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Chanterelle Dreams: The Secrets of One of the Most Coveted Mushrooms

There are undoubtedly many reasons why chanterelles are at the top of the mushroom heap in popularity, but chief among them is their great flavor.

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Other Chanterelles and Look-Alikes

Though the golden chanterelles are by far the best-known mushroom in this group, there are a number of other, generally smaller, eastern chanterelles that bear mention. There are no toxic members in the Cantharellus or Craterellus genera. The related Gomphus flocosus, scaly vase chanterelle or wooly chanterelle, causes gastric distress in some who have eaten it, though others eat this species with relish.

The winter chanterelle, Cr. tubaeformis, is very popular in northern Europe and is gaining in popularity with those Americans who have tried it. The small size of this species is partially made up for by its habit of growing in fairly dense troops. We find it predominantly in association with hemlocks from late summer through late fall.

The smooth chanterelle, C. lateritius, is common in southern New England and the mid-Atlantic region. It looks very like the golden chanterelle but without the blunted gills. Its hymenium surface is smooth to only slightly ridged. The choice flavor is little different from that of the golden chanterelle.

Cr. ignicolor and Cr. lutescens are two close look-alike small yellowish funneled chanterelles found, at times, in large trooping numbers warranting their mention here and in the collection basket for dinner. They often are called the yellow foot chanterelles.

Caveats

The jack o'lantern mushroom, Omphalotus illudens, is a somewhat vase-shaped bright orange mushroom found growing in dense clusters on the ground at the base of a tree or from buried wood. Beware! This toxic mushroom has been mistaken for a chanterelle by careless novice mushroomers. When eaten, it causes 12-24 hours of intense gastrointestinal distress. Differentiate it from chanterelles by the growing habitat of dense clustering and the fact that it has true, knife-edged gills that do not fork.

Ecology, Habitat, and Occurrence

The fortuitous fact that chanterelles appear in the same small area in successive years says a great deal about their lifestyle. Chanterelles are mycorrhizal fungi living in symbiotic relationship with trees, and more specifically with the roots of trees. This stable, long-term relationship is of benefit to both fungus and tree and helps to explain the consistency of fruiting. In New England we see them commonly in association with pine, spruce, and hemlock as well as the hardwood species of birch, oak, and beech. In a wet year, they some¬times fruit heavily under white pine. Though not able to support fruiting in an extremely dry year, the mycelium of the fungus lives on with the tree roots and sets fruit in the next wet season. Contrast this with a true saprobe such as the shaggy mane ( Coprinus comatus) that might fruit heavily in an area for a year or two, but once the available food source is broken down by the fungus, the mycelium dies out and the hapless hunter is forced to find a new location for the main ingredient in shaggy soup.

For the past twenty years there has been an active debate regarding the best and most ecologically sound manner in which to harvest mushrooms. Is it better to pluck them from the forest duff or to carefully cut the stem, leaving the base still attached to the mycelium? In the study mentioned earlier regarding the long-term growth patterns of chanterelles in Oregon forests, after thirteen years the study did not find any decline in annual production of fruiting bodies on plots where the mushrooms were “plucked” from the ground when compared to an adjacent control plot where they were not harvested. The researchers did note a very slight decline in future mushroom production where chanterelles were cut at the base with a knife as a method of harvest.

 
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