Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Chanterelles, the First of 2012
I considered a few clever titles for this post, along the lines of "There's Gold in Them Thar Hills!", that sort of thing. Then I decided to cut the crap and get right to the important news: the chanterelles are up in west central Wisconsin. I brought home about a pound and a quarter from yesterday's outing. It's the most thrilling wild harvest of the year, in this forager's opinion.
In fact, I recorded an essay on this golden topic for the Wisconsin Life essay series on Wisconsin Public Radio last week. The piece starts out, "When the summer has been warm, and wet, I start to look for them the first week in July...". And so when I happened to look at the calendar and notice that it was the second week in July in this warm, wet (enough) summer, I wondered why on earth I hadn't been out to my favorite chanterelle woods. Straight away, I remedied that omission.
This is the sort of woods I search in:
It's a mature forest, mostly oak, though I've found them in quantities in a friend's woods where the maples may outnumber the oaks. An important feature here is the lack of underbrush, or even many weeds on the forest floor. They're choked out by the thick mat of leaves. This makes it easy for the forager to get around, and makes the mushrooms easier to see once they do push through the leaves. It's on a steep slope, too. Fairly steep, oaky hillsides are the only places I've found chanterelles. That's not to say they might not be found elsewhere. I'd love to hear about other foragers' experiences with chanterelles, my favorite wild mushroom.
On this day I was ready to conclude that I was too early, after all. Nothing in the first spot I checked, nothing along the trail that is often spangled with them by now. So I was about ready to exit the woods and head for the trout stream, instead, when I saw this:
Just a little button, which I did not pick, but it got me looking more carefully. I found two or three larger ones in that area, and then I did a clever thing: I backtracked up the path I'd just come down, to find the several nice-sized chanterelles that I had walked right past. It wasn't that I had been inattentive, but sometimes the angle makes all the difference, and almost all the mushrooms I found this day were pretty well hidden in a thick layer of oak leaves. Later in the season, even next week, I hope to find a lot that look like this:
But yesterday they mostly looked like this, so it was like playing "find the fungus":
Make that "find the fungi":
A while back I developed a superstition, on some foray when the chanterelles were harder to come by, that a turkey feather on the ground would point me to a find. For example:
My timing this year was perfect. It would have been a wasted trip if I'd become anxious and headed for the woods last week. The pound-plus that I brought home will keep us happy for at least a week, and it was delightful to find little babies like these, so pretty in a bed of moss (sorry for the crappy picture, but I wanted to show how small they can be when they're just emerging):
It fuels anticipation for next week, and beyond. You never can tell with mushrooms, but this chanterelle season is off to a promising start. We could use a little more rain, but not pounding cloudbursts that kick up mud on the mushrooms. The weather over the next few days looks fairly pleasant, but a chanterelle hunt is never a cakewalk, at least not the way I do it. I started the morning with a sweatshirt on, and got to the woods early, around 7:30. Nonetheless, I had ditched the sweatshirt before I started, and had sweated through my T-shirt well before I was done. I was swarmed upon by ravenous mosquitoes and buzzed by annoying deerflies, got stung by nettles and scratched by prickly ash. It's all part of the package, and well worth it.
Hit the woods. You may strike gold.
Text and copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw