The Chanterelle family of mushrooms is one of the choicest wild edible that you can find. This mycorrhizal mushroom is found growing on the forest floor in concert with roots of a thick underbrush and canopy. All of the Chanterelle family of species do not have true gills. They produce their spores on ridges that appear as mock gills or smooth surface. Their shape is vase or trumpet like and their fragrance resembles apricot or fruit. Their color is most generally orange, however appear in red, black, white and blue. The species that fall under the Chanterelle family are as follows: Chanterelle, Cinnabar-Red Chanterelle, Flame Colored Chanterelle, Smooth Chanterelle, Small Chanterelle, White Chanterelle, Trumpet Chanterelle, Yellow-Footed Chanterelle, Black Trumpet, Fragrant Chanterelle, Pig’s Ear Gomphus, Scaly Vase Chanterelle (edible though may cause discomfort) and Clustered Blue Chanterelle.
Know the lookalike: Although one can be certain that no chanterelle has true gills, there is one lookalike with gills that could be worth knowing before going. The Jack O’Lantern Mushroom (Omphalotus olearius) is an orange colored mushroom that grows in clusters at the base of trees. The Jack O’Lantern is a saprophyte, consuming dead wood, and will only be growing out of dead wood. The Jack O’Lantern has true gills. It also does not have the incredible fruity fragrance of chanterelles. The Jack O’Lantern though exhibits bioluminescence and glows in the dark. (Imagine making a night light with a mushroom kit, that will be in the store soon.) So to be certain and tell the difference between the choice edible chanterelle and the mesmerizing and toxic Jack O’Lantern just look at the gills closely. (I would be happy to take a look at any finds).
Eating the chanterelle is a special experience. The fruity aroma and the spicy taste blend so well together. Gathering and preparing this mushroom for a meal is quite simple. The lack of gills on the chanterelle make it very easy to clean, however I still like to soak the mushrooms in salt water before preparing. The chanterelle could be simply sliced and sautéed, and enjoyed with a side of greens, however the first time I ever ate chanterelles was on an unforgettable pizza in New Orleans. The chanterelle can be dried then rehydrated, although sometimes the rehydrated mushroom can take on a leathery texture and is best enjoyed prepared fresh.
The Black Trumpet mushroom is a bit too aromatic to be enjoyed on its own for some tastes, however goes very well with pasta and adds a stunning aesthetic for the dish. Eating any food that is black and aromatic is certainly a special occasion as it is quite rare.
My experience with finding chanterelles is that it is a semi-mystic experience. This experience is experienced with many mushroom species, however the nature of these mushrooms and their fruiting could be that you never find them, until you do and they are usually right at your feet. A lot of times, my impression is that the mushroom finds me, guides me, feels my footsteps in the mycelial network underneath. When you quiet your mind and your expectation, it goes a long way. There are people out there who just have the knack to find exactly the species they are looking for based on the tree or log that the target species grows on. I find the experience to more happenstance that I have little or no control over what a forage will provide that day. I like it that way.