Story last updated at 9/30/2009 - 11:33 am
Fantastic edible mushrooms thrive in our Southeast Alaskan temperate rainforest climate. Some, like the Chanterelle, are not easily cultivated commercially but grow right here in our backyards - choice, gourmet culinary delights!
Here on Prince of Wales Island, I'm finding quite a good collection of chanterelles this season. All the mushrooms seem to be growing like crazy and the amazing variety seen along the mountainsides is worth the hike in itself - every shape and color imaginable protruding from the trees and earth.
What a thrill it is to peek around the side of a tall spruce and discover a gleaming yellow-orange chanterelle shooting up out of the contrasting green of the moss. In mushroom books the chanterelle is often described as being pleasantly aromatic with a scent reminiscent of apricots and a taste that is mildly peppery. I concur.
Not only does it taste fantastic when sauteed in a little butter, but it reportedly contains B vitamins as well as vitamins A, C, D and K, plus carotene, minerals and various trace elements. Cooking is recommended for better digestion but overcooking can result in lost vitamins and flavor. They do taste great - I double-checked it earlier this evening with halibut and garden vegetables. The verdict is sustained.
Chanterelles are fairly easily identified compared to many other edible mushrooms, but it is essential to learn from experienced pickers and have them check your harvest for positive identification until you feel confident enough yourself. It is very important to be absolutely sure before you ingest any mushroom. That said, I have been harvesting them by myself for years with only awesomely tasty results!
To sustain the prevalence of mushrooms, try to stay on the deer trails and step very lightly when off. The actual fungal organism that produces its fruit in the form of a mushroom - the mycelium - is a mass of delicate threads underground and it can be harmed by soil compaction. Also, if you gather these spore-bearing mushrooms in a porous basket (rather than a bucket or bag) you will be distributing spores as you proceed with your harvesting.
It is my understanding that mushrooms should be gently pulled out, rather than cut off with a knife to prevent infection of the remaining stem. I always take the time to tap the mushroom on the moss to spread some spores around and prefer to remove most dirt and debris before carefully stashing them in my basket - it keeps the whole batch cleaner.
Where to start looking? Chanterelles grow on the ground and not from live or decaying trees. They can be located in radically different settings - from a dark forest of tall trees with little undergrowth, to a mossy hillside in open woods and sun. Sometimes they will be right along a road, or down, almost out of sight in a hole in the ground. In general, they don't like very wet places, dense undergrowth of devil's club, berry patches or grassy areas.
I usually end up on top of some steep mountainside, finding just enough mushrooms to keep me climbing on and on upward until I finally decide I might be in the gray area of getting lost, and begin maneuvering more or less down and back to my truck.
Just like fishing, berry picking and gardening, the offer of a mushroom harvest only lasts for a limited time and only when conditions are right. Why else would I be neglecting everything else to go tromping around in the rain all day?
Carla Petersen may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org