Photo by Lynette Rae McAdams
Beloved for their delicate flavor and fruity aroma — not to mention that marvelous golden hue — chanterelles have been a documented delight in kitchens throughout the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere for at least 500 years.
Found nestled on the forest floor, alone or in groups, this hearty fungus has one of the longest bloom times in the mushroom kingdom — fruiting from mid-summer all the way through late fall. Rising up from deep moss or leaf litter, firm stalks brandish tulip-like caps with wavy, feminine edges — all glowing with tones of deep yellow-orange. Beneath the cap, long, blunt ridges, known as “false gills,” dance down the stalk.
Although the color and size of chanterelles vary from region to region, for the longest time, the schools of both science and cuisine believed these fungal delicacies to all be of the same species, specifically, Cantharellus cibarius — the flaxen favorite of Northern Europe.
But in recent decades, innovations in DNA sequencing and genetic typing have revealed more special, subtle differences corresponding to a mushroom’s native geography, proving them each to be unique, though closely related. In the Pacific Northwest, multiple species of Cantharellus flourish side by side, including C. formosus, the Pacific golden chanterelle — official mushroom of the state of Oregon.
No matter the mushroom’s specific heritage, any edible golden chanterelle is considered choice. Pairing perfectly with pasta, chicken, rice or fish, and taking equal pleasure in a bath of broth, butter or cream, this mushroom is an easy palate pleaser.
In addition to their deliciousness, chanterelles are also exceptionally nutritious, containing significant amounts of protein, potassium, iron, and chromium, along with eight different amino acids. Perhaps most impressively, they contain absurdly high levels of Vitamin D2, which helps the human body absorb calcium but also makes this mushroom unattractive to insects, slugs and other wildlife — a benefit for both the forager and the connoisseur.
Though many attempts have been made, it is still impossible to cultivate chanterelles — they can only be gathered from an untamed forest, where they form symbiotic relationships with trees and certain shrubs. As with all wild mushrooms, identification is paramount, as poisonous lookalikes do exist. Never harvest mushrooms without absolute confidence in their identity and never eat a wild mushroom unless it has come from an experienced, trusted source.
To learn more about local wild mushrooms, including where to find them, how to pick them properly and how best to prepare them for eating, consider participating at the annual Wild Mushroom Celebration on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, which takes place this year from Sunday, Oct. 1, through Wednesday, Nov. 15. Visit wildmushroomcelebration.com for more information.