This last summer my grandfather passed away. It is difficult to properly celebrate the life of a man who lived over 91 years. Now that he is gone I am left to adjust to life without my grandfather. He showed me how to relax, take short naps, throw bocce, and read good books. Of all the wise old man skills he taught me, one of my favorites was how to hunt mushrooms.
I started foraging for mushrooms at a young age. A yearly expedition, convened by my grandfather, would get together during the early autumn to hunt for chanterelle mushrooms. He would notify us when the time was just right, after a little rainfall. Chanterelles are light orange to yellow colored mushrooms with gills that run down the stalk. They are different than the look-alike mushrooms which have gills only under the cap. It is really important to properly identify any mushrooms that you collect because some mushrooms can be poisonous and deadly. If you are a greenhorn, always bring along an expert. Grandpa was the expert who taught me how to identify Chanterelles.
I have perfected my mushroom hunting skills over the years and have discovered a few tricks. First off, it may sound silly but you need to put on your mushroom hunting goggles. A major part of picking mushrooms out in the woods is being able to spot what mushrooms look like hidden in the forest floor. Putting on imaginary goggles allows me to focus on the task and not get distracted by all the other shapes in the forest. Have you ever played the game eye-spy? That game is a great prep course for mushroom hunting.
Next, I try to identify the most logical location for a mushroom. To do this you have to try to think like a mushroom. Where would a mushroom want to live? What would be the right conditions? Chanterelles usually sprout in decaying tree detritus near evergreen roots. If you have a few people with you it is best to spread out a little to cover more ground. It is always important to keep within sight or shouting distance of your hunting buddies so you do not get lost.
Scan the ground all around you so you do not miss any mushrooms. Sometimes they seem to pop up right behind you once you pass by. They can be tricky little guys! I usually look for the bright orange color peeking out amongst the ground cover. Once I find one mushroom, often there will be others close by. Sometimes it takes some patience to find mushrooms, but persistence is important. There is a lot of satisfaction in finally finding the edible mushrooms you are looking for. However, if you fail, it is still fun to find other types of interesting and beautiful mushrooms.
Once you locate a Chanterelle, cut the mushroom free with your pocket knife. My grandpa had a collection of dull pocket knives that worked great for cutting mushrooms. There is a debate in the mushroom hunting community about how to properly harvest mushrooms. Mushroomers are concerned with allowing the next generation of mushrooms to propagate. Some believe you should pull the mushroom up completely and others believe you should cut the stem just under the soil.
Once you get the mushrooms home, it is best to clean and use them as soon as possible. Mushrooms are excellent when they are fresh; but If you are not using them right away they can be preserved by freezing or drying.
As a child I was never much of a mushroom eater; I just enjoyed hunting them. Now that I am older I am more adventurous and get greater enjoyment from trying different foods, including mushrooms. A few years ago I found a small amount of Chanterelles, in a top secret location, and I cooked them up with my grandpa’s simple recipe. Even my husband had to admit that they were delicious on top of fettuccini alfredo.
Grandpa Al’s Sautéed Mushrooms
Mushrooms (fresh or frozen)
Butter (a tablespoon or two)
If you are using fresh mushrooms, use your hands and cool water to gently clean the dirt and debris off. Chop the mushrooms into smaller pieces depending on your own preference. Cooking with fresh mushrooms is preferable, but you can freeze them at this point if you wish to use them at a later date. But, make sure you defrost your mushrooms if they are frozen before cooking.
Update : I found some chanterelles just the other day. One was a bit old, and had some mildew on it. But the other had just popped up through the soil.
But I cut off the bad pieces and cleaned them off and now I can eat them.