As hunters and outdoors folk, summer can be a bit of a restless time. Many of us are itching for our first cool fall morning in the field or tree stand. Foraging is a great way to get some wild foods on the table in the meantime, and it can be done easily in these months even while you are scoping out your fall hunting areas. There are numerous things we can forage this time of year. The first one I would like to recommend, and the one responsible for peaking my interest in foraging in the state of Tennessee, is chanterelle mushrooms.
Chanterelles are a highly sought after bright orange trumpet shaped mushroom that usually make their first appearance in June or the beginning of July after a good amount of rain. They are arriving a little late this year due to the dry spell we have had in the middle of June, but I hear that they have been around in Alabama for a couple of weeks now. They will grow here and there in shaded areas in the woods, but they love growing in a hollow, near a creek or spring, or by a pond, where you can find giant “flushes” of them. Chanterelles can cost $20-$30 per pound if you buy them from a grocer or online, but I have found them in abundance all over in the wild here in Tennessee with a little sweat equity. Here, I'll highlight what you need to know when foraging for chanterelles from proper identification to proper preparation. Get out in the woods over the next few weeks and enjoy the hunt for these delicious wild mushroom.
As with any mushroom you will want to be absolutely positive you have the right variety before you cook and eat them. There are plenty of good online forums and books out there that will help you make a positive ID if you are unsure. Chanterelles also have a poisonous “lookalike” that is called the jack-o-lantern mushroom. They are very similar in color, but have a slightly different shape, grow in clusters, have gills, and STINK to high heaven when you pick them. Take a moment to learn the differences, and before you know it you’ll be able to tell them apart like apples and oranges. Chanterelles have some delicious relatives you can be on the lookout for while you are foraging. Cinnabar red chanterelles and black trumpets are both trumpet shaped and can be found growing in the same areas as their orange cousins. The cinnabar reds are a beautiful bright red, and the black trumpets are black or dark gray and have a thinner flesh.
Cooking Wild Mushrooms
When it comes to cooking your chanterelles the possibilities are limitless. You can find countless recipes online for dishes featuring chanterelles. They can be used in soups/stews, pastas, dips, omelets or, my personal favorite, sautéed with garlic and herbs on top of a venison steak. If you find some extras you can dehydrate them in the oven or sauté them and store them in ziplock bags in your freezer until you need them. But remember to always follow the golden rule of foraging: Never take all of something. Leave some for the turkeys, deer and other critters. Here is one of my go-to recipes.
- 2 tbs of any kind of cooking oil or animal fat
- Handful of chanterelles (1/2 -1 cup)
- 1 clove of garlic crushed
- 2 sprigs of thyme (you can substitute rosemary or sage)
- 2 tbs of white or red wine (you can substitute any stock or broth)
- A pinch of salt and pepper
- 1 tbs of butter to finish
- First, heat your oil or fat in a skillet on medium high heat.
- Add the herbs and garlic and let it brown on both sides.
- Once the garlic and herbs are browned remove them from the skillet and add your mushrooms to the pan.
- Spread the mushrooms out evenly over the whole pan so they can brown, stirring occasionally.
- Once the mushrooms have browned remove the pan from the heat, add your wine and put it back on the heat. (*this will keep your pan from catching on fire when you add the wine, but still be careful as the oil/fat can pop a bit when adding the wine.)
- Let the wine reduce until it is mostly evaporated.
- Turn off the heat, add salt, pepper and butter and toss so your mushrooms are coated.
Fransesco Vito is a member of the Tennessee Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.