All that the Rain Promises…
…is the title of a quirky, yet informative, guide to mushroom foraging that a dear friend showed me. I just love the title for this book, hence I chose it as the intro to my little summer foraging piece. Sure, we all love a sunny and beautiful summer day, and sometimes we are saddened or stir crazy by a gloomy and rainy summer day. But the rain enables and promises gems on our farms and in our gardens and woods. Mushrooms especially love moisture and humidity. The best time to go foraging for wild mushrooms is on a hot or humid day, a day or two after a rainfall.
There are countless amounts of wild mushrooms. I will, however, focus on two specific edible mushrooms that have impacted me and culinary culture for quite some time. Lo and behold, they can be found in our area - the chanterelle and the porcini.
I adore mushrooms. Growing up, I can’t say I loved many vegetables, or anything clearly grown from the ground, but I loved these cheap canned mushrooms my parents would buy and I would sprinkle them on just about anything - from eggs and sandwiches to pizza and burgers. Sometimes I’d eat them right from the can. As I grew older, and especially more obsessed with food and my own local edible landscape, mushrooms always remained my favorite - vast in appearances, varieties, tastes and applications, both culinary and medicinal. And there is still so much I have yet to learn!
Again, here is where I will insert the important disclaimer: use caution when eating anything from the wild until you have consulted an expert source. To this day, if I am uncertain of a particular specimen, I always pass on eating it until I consult one of my more experienced mushroom hunting colleagues or books. This article does not provide enough information to positively identify any mushroom.
The golden chanterelle mushroom (cantharellus cibarius) is perhaps the wild mushroom most dear to me because of its appearance, taste and abundance. It was one of the first mushrooms I learned to forage about 15 years ago, and every year I get so excited to return to the spots I know and love to find them. The bright yellow mushrooms decorate the dull-colored woods, like little specks of gold bullion, around late June though the fall.
Chanterelles are most noted in French cuisine (‘girolle’ in French) but appear and are eaten in many other countries (‘pfifferling’ in Germany). Their tastes vary from apricot and floral notes to a woody or earthy taste and aroma. Most of the flavor compounds in chanterelles (and most mushrooms) are fat-soluble so they really lend well to sautéing in butter, oil or simmering in cream. A smaller amount of flavor compounds are alcohol soluble which lends nicely to cooking them in wine or a spirit. My preferred method is to sauté some minced onion in butter, add chanterelles, deglaze with white wine, finish with a splash of cream and season with salt and pepper. Serve with a crusty baguette to mop up the juices. Et violà! I also love chanterelles in omelets or basic scrambled eggs.
From a nutrition side, chanterelles contain protein, vitamin D, and B vitamins including riboflavin, niacin, and thiamine as well as minerals like potassium, copper, and selenium.
Like some mushrooms, the golden chanterelle has a few edible (and equally delicious) cousins such as the white chanterelle (cantharellus subalbidus) and the black trumpet (craterellus cornucopiodes). I find these occasionally, but always lean towards the golden ones.
A columnist from a New York Times article dated July 26, 1973 cites wild mushrooms and finding Chanterelles in the Berkshires:
“The last morels of spring had long since gone to spore. Now a rumor wafted down from the Berkshire hilltops that the first chanterelles of summer were shyly peeping through the brown leaves of the forest floor. I’d give half a week’s pay to find some! No Yankee tradition of mushroom gathering seems to have survived, but enthusiasm of a convert has spread the gospel in the Berkshires.”
As I’ve concluded over the years, mushroom foragers are indeed a unique bunch. Often referred to as mycologists, I have heard a few others refer to themselves as ‘pickers’, ‘hunters’ or, most humorous to me, ‘fungaphiles’. While some are reclusive, forage alone and don’t dare to share their secret spots, others are happy to go picking with friends or groups. I fall into the latter as I love to share food experiences and stories, although I don’t refer to myself as a fungaphile. Well, at least not yet..
My other favorite mushroom to forage is the king bolete, more commonly known as the porcini or cepe (boletus edulis). The porcini mushroom is perhaps most notable in the culinary world as the king of edible mushrooms, especially in Italian cuisine. When I first learned and saw with my own eyes that these mushrooms could be found in my own woods, I felt like I was transported right to Italy! I love foraging porcinis (around the same time as chanterelles) because of the wide range of like mushrooms (also edible) in what is known as the bolete family. Their characteristics include a large, fleshy, sponge-like and watery cap with a centered stalk. The king bolete or porcini, however, is most distinguishable by its reddish brown cap and more bulbous stem or stalk. The porcini has a bold, meaty and rich flavor. Again, due to fat soluble flavor compounds, the porcini is great sautéed in fat but can also be dried to preserve and concentrate their flavor. I often dry porcinis and grind them into a powder which I use like a secret weapon to add a punch of savoriness to a pasta, soup or a meat dish. Buon appetito!
The king bolete, like the chanterelle, also contains protein, vitamins D and B, riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, potassium, copper, and selenium. Additionally, they carry several natural antioxidants such as vitamin C, ergothinene, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds.
Both the chanterelle and porcini cannot be grown or harvested. Although many have tried, their spore and growth remains a mystery. While you sometimes can purchase them in specialty grocery stores (for a steep price), in my eye, nothing beats getting out there and finding them yourself!
Every mushroom hunting excursion is dear to me for the memories I’ve had with friends I have foraged with and learned from. Because of these mushroom hunting excursions, every time I feel hot and humid weather during or after a big rain I imagine the mushroom colonies sprouting up all over the woods, beckoning for me to drop whatever it is I’m doing, find them, collect them and share them in a classic or creative recipe. Although I do not intend to pursue mycology, I carry the pride and passion from what I’ve learned and continue to learn from others and Mother Nature’s promise.