The heat and humidity of summer in the Southeast can be brutal. But the stifling weather makes it a perfect time to go prospecting for golden chanterelles, which, incidentally, are my favorite wild mushrooms! And I’m not alone considering the price of chanterelles can be upwards of $20/pound at the local farmers market.
But they’re actually pretty common this time of year and easy to find. Plus, it’s a lot more fun to forage for them in the forest than it is to buy them at a market. We usually have a prolific crop in the woods just downhill from our front door.
When to Look
Depending on locale, chanterelles can occur any time between May and December. Here in North Carolina, we usually start seeing them in early June, but their numbers really start to explode in early July. I don’t remember ever seeing any past October.
The best time to look for chanterelles is a couple days or so after a good soaking rain.
Where to Look
Chanterelles generally grow in the canopy of hardwoods like oak, beech, and maple. Focus especially on areas that are consistently damp like seasonal creek bottoms and drainages.
Since we have so much national forest around us, we love to take lazy drives down Forest Service roads scouting for chanties. Their brilliant yellow makes them really stand out against the shadow of forest. Once we find a “stand”, we’ll pull over and start gathering.
Chanterelles tend to re-appear in the same places month after month and year after year, so we typically check our honey holes a few weeks apart.
How to Identify
There are several species but Golden chanterelles, Cantharellus cibarius, are what I usually think of when I think of chanterelles. They’re distinctly bright yellow or orange and typically grow a couple of inches tall. They have a pleasant, fruity smell about them.
Chanterelles have false gills, which means their “gills” are sort of rounded-over, whereas true gills are more like fins. The false gills start underneath the edge of the wavy cap, continue part-way down the stem and eventually fade away to a smooth stem.
How to Harvest
There’s a lot of debate among mushroom hunters about whether you should cut chanterelles (and other wild mushrooms) off at the base, leaving the “root”, or whether it’s OK to just pull the whole thing out of the dirt.
The theory is that by cutting them, you leave the mycelium in the dirt, which will help spawn more mushrooms.
I don’t know if that’s true, but we always cut ours. If nothing else, it helps keep our harvest clean. When you just yank a mushroom out the ground, you’ll get a bunch of dirt and sand along with it, which ultimately makes more cleaning work for you later.
Oh, and don’t pick old or dirty chanterelles. The dirty ones just aren’t worth the cleaning effort and likely will never get clean enough to eat, and the old ones just aren’t good to eat. If you only find old ones, go back to that spot after the next rain and you’ll probably find fresh chanterelles.
Once you cut your mushrooms, throw them in a basket and go find some more to pick! Baskets, incidentally, are ideal for collecting wild mushrooms, since they’re generally wider than tall, which means you probably won’t pile them so high that they’ll crush each other.
Once you’re back home with your bounty, you can cook them right away, dry them for later use, or freeze them after sautéing in butter. Or you can keep them in the fridge in a breathable paper bag for a week and a half or so.
For more info on finding and cooking chanterelles, check out our chanterelle blog post.
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