[Editor’s note: New Gloucester resident Kevyn Fowler will share his vast knowledge and fantastic photos of mushrooms in this new monthly feature.]
| Kevyn Fowler|
My interest in mushrooms started around 2008 when I got a cell phone with a camera that had a macro setting. As I started experimenting with the macro lens, I found that mushrooms made great subjects to photograph. It wasn’t long before I realized there were mushrooms all around me I hadn’t really noticed before, and as I am naturally curious about the natural world, I began studying these creatures. Soon it became a serious hobby of photography and learning, which continues to this day. The joy comes from both the striking beauty and diversity of the fungal world, and the lifelong pursuit of learning.
Chanterelles. Photos: Kevyn Fowler
This month we take a look at the Chanterelle mushroom. One of the most well-known and highly regarded edibles in the world, the chanterelle is pursued by everyone who forages mushrooms. The places they grow are not that hard to find, and if you find a place they grow, they’ll show up in that spot in varying numbers year after year. People will keep their locations secret, because while chanterelles are not only very fine eating, they’re also commercially valuable to foragers. That’s because this species grows in a complex relationship with certain tree species, are only found in the wild, and can’t be grown in man-made conditions in a grow house.
Some of the common places to find these beautiful bright yellow chanterelles are under white pine, beech woods, mixed forests, and often growing among moss. Keep an eye out along walking paths or tote roads, sometimes right along a dirt road. However, it’s not recommended to harvest mushrooms near roads, as they can bioaccumulate chemicals in the environment. They usually start popping in late June and can be found anytime up until the weather gets very cool.
It’s important when looking for any species of mushroom to slow down. Pay attention to the surrounding trees species, stop occasionally in a likely spot and just look around. Often I’ve done this and looked down at my feet and my quarry is right there under my nose!
As for harvesting and eating these wonderful mushrooms, simply pull them out of the ground. I snap off and toss the base, which usually has dirt on it, to keep the mushrooms clean. The debate about whether to pull or cut is usually hotly contested, but truly it’s only a matter of personal preference; I pull them up. Some people use a basket to collect and carry their harvest, but I prefer a brown paper bag for harvesting and storing the chanterelles in the fridge. They will last some time in a paper bag in the fridge but chanterelles should be eaten right after harvest to get the best flavor.
There are not many “lookalikes” that can fool you, though one species that often gets confused with chanterelles is the Jack O’ Lantern, Omphalatus illudens. These bad actors grow on wood, aren’t really the right color, and with study, despite some similarities, are actually easy to identify. However, the eager eye can fool people into making a bad decision. Jacks are not one you want to make a mistake with. Though they won’t kill you if you eat them, you’ll be so sick for days with severe cramps, diarrhea, dehydration and nausea, that you’ll wish you were dead.
Cooking chanterelles is best, in my opinion, done in a simple fashion to get the true flavor. I brush the chanterelles off lightly with a toothbrush, then tear them apart by hand. I start with a “dry sautee” on medium heat for just a minute or so, then melt a pat of butter and toss the shredded pieces around until they are soft and cooked. Finish with a sprinkle of salt and pepper (quick note: 99 percent of wild mushrooms should be cooked to avoid gastric distress). I like most mushrooms alone and cooked simply. Though I do enjoy chanterelles in eggs or an omelet, to get the real flavor you should not get fancy.
So make some time this year to get out into the beautiful woods of Maine, take your time, stop and look around and listen, enjoy the peace and quiet, and recharge the soul as you search for these culinary treasures from the wild.
( Disclaimer: you should never, ever eat any mushrooms unless you are 150 percent certain you know you have the right species. The old adage, “when in doubt throw it out” has likely saved many a novice forager’s life.
Also the author assumes no responsibility or risk arising from the information in this article.)