There are a lot of things to miss about the Pacific Northwest–the old growth forests and fairy-tale moss, misty foggy air that seems to carry the weight of native history, the mountains and clear lakes and streams, the majestic Puget Sound. But most of all, I miss the abundance of foraged food everywhere you turn. Whether in the forest or the city, you could get salmonberries by the Burke-Gilman trail or golden plums in the public parks or even better, mushrooms! During a year of plenty, we had oyster mushrooms, shaggy parasols, and lobster mushrooms. We’ve lived in the Southern Adirondack region now for over 6 months. We explored and hunted, but somehow missed morel season altogether. Then, alas! We recently stumbled upon some mushrooms! They’re not just any mushrooms–the most delicate, floral, treasures of the summer with the most beautiful name to match their essence: chanterelles!
The ones above were picked 2 days after a mild rain around the Tongue Mountain range. The first time one goes to pick mushrooms can be a scary endeavor. It’s good to go with someone who has gone before and knows of the telltale signs of identifying particular mushrooms. Chanterelles are primarily a safe mushroom to pick because they don’t have too many poisonous look-alikes. To identify a chanterelle, you’ll notice that the caps have irregularly scalloped edges and branch up and out like an inverted umbrella. They have false gills on the underside of their tops. Gills refer to the ridging tissue underneath the tops that usually end before reaching the stem. Chanterelles have false gills because they continue onto the stem. The one mushroom that looks like a chanterelle is also bright golden orange, but it has true gills. This mushroom when eaten can cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Chanterelles however, can be cut above the surface of the ground and smell like fresh apricots. The fragrance is unmistakable. They often grown in “fairy” rings. In the northeast US they can get as big as a fist. In the Pacific Northwest, they can get as big as a person’s head!
These mushrooms have such a distinctly rich flavor, that one of the best ways to appreciate them is sauteing with butter, garlic and salt. Chanterelles cook down beautifully, and can withstand prolonged periods of cooking (up to 1 hour or more). They are not the best mushrooms for drying. Instead, they impart rich umame flavor when cooked fresh. They pair excellently with eggs, chicken, cream, or butter. When you start to cook down chanterelles, you will notice that they lose a lot of liquid. This liquid has a lot of flavor, so they can add a rich addition to soups, risottos, and stews. Recently, I made a gluten-free chicken pot pie with chanterelles. Delicious! We found a glorious amount of chanterelles a week after our first find (picture below), and we had chanterelle risotto, chanterelles egg scramble with chives, and chanterelle butter spread.
There are many different types of wild edible mushrooms. Some poke out during different seasons. On our last hike, we got chanterelles, lobsters, and oysters, not to mention what we think is a black chanterelle. We’re eating all of these except the black chanterelle–we’ll have to do more research before we test that one!
Mushrooms Nutritional Properties
Many different wild mushrooms have varying degrees of immunomodulating effects. What this means is that they have constituents that have been shown to decrease hyperactive immune systems (allergies and autoimmune conditions), or help to increase weak immune systems (infections and cancer). It is a great source of various vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, B vitamins and zinc. Most notably, it is a great source of vitamin D. Mushrooms can play a particularly important role in a vegetarian’s diet since it is a great non-animal source of protein and B vitamins. In Chinese medicine, they enrich the yin. Since they usually grow in cool dark areas, these foods embody yin. Therefore, they can be an important source of nutrition for anyone who suffers from yin deficient states such as some cases of menopause, hypertension, diabetes, and insomnia.