Eating
Chanterelles are great in soups, stews, and sauces and pair well with the following wines, foods, and herbs:
- light red wine such as pinot noir or a dry white wine when preparing a light dish such as a cream sauce on pasta
- heavier red wine such as cabernet or our native norton when preparing a red meat dish
- venison and other wild game
Take a look at our chanterelle recipes for ideas on cooking them.