They're out there. Down among the oak leaves, on the hardscrabble slopes. Some stand out in cleared patches of soil like a single brilliant dahlia in a vase, like a jar upon a hill in Tennessee. Some shelter against logs, or under grasses, you pass by without seeing them, then turn around--hello! This is not a color we tend to see in the woods.
To describe it as "yellow" won't do; they deserve the designation that comes with the common name for cantharellus cibarius: the golden chanterelle. My favorite wild mushroom. Incomparably fragrant, exquisitely beautiful, occasionally abundant, reliably recurring in the same area year after year--if conditions permit.
Last year I had a decent harvest, a couple of pounds, perhaps. Two years ago, if I recall aright, I finally found one, single, shriveled specimen after hours of foraging, several fruitless outings, hoping against hope when I should have known better. Three years ago, a good harvest, measured in pounds. This year: Maybe the season of a lifetime. I'll let you know after my next outing.
And the thing is, I'm late. I usually start to think about chanterelles in early August, and for some reason I have August 12 in mind as the date I really ought to get to the woods. This year I just wasn't able to make it until the last of August--too many other distractions and obligations. We have had a wonderful, action-packed summer, but as you all probably know, sometimes having fun can be just exhausting. Especially when you have to fit work in there, too....
So the first chanterelles I found, several large ones at the very edge of the woods that I think of as my chanterelle hunting grounds, were old, dried, bug-eaten. My heart sank. But I went a little farther, heart rising with each step, each glimpse of gold in the leaf duff. At length, I was feeling quite okay.
Along with the chanterelles, I discovered an abundance of black trumpet mushrooms , what the French call trompettes de la mort, "death's trumpets." That Gallic nickname surely sounds a little off-putting, but it just comes from a fanciful notion that if Death decided to take up the horn, maybe form an underworld combo, his instrument might look something like this.
The black trumpet isn't deadly, far from it--it is edible and delicious, delicately scented, and lovely to behold whether raw or cooked.
Oh, yeah, and the hen of the woods mushrooms are fruiting, now, too. I picked one small, pretty clump, around three-quarters of a pound. I had thought to look for more, but I got distracted....
With mushrooms this special, especially the first of the season, we treat them very plainly. Just sautéed in good butter, and served over a soft omelet of fresh local eggs. Some fillet beans from the garden, roasted with sliced leeks. Piece of bread, glass of wine.
Man, do I love eating this time of year.
Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw