Several weeks ago I stole a book on mushroom identification from my place of work (sorry by’s, I’ll give it back) to accompany my newfound interest in foraging. Turns out Newfoundland is sparsely covered in edible organisms.
Don’t Go Poisoning Yourself …
In an effort to put my “eat local” money where my local-eating mouth was, I decided to hunt the most hyped and potentially lucrative local forage-able: The Chanterelle Mushroom. Cantharellus cibarius is a fungi species found throughout North America and Europe.
It’s fruiting body is known as the Chanterelle – a golden-apricot coloured mushroom, growing up to 15cm across the cap, and is helpfully identified by its decurrent gills, bare stipe, and infundibuliform cap.
It should be said that if you are unfamiliar with what these terms mean – do your homework: chanterelles are easily confused with Jack O’ Lantern mushrooms (Very poisonous) or False Chanterelles (not fatal but will ruin your day)*.
If in doubt, pick with a seasoned forager or have them examined. Posting online may lead to ambiguous information and serious indigestion.
When I set out on my quest I quickly realized that when someone says they have a secret spot, they mean TOP SECRET, meaning a real barrier-to-entry for the novice. On my first trip without a guide I spent 3 hours wandering around in the woods and leaving empty-handed, only later to learn I had been mere meters away from a goldmine.
A Quick Science Lesson Will Help You Find Them
Chanterelles are fruiting bodies of an underground mycelial structure (think root system) in symbiosis with the root systems of other organisms in what is called a mychorrhizal relationship.
Essentially the plants exchange some of their sugars with the fungus, in exchange for water and minerals, which mycelium are more efficient at extracting than their roots. This means chanterelles are always found in close proximity to other Host plants: conifer trees, blueberry bushes and juniper bushes.
These organisms also create a sheltered climate, filtering sunlight and trapping moisture. Look for mossy areas, which provide moisture. Often, the caps spring up around the edges of trials. Chanterelles need warm soil in the spring to germinate and the picking season can last until mid-late September. Even within a season, a chanterelle patch can regenerate over a few days with moderate rain.
Culinary Considerations for Chantrelles …
Chanterelle mushrooms are very aromatic, meaty, and pair great with chicken and pork. They’re amazing grilled, and look great whole on a plate. They hold sauce beautifully, add body to light dishes, and add a lighter fruity note to heavy dishes.
Cooks love them. Fry with butter, season with salt and pepper and some aromatics and voila, a perfect side dish.
I pickled half of my share with orange peel and star anise. A quick Google search will have you turning these bad boys into a myriad of culinary creations. Plus – Given their unheard of levels of vitamin D, they may just be the cure for a particularly foggy summer.
As of yet, no one has been able to commercially cultivate the mycelium. Relatively few pickers and low yields mean a correspondingly high pricetag. Chanterelles can be purchased at Lester’s farm for $16/lb with prices having been as high as $20/lb! Meaning the monetary equivalent of sirloin steak is growing all over the Avalon.
Your Haul Will Vary But Market Price Makes it Worth It …
Seasonal variation is large. A personal source reported having collected a low of 175 pounds and a high of 1000 pounds in their 12 year foraging career. Professionals can gather upwards of 50 pounds in a successful afternoon.
Our trip yielded a mere 7 pounds over 3 hours of foraging, with a 45-minute commute. Selling these at a reasonable market price (~$13/lb) gives us a hypothetical $26/hour wage. I make more hypothetical money when picking chanterelles then when working at my very un-hypothetical job.
If that is not reason enough to take up the basket – it’s really, really rewarding. I can only compare the thrill of stumbling upon a patch of the golden caps as liken to a treasure hunt (or MMO raid – whatever you’re into). Nature, exercise, and few India (don’t you dare leave the bottles) and you have a great afternoon on your hands. And – if you actually find some – you also have the makings of a great meal.
So You’re Game. Now What?
My recommendation is to bother, bribe, blackmail, or barter a known picker out of one of their secret spots. The truth is that while only an estimated 5% of chanterelles available are actually picked, Newfoundland is a very large place.
Wandering around the wilderness for hours is a great way to explore and can be required for high yields. However, if like me you needed to be home before 8 – an accurate tip to narrow things down can mean all the difference.
Once you’ve decided on a general destination, pack the following: rubber boots, long sleeved clothing, a brimmed hat or cap, and a picking basket. When picking, refrain from picking very small mushrooms – these still have a ways to grow. Also avoid trampling carelessly.
When picking the mushrooms, try and remove as much of the stem from the ground as possible – cutting from the stem creates an open wound into which bacteria can enter and can harm or even kill the larger mycelia organism.
And remember, if you have a number of leads – mix it up. Continuous picking has been known to deplete patches for long periods of time. Many thanks to my good friend and guide (who shall remain nameless) for the secret spot I was shown (that shall remain secret) and to a veteran picker (who also wishes remain anonymous).
(*) – Testimony of experienced foragers
(~) – Wikipedia
(@) – First-hand