NOW THAT THE rains have come, it’s the best time to stalk the wild chanterelle mushroom.
Chanterelles, with their golden color, meaty caps and fluted stems are easy to identify.
Rich in flavor, with an earthy aroma that is difficult to describe, the chanterelle was once famous as a delicacy for the nobility of Europe.
These days, the chanterelle has taken its place beside the truffle and morel as the go-to foodie fungus for gourmet cooks everywhere.
The chanterelle is not only delicious, it’s high in vitamin C and one of the richest sources of vitamin D.
Chanterelles can be sauteed and frozen without losing its flavor.
The pioneer method of preserving chanterelles by drying them seems to intensify their flavor.
Dried chanterelles can be ground into a sort of flour for making soups and sauces, but of course you have to pick them first.
Picking chanterelles is probably one of the most popular ways there is to get lost in the woods.
Perhaps you are driving down a road through a forest of second-growth Douglas fir and spot a flash of color in the woods.
Mushroom pickers can become so excited they slam on the brakes in the middle of the road, fling open the door and hit the brush in the excitement of the mushroom hunt.
With your eyes focused on the ground, you walk through the woods, scurrying from one mushroom to the other like a kid on a big Easter egg hunt until you find the treasure trove, a golden carpet of mushrooms that covers the forest floor.
You don’t rip the tree out of the ground to pick the apples, and you don’t rip the mushrooms out of the ground to pick the mushroom.
It is very important to cut chanterelles to avoid disturbing the mycelium from which they grow.
You want a sharp knife that has been specially adapted for harvesting chanterelles by taping a small paintbrush to the handle.
That’s so you can brush off the inevitable dirt and fir needles that adhere to the mushrooms.
This will save hours of cleaning when and if you do eventually get home.
None of that matters now as you see more and bigger mushrooms just over the hill and down the little gully where you cannot believe your eyes.
You had no idea there could be this many mushrooms left on Earth, what with all the people out picking them.
Good thing you didn’t tell anyone where you were going on your mushroom hunt, or you’re liable to have someone horning in on your prize.
The mushroom fever has you in its grip by now.
You race through the woods with visions in your head of smoked salmon and chanterelle marinara sauce, chicken-fried grouse with chanterelle gravy and chanterelles with venison medallions.
At some point, it occurs to you that you are hopelessly lost.
You try to retrace your steps, but the forest looks the same in every direction.
As darkness descends, you walk faster in what you are sure is the wrong direction.
People say you shouldn’t panic when you are lost, but these are the same people who say you shouldn’t panic when attacked by a cougar or the Internal Revenue Service.
Fortunately, at that very moment, I heard a car horn honking.
I walked toward the horn to discover the cause.
My truck was blocking the road.
That’s when I figured there’s only one way to avoid getting lost in the woods while picking mushrooms: Don’t go.
Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected].