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The Jewel Of The Forest

BLOG 39: What if I told you there is a mushroom out there with the nicknames of 'forest gold’ and ‘‘jewel of the forest’. Intriguing, no? Aptly called ‘forest gold’ because these culinary mushrooms are a multi-hundred million dollar industry according to Forbes Wild Food.This mushroom is the Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) and 2,000,000 kg are shipped annually in barrels of brine to Germany where it is highly prized. Mushroom hunters need forests. You see, these jewels of the forest are mycorrhizal meaning they share a symbiotic relationship with plants or trees like oaks and some conifers, for example. Chanterelles cannot be cultivated and will remain wild. In order to thrive in the wild our prized Chanterelle needs old growth forests. When disturbed they take 60-80 years to recover. In fact it is recommended one tip toe around chanterelles while foraging them. One shouldn’t wear deep treaded hiking boots or runners. No heavy footwear, no steel toed boots. When it comes down to it the best footwear to protect this jewel of the forest is authentic First Nations moccasins. If you tread lightly while picking Chanterelles it will ensure one has a bigger crop the following year. If you trample around your chanterelles you are guaranteed a smaller crop or none next year. Be careful, eh.

There are 40 species of the Chanterelle family found in North America. Many Chanterelles, like the Black Chanterelle for example, are some of the best known and prized culinary mushrooms in the world. None are poisonous and only one, the Scaly Vase Chanterelle, is known to cause stomach upset. I have foraged only two of the 40 species of Chanterelles: the golden coloured Common Chanterelle {Cantharellus cibarius} and the Black Chanterelle {Craterellus cornucopioides}. The Black Chanterelle is also well known as the Black Trumpet or the Horn of Plenty. In this article I will only be familiarizing you with the Common Chanterelle.

Chanterelles are easy to identify due to their unique characteristics. In fact Chanterelles are considered a good mushroom for the new hunter to start with . They are funnel shaped with a groovy wavy edge around the cap. Most of them smell fruity.They range in colours from white to yellow to orange to cinnamon to blue to black.

At close inspection of their gills you will notice they aren’t gills! They are more like wrinkles and folds splitting into two with tiny cross veins. Very cool to observe and they are a unique identifying feature of Chanterelles. There are some really fancy wrinkle designs out there to discover on each Chanterelle you forage. That right, you have to inspect every Chanterelle’s fertile surface (underside of cap) you plan to eat for the telltale wrinkles and cross veins.

Chanterelles are easy to identify but have been associated with poisonings due to the fact that the person didn’t make sure their mushroom on hand had no gills. These unfortunate people picked the toxic Jack-O-Lanterns (Omphalotus illudens) thinking they were Chanterelles. Jack-O-Lanterns do not smell of apricots or fruit and have true gills that do not split. Jack-O-Lanterns mushrooms have no cross veins either. They grow in large clusters at the base of trees or out of wood. Chanterelles grow singly out of humus soil and are scattered around in leaf litter. Sometimes two or three Chanterelles can grow close together but not large clumps like the Jack-O-Lantern. When you cut the stem of a Chanterelle the flesh is white and the Jack-O-Lanterns inside flesh is orange. A lot of differences for sure but great caution should be used every time you forage any mushroom. If you don’t know what it is don’t pick them as you will be tempted to eat them.

Apparently the best tasting Chanterelles are from Saskatchewan’s old growth forested areas. Saskatchewan’s Chanterelles are full of flavour and a beautiful orange colour. They are small due to the dryer climate out west and this too concentrates its flavour and has garnered high demand around the world. I must admit our drought this summer in the highlands has brought out some very tasty and strong smelling Chanterelles too. It has been a good season for me so far.

To hunt Chanterelles is easy. They have a mycorrhizal relationship with oak trees so in the Ontario Highlands or the Gatineau Hills, hike to the southwest side of the hill, look for an old growth canopied Oak forest mixed with Beech and Maple trees.The ground should be spongy and littered with oak leaves. You may just get lucky and strike gold.

Chanterelles taste mild, nutty and have a slight apricot taste. they taste best sautéed in butter or used in cream sauces, with chicken or egg dishes. Nutritionally, The common Chanterelle has vitamins B,E, D and K, protein and trace elements in selenium potassium and iron.

With a Mushroom knife cut the chanterelle’s stem above ground to retrieve an un-nibbled and healthy looking mushroom; brush off any soil and leaf litter; Check and double check for the splitting wrinkles, cross veins and funnel shape before putting it in a mesh produce bag to transport home.At home Rinse off the chanterelles with cold water and remove any residual dirt; pat dry with a paper towel.

Chop your chanterelles to the size you prefer and split your ‘jewels of the forest’ in 2 piles.:

Dehydrate one pile for later winter use in cream sauces, soups and stews. Crumble them directly into the sauce,soup or stew and cook until tender. Stir fry the remainder of the fresh chanterelles in a dry frying pan on medium high. Stir fry them until all of the water has evaporated and the mushrooms start to brown. Add a dab of butter and stir fry for one more minute. Remove from the frying pan and place on a paper towel lined plate. Add your cooked chanterelles to chicken and egg dishes. Seal the unused cooked mushrooms in freezer bags and set in the freezer for later use in dishes requiring fresh Chanterelles.

Oh yes I forgot to mention when you find chanterelles in the woods that you don’t yell to your partner ‘I found some Chanterelles’. You must speak in code and practice that code before you get into the forest. Also you have to turn off your location services on your phone because when you take photos they’re attached to a GPS that others, like commercial hunters or neighbours will find your spot via GPS and clean you out before you get there next year. Be warned as Chanterelles are one of the top five choice mushrooms around the Northern Hemisphere. Europe is having trouble keeping up the demand and has to import theirs. Lets not get into that situation and support our local forest initiatives.

P.S. Always remember that a mushroom is like an apple on a tree and picking them is not harmful. Trampling the surface soil where the mycelium live is harmful,

Happy foraging!



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