Fungi ๐Ÿ„: 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.

More mushrooms

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The Sussex Weald: the final trumpets of autumn

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St. Leonardโ€™s Forest, West Sussex, November 2019

The last day of autumn. The final patches of beech, oak, hazel and birch leaves are all that resist the darkest greens and browns of a winter wood. The green leaflets of an elder dangle out across the path, the only ones left on the entire tree.

Grey squirrels round the trees in small groups, like people wrapping a maypole in its ribbons. They are elf-like in a place where little else moves. I stop to take a photo of a biscuit-brown pine tree and a woman waits alongside me.

โ€˜I thought youโ€™d seen an animal,โ€™ she says when I look, her dog carrying on ahead of her.

โ€˜Just squirrels,โ€™ I say.

She laughs: โ€˜Oh, yes. Plenty of those!โ€™

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The gill is full as it slaloms down through the woods. In a pond at the edge of the path fallen oak leaves rest in perfect stillness.

At the foot of the heath, golden mushrooms grow in the soil amidst the remains of bracken. They are so easy to miss. Theyโ€™re trumpet chanterelles, a species as edible as the original. Like all the mushrooms I photograph, Iโ€™m not here to pick or eat them. Their trumpets curve out like gramophones, their stipes sinuous, yellow and tapering like a birch trunk.

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These are autumnโ€™s final moments. The frosts are creeping in, our breaths stolen away on the air as they leave our lips.

The Sussex Weald