Fungi 🍄: foraging winter chanterelles

I’m in the middle of reading an excellent book called The Way Through the Woods by Long Litt Woon. It’s about rebuilding her life after the sudden death of her husband, in part by becoming an official mushroom identifier in her native Norway.

This wonderful book has also taught me about my own case of mycophilia (a love of fungi):

The mycophile endeavours to minimise the risk by adopting an extremely cautious approach to mushroom picking – ‘defensive mushrooming’ – and by continually increasing their knowledge.

p.99: The Way Through the Woods – Long Litt Woon

I love this definition. I am extremely cautious about eating mushrooms (actually quite cautious about most things I eat) and look to add knowledge slowly and surely. ‘Defensive mushrooming’ is a role I am happy to undertake.

Now, I’m not much of a forager, for all manner of boring reasons that probably need a blog of their own. But over the years, after finally recovering from a devastating encounter with a tub of M&S cream of mushroom soup, I have learned to enjoy eating mushrooms.

The majority of fungi that I consume are in the form of mycoproteins in products like Quorn and other ‘plant-based’ (LOL) sausages and meat replacement things. If you thought science was slow to identify that fungi are not plants – officially in 1969 – then wait until you see what supermarkets are up to. I’m also partial to shiitake mushrooms which I use in broth or soups with pearl barley, garlic and ginger.

Finding chantarelles

Back in November I headed out to a place where an edible mushroom, the winter chanterelle (Craterellus tubaeformis), fruits in big numbers. I wanted to gather a small amount to try in a pasta dish. Previously my partner bought me some dehydrated horn-of-plenty from Spain, my only experience of eating from this family of delicious fungi. I didn’t use them in the right way and so probably wasted them, to be honest. I needed to put that right.

I had seen and identified winter chanterelles in the past, in the same wider woodland area. They’re easy to ID because of their yellow stipe, the time that they appear, and their ‘false gills’. One of the chanterelles had kindly confirmed its spore print, as can be seen above on the caps of a couple of nearby shrooms.

Here are those beautifully networked ‘gills’ and the strong yellow stipe (commonly known as a stem, of course) which help to identify the mushroom.

We gathered a small number of mature mushrooms and took them home in a plastic box.

Cooking chantarelles

At home I washed the mushrooms (the white spikes are from some hedgehog mushrooms) in a colander. There were some nematodes and other bits of soil so you do need to be careful to clean them. The nematodes were placed outside in my garden somewhere suitable for them. You are probably completely put off eating wild mushrooms after that sentence…

Then I laid the mushrooms all out – hedgehog mushrooms on the right hand side – and you can see they’ve been cleaned up.

I then fried some onions in butter and garlic. Or maybe it was olive oil, I can’t remember!

I chopped the chantarelles in half down their centre and added them to the softened onions and garlic in the pan.

The pasta of choice here was gnocchi (is it officially pasta?) which is part potato, part wheat. It’s really easy to cook. I think I boiled it first but you don’t always need to do so. We consumed it like this. I can confirm it was really delicious and that the chanterelles had a lot of flavour.

Things to remember

I would suggest to anyone reading this who wants to go and find wild mushrooms to eat, to consider the following:

  • Are you able to correctly identify the mushroom you want to consume?
  • Is the mushroom definitely edible?
  • Do you have permission to pick mushrooms in the relevant location?
  • Is the location uncontaminated and therefore safe to consume things that have grown there?

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi 🍄: summer shrooms in Ashdown Forest

I was lucky enough to have a couple of hours to spend in Ashdown Forest last week. The light was beautiful and the views expansive across this famous part of the Sussex Weald. For those who don’t know, Ashdown Forest was the inspiration for A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. I very nearly titled this blog ‘Winnie the shroom bear’.

The mushroom situation at the moment in Sussex is one of a twilight late summer boom, with not really enough rain recently to feed the fungi and maintain the fruiting window. However, where there is shade there is moisture and therefore there is hope.

I followed a path into the woodland, away from Ashdown Forest’s famous heathlands. The ground did look quite dry, so I wasn’t expecting to find too much growing from the soil.

My first sighting was, in fact, in the soil. In the shade at the edge of the path I found a group of common puffballs.

This is an edible species, and though two looked in fairly good condition, I wasn’t looking to forage for food.

On the opposite side of the path a piece of wood was covered in feather moss. The moss was home to a gathering of glistening inkcap mushrooms. They were in wonderful condition, with varying stages of growth in the bright green bed of bryophytes.

Under a beech tree I noticed some large fallen wood sitting in heavy shade. This is always a good place to find fungi because there will be high levels of moisture and damp throughout the year. Especially under beech which casts heavy shade through its leafing phase.

My guess for this species would be stump puffball which grows in large numbers on decaying wood. From a distance they looked like fairy inkcap, but were of course much larger when looking properly. As I knelt down to take these photos, the sunlight broke through on occasion and then faded away. It was a fateful fungi photo.

Off of the path, as I considered whether there was enough time to take things a bit deeper into the woodland, I found an incredible beech tree. This looked like an old beech pollard (regularly cut high) or perhaps a coppice (regularly cut to the stump for regrowth). It had lost a huge limb which lay in front of it, providing a home for a Ganoderma bracket fungus, as so many beech trees both standing and fallen do.

I don’t know Ashdown Forest at all well. It feels to me quite an elusive place. This short walk allowed me to experience more of its quiet allure. I hadn’t expected to see so many unusual beech trees, which would probably qualify as veteran with the discerning experts out there.

This is another wonderful beech tree which has experienced damage to its trunk. The image above shows the tree’s own ‘aerial’ roots feeding of its own decaying wood. No doubt fungi has its role here in helping the tree roots to feed on itself by softening up the wood with its own decay processes.

My hour was up and I had to head back to the car park. On the return leg I noticed some very small yellow mushrooms on the bank built up along the footpath. It clicked that they were probably chantarelles. I looked at the gills of one that had fallen loose and could confirm they were. There is a beech leaf in the left of the image above which provides scale – they really were tiny.

On the way out I noticed the heather was flowering, one of the final acts of summer. It’s always good when there are shrooms on show to support this darkening shift in seasons. The days are getting shorter, the leaves will soon be on the turn and the mushrooms will be arriving.

Thanks for reading.

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