GRAND FORKS -- Roaming the woods in search of morel mushrooms is a rite of spring for outdoors enthusiasts across the northern tier of Minnesota, but there are late-summer species worth seeking that don’t garner nearly as much attention.
For Meadow Kouffeld, chanterelle mushrooms are near the top of the list. The orange-colored mushrooms grow among middle-age to mature conifer stands such as red pine, white pine and jackpine, she says, and they’re as tasty as they are simple to spot.
Late July through August is prime time for chanterelles.
“They’re so wonderful, and they’re so easy to find once you’re keyed in on them,” said Kouffeld, a biologist, outdoor educator and avid outdoorswoman from Grand Rapids, Minn. “The other thing about them is they tend to come back in the same area year after year as opposed to, say, morels.”
Like morels, chanterelles don’t have many poisonous lookalikes.
Jack o’ lanterns, another orange-colored mushroom, are poisonous, but they grow on wood in large clusters. Chanterelles, by comparison, grow on the ground, usually individually and rarely in groups of more than three or so off a single stem, Kouffeld says.
It’s always best for newbies to consult someone in the know before consuming any mushrooms they pick, Kouffeld says; field guides also are highly recommended. “All That the Rain Promises and More ... A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms,” by David Arora, and “100 Edible Mushrooms (with Tested Recipes),” by Michael Kuo, are two of her favorites.
“I really think it’s important that people at least know somebody who eats mushrooms to bounce it off of or show photos to before taking the plunge when they’re learning,” Kouffeld said.
Gills a giveaway
For people who educate themselves on basic mushroom anatomy, chanterelles are relatively easy to identify, Kouffeld said. A key is the gill structure; chanterelles have what are called “pseudo gills” that blend into the stem “and tend to kind of meander,” she says. Other mushrooms that are yellow- or orange-colored this time of year have gills that end abruptly before or at the stem.
Chanterelles also are solid inside, Kouffeld said.
“They're not hollow in the stem, and they have a certain fragrance and texture about them,” she said. “But the biggest thing that differentiates them, in my opinion, is the gill structure. And those gills are kind of blending into or tapering down into the stem of the mushroom versus ending abruptly.”
When hunting for chanterelles in a conifer stand – areas with sandy soil seem to be the most productive – Kouffeld says she’ll make a loop through the trees, keeping her eyes open for the telltale orange delights peeking up through the forest floor.
If it’s after a recent rainfall, all the better.
“They tend to stand out against the forest floor,” she said. “Usually, when you find one, you find multiples because they’re in the general vicinity.”
Looking for chanterelles also is a good excuse to get out in the woods with the English setter puppies she’s raising to be trained as hunting dogs, Kouffeld says.
Pleasing to the palate
Not to be overlooked, of course, is the taste, which is excellent, Kouffeld says. She’s been preparing this year’s bounty by cutting the chanterelles into one-fourth to 1-inch pieces and sauteeing them in butter with a dash of garlic salt.
Another favorite, Kouffeld says, is preparing the chanterelles with quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), a high-protein, high-fiber seed she cooks much like rice. She’ll add a chicken broth base or simply cook the quinoa as is.
“It’s pretty simple to fix, and I really enjoy eating it with those chanterelles,” Kouffeld said. “And my daughter, she’s 7, she really likes it. So it’s one of those things that’s a good way for me to get her to eat.”
Unlike morels, chanterelles don’t dry or reconstitute very well, Kouffeld says, so she’ll sautee them in butter and freeze them in small ziplock bags to add to soups or chowders in the winter.
Chanterelles also go well with lighter-flavored poultry such as chicken or ruffed grouse, she says.
“They aren’t as bold-flavored as a morel, so you want to kind of make them the showpiece by using blander flavors or more mild-flavored foods,” Kouffeld said. “Eating them with quinoa is a very good combination, whereas morels, I would eat with wild rice because that’s a very bold flavor.”
There are other good, late-summer mushrooms, but chanterelles are a favorite because they grow in abundance where she lives, Kouffeld says.
“It’s one of those things that just adds to this time of year,” she said of foraging for chanterelles. “They’re consistent, they’re beautiful and they taste good.”