The last few weeks in Knoydart have seen quite the change in weather from the month long heatwave celebrated over June; and whilst we’re sad to see the sun go, some much-needed rain has instigated sudden growth and welcomed the return of a familiar face.
Chanterelles are an easy mushroom to identify for beginner foragers, their eye catching orange fruit hard to miss among the mossy woodlands it inhabits. When we talk about chanterelles we’re referring to several species of fungi in the genera Cantharellus, the most well-known of which being the Golden chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius). From summer though into late autumn, the woodlands here are peppered with flecks of unmissable copper, meaning one thing for the mycophiles among us.
The first step to any good foraged meal is ensuring that it won’t kill you, so it’s always a good plan to have an expert with you when you start your mushroom journey. If you’re an experienced mushroom thief then here’s some key ID points to look out for when gathering chanterelles.
Chanterelles are usually found in clusters under beech or birch trees in Scotland, growing from the ground. When younger, the cap is flattened with a depression towards the centre which will evolve into the distinctive trumpet shape of the older and larger mushrooms. Chanterelles do not have true gills, although from an untrained eye this can be hard to tell. Instead, forked ridges and folds run along the stem that are non-detachable from the rest of the fruiting body. Cutting open the mushroom can also be a good identification feature, revealing white inner flesh. Lastly is the idiosyncratic smell of the chanterelle which has been described as sweet and fruity with a particular apricot tone.
Fool me once…
False chanterelles (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca) are the most commonly confused species, hence the illustrative name. Unlike their tasty lookalikes they possess true gills, are a deeper orange colour, and when cut open reveal a flesh concolourous to the cap; although not poisonous.
Particularly rare in Britain is the poisonous Jack O’lanturn mushroom (Omphalotus illudens) which could mistakenly be added to your basket. These fantastic fungi grow on deciduous wood and have a pretty cool party trick. Seemingly normal during the day, the bioluminescent properties of the Jack O’Lantern mushroom kick in as the sun sets resulting in glow-in-the-dark gills!
Now you can ID your chanterelles (and be on the lookout for their magical glowing twins!!!), it’s time to get picking. As always when foraging, please be respectful of how much you take. A good rule of thumb is to take no more than 20% of a patch, ensuring there’s plenty of leftovers for the local wildlife. Pick the larger mushrooms, giving yourself the greatest chance of taking only those which have already opened their caps and dropped their spores.
Beefing out my basket with a hefty brown birch bolete, I embarked on my ‘mushion’ to make foraged jiaozi, a traditional Chinese dumpling dish. Though not the most glamorous looking of my culinary attempts, these sweet and earthy dumplings were a delicious way to honour the chanterelles.
So don your wellies and wicker baskets and take to the forest, who knows what tasty treats lie in store for you!