ForageCast: Golden Hours

Golden Hours - Chanterelles

I’m eating black raspberries for breakfast, watching them turn from ruby red to a luscious purple as they ripen under the summer sun. Nothing summons memories of summers past like the blackcap – my favorite bramble. My tongue tingles as their zingy burst of flavor finishes with dark, mysterious cloves.

Papa LoveJust overhead, the staghorn sumac’s Dr. Seussian fruits are nearly ready for sumac lemonade. Completing the feast, wild alpine strawberries – compact bundles of strawberry essence – are ripening as the last of their cultivated cousins ferment in the fields.

The July sun is beating down as I wander beyond the periphery and into the damp forest. A destroying angel welcomes me into the woods, and my eyes begin to scan the ground for golden streaks. My yellow eyes are on, and they are finding me the season’s first fly agarics, ochre Russulas, and crown-tipped corals, along with a fragrant fistful of dense, bug-free chanterelles.

The colorful cast of summer fungi has arrived, and the woods are growing wetter and more alive with each passing thunderstorm. Baby Eliana Mina is here too, though for now she is spending more time in the bassinet than in the backwoods. Soon, she will ride in the snuggly and join us as we delight in the abundance of summer.

Northeastern ForageCast for the upcoming week!

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

Cinnabar-red Chanterelle: As Good as Gold

Cinnars in moss

Ranging from flamingo pink to a deep autumnal orange, the cinnabar-red chanterelle’s vivid color demands the forager’s attention. Its flavor is classic chanterelle – piney, fruity, floral – and its red hue holds up well to a six minute sauté.

Yet somehow, the cinnabar-red (Cantharellus cinnabarinus) remains an oft-neglected edible that lives in the culinary shadow of its celebrated golden relation. Even at Misery Loves Company, Winooski, VT’s gastronomic gem, the mycophilic chefs had never heard of the exotic “red chanterelle” until an employee (and mushroom apprentice) called us in for ID confirmation before sharing cinnabars with the staff.

Last weekend we were back in our childhood stomping grounds around Amherst, MA to present at the NOFA Summer Conference and lead a guided foray. Just before heading back to Burlington on Sunday, we stumbled upon a seemingly endless patch of cinnabar-reds.

Along with Jenna’s mother, we gleefully followed the long and winding cinnabar road, quickly gathering a few handfuls of these dainty red mushrooms. Cinnabars are rarely even half the size of goldens, but this only increases the pleasure of picking.

Right as we thought we had reached the limits of the patch, Jenna called out from the bushes: “Tons more cinnabars! And goldens!”

The rush of the epic mushroom hunt invigorated me. But before I could start running in Jenna’s direction, I heard a sharp howl and looked up to see her running back towards me. “Swarm! Swarm!”

I felt a yellowjacket sting me as several more ganged up on Jenna, and soon both of us were running madly out of the woods as I swatted yellowjackets off Jenna’s head. Aside from the one minor sting, I was unscathed. It was Jenna they were after, and she was left with eight smoldering welts. But with a basketful of cinnabar reds in hand, how can one complain?

ForageCast: Chanterelle Gold Rush Continues

Black Trumpets - Hands

We parked our car at the Great Gulf Wilderness lot and headed into the White Mountain foothills for a pilgrimage to a favorite camping retreat during our high school and undergraduate years.

Hearty flushes of hygophorus milkies and painted suillus welcomed us into the wilderness, and scattered bands of chanterelles drew us deeper into the coniferous woods. After a sweaty couple mile trek in, we arrived at the majestic campsite in the shadow of the Presidentials and laid down our packs. We could hear the river rushing below, so we headed down for a swim. We were delighted to find the shores lined with gold, and we enjoyed a frigid dip alongside the chanterelles.

photo (3)Soon the sky grew dark, and we lamented the fact that we had not brought olive oil into the woods to cook up our treasures. We lovingly tucked them into the pocket of our tent, and spent a restful night dreaming of chanterelle omelets.

The next morning I stumbled out of the tent and brewed a pot of cowboy coffee as Jenna walked into the dense spruce and birch woods with toilet paper in hand. She emerged a few minutes later, just as I was taking the first sip of coffee straight out of the metal pot, with a glowing smile: “Chanterelles!”

I felt like a gold prospector as I bushwhacked my way into the evergreens with my pot of coffee. Jenna’s find was stunning – a long, winding band of chanterelles that almost glowed against the dark ground. I sprung into action, heading deeper into the wilds in search of additional golden nuggets. More chanterelles punctuated the forest floor, as well as my first yellow foot chanterelles and black trumpets of the season.

I even found a few pristine looking early porcini, but upon closer inspection their savory flesh was already squirming with life. Unable to resist the season’s first ceps, I detached the maggot-infested stem, peeled off the pores, and carefully selected a couple relatively maggot-free bites. There are few mushrooms that I eat without cooking but, like the maggots, I find raw porcini to be a divine trailside snack. Its nutty, bolete-alicious aftertaste lingers on the tongue long after the fear of having consumed raw maggots subsides.

The hills are alive with the mushrooms of summer – now is the time to find your own forest feast!

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast: Flooded with Mushrooms

IMG_2865In the wake of a deluge of Biblical proportions, the mycological landscape is exposed and naked. Well-concealed secrets have been pushed to the surface in a rare tipping of the mycelial hand. Knowledge of the underground mycelial layout that would usually take decades to develop is readily available to anyone with a keen set of forager’s eyes.

For the mushroom hunter, this is all very overwhelming. The forest is erupting with fungi. New species are stepping into the scene daily, from bicolor boletes to black trumpets. It is only mid-July, but it has already been an epic chanterelle season – even in unknown territory, I am finding new patches on almost every outing. Just follow the yellow brick road.

In a gleeful celebration of the rain, Jenna and I headed out into the wilds of Hinesburg. On the drive over, we eagerly listened to a VPR story about the unprecedented early summer rainfall, before setting out into the woods under partly cloudy skies.

Soon we had gathered a satchel full of chanterelles. The distant grumble of thunder, slowly closing in from all directions, felt oddly comforting to these rain-dependent mushroom maniacs.

As the grumble grew to a rumble, the sky turned black and heavy, enveloping us in its dark grip. “Ari, we’re going to get rained on,” Jenna exclaimed, stating the obvious with an uncharacteristic warble in her voice.

Before I could even respond, we heard a sharp snap of thunder, as the sky opened up in all its glory for the tenth day in a row. We might as well have been swimming. “Make sure you keep those chanterelles dry,” I quipped.

The rain was relentless, saturating anything and everything. Soon it had made victims of our iPhone and camera, handily penetrating the plastic bag we’d brought as a contingency plan. Even the mycelium was probably overwhelmed. We were in too deep but we boldly marched on, as our fingertips became prunes and the trail became a river.

As we neared the end of our hike, we arrived at a raging rapid. It was quite the sight to behold, the kind of whitewater that could drown dog, deer, dromedary or dragon. However, the sheer grandeur of the rapid was less inspiring once we realized that this was no river – this was the road we had driven in on!

The landscape had been transformed beyond recognition. The 8-foot diameter culvert that we had driven over into the parking lot had been swept downstream, leaving a muddy ledge that was rapidly eroding as the violent waters slammed up against its shore.

And there, across the divide on a quickly shrinking spit of land, was our Volkswagen.

A friendly family took us in and offered us towels and a change of clothes. When Judah sank his canine teeth into the rear end of one of their chickens, they graciously laughed it off as they saw me tackle him, throwing the traumatized bird out of the ravenous setter’s mouth just in time for it to walk away with a raw, bloodied behind.

We made it out by evening, walking over the closed town roads and meeting a friend on the other side. Our car was stuck on its lonely spit of land for nearly a week, but the floodwaters narrowly spared it. Even the iPhone and camera magically came back to life. Most importantly, though they sweated a bit in the frying pan, the chanterelles we had gathered held up beautifully.

ForageCast - 8-23-11

A Quiet Revolution


As Northeasterners grapple with yet another week of dreary days and squishy socks, a quiet revolution is afoot in the forest. Seemingly in unison, a staggering variety of whimsical woodland denizens are erupting from the warm, wet forest floor. Bearing witness to this grand rite of summer is like being reintroduced to a legion of old friends, popping back up out of the woodwork just as suddenly as they disappeared into the cold grip of winter. I can almost hear myself mumbling to the mushrooms: “Good to have you back, slippery Jack…Chanterelle, ma belle!”

Many of these friends have been virtually absent for a full two years, uninspired by last summer’s drought and holding out for more favorable conditions. I have seen more chanterelles the last few days than I saw throughout the entirety of last summer. They are still small and dainty, but their ethereal apricot fragrance summons memories of the glory of 2011’s bumper crop. After a prolonged rest, the chanterelles have returned to celebrate the splendor of summer.

The slugs are close behind, slowly sliding through the mud and closing in on the incipient bumper crop. They don’t discriminate, equally happy sucking the skin off a violently poisonous Amanita or sliming up a pristine chanterelle. Yet how competitive can I feel with a shell-less snail, struggling to grease its way through the woods? Besides, soon there will be more mushrooms in the forest than even the fattest slugs can handle.

As I waltzed through the woods today nibbling on a young plume of turkey tail and bending down to devour the occasional wild strawberry, I couldn’t help but delight in the new life bursting from the dead wood and duff. Here’s to an abundant summer!

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