Someone you know may be a member of a secret society. Shortly after a rain, clad in heavy slacks, long sleeves and sturdy shoes, they leave the comfort of their living rooms and televisions to hunt for gold in the oak forests of California. What they seek cannot be melted into a ring or fashioned into a trophy, but certainly can be heated in a skillet and transformed into a miracle of culinary science.
Going alone or with clandestine companions, the locations of their wanderings are kept secret so as not to give away the position of their hauls. They dodge poison oak, slog through mud, and scramble up steep slopes. What these adventurers are tromping around the wilderness for is the enchanting, delectable chanterelle mushroom. Underneath the cap, pseudo-gills run all the way down the stipe, or stalk. The emit a fruity, peppery fragrance that fills the air when cooked. Extremely high in vitamin C, vitamin D and potassium, these delicacies formerly reserved for the tables of nobility are as healthy as they are flavorful.
Cantharellus cibarius, or the golden chanterelle, is a funnel shaped fungus that appears in veins or clusters across Europe, North America and Mexico. They have also been found as far afield as Asia and Africa. Popping up along amidst leaf litter and detritus of the forest floor, chanterelles have been discovered near birches, conifers, beeches, oaks and, occasionally among chaparral. Here in San Luis Obispo, the positions of large crops of these little beauties are kept under wraps, as they can be sold at market for nearly ten dollars a pound.
However, with a little luck and the knowledge of an experienced mushroom hunter, you can capture some chanterelles of your own. Take care to only pick mushrooms of which you are certain, and when in doubt, leave them in the ground. It should be mentioned that there is a species known as the “false chanterelle”, and for beginner and amateur mycologists confusion is not worth the risk of slight gastric distress and embarrassment.
For help identifying and cooking the golden chanterelle amongst many other mushies, pick up a copy of All the Rain Promises and More by David Arora. This guide is filled with excellent descriptions, photos, and stories from fungus fanatics. Easily stored in a pocket or backpack, the little volume will inspire you to tromp about the backcountry in search of nature’s most fascinating organisms. After sauteing nearly fifteen pounds of a recent haul this season, you will definitely spot this hunter in the hills of San Luis Obispo scanning the logs and dirt for tasty morsels and objects of scientific curiosity. See you on the trail!