Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
This is a good picture because: 1- it shows the color you are looking for. 2- It shows the funnel shape of the cap (top). 3- It clearly shows the decurrent gills (how the gills run-down on to the stipe (stem). 4- Under the yellow colored skin, the flesh of the mushroom is white. It also shows the sad truth that very often these are partly eaten by and covered with many tiny creatures who have been & are eating away at the mushroom. By: Andreas Kunze Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Season: Spring & Summer
READ THIS Before Gathering and Eating Wild Mushrooms.
Urban, Rural or Both: Rural
Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius). This is a fantastic mushroom, that is relatively straight forward to identify.
First, like many mushrooms, it forms a Mycorrhizal relationship with tree and shrub roots (they help each other), so you will find it in woods or around trees. I have only found it around Conifer trees myself, but I've read they can be found around Oaks and Birch. I have seen it around Birch, but there were Conifer trees there as well. It has a matte yellow/gold color. There is a cooked egg yolk quality to the color of it. The color is fairly consistent on the top, although it can have a patchy quality to the slight variations of the color.
One of the first ways, other that the color, that you recognize it, is the shape of the cap. The cap is funnel shaped, and the widely to close spaced shallow gills (false gills actually - called ridges) are visible from the side - you don't have to turn it upside down to see the gills. The gills are decurrent, which is a mushroomer's way of saying the gills run down onto the upper part of the stem. The edges of the upturned cap are wavy. There is a very uneven look to the cap upon first glance - sort of a raggedy, disheveled look to it. If you have a good nose, you should smell a very faint fruity kind of scent. Some say apricots, David Arora mentions a pumpkin like scent in Mushrooms Demystified (Pumpkins are a fruit).
If you take one, slice it in half from top to bottom, you will notice that the cap and stem are not two separate parts like on many mushrooms - it is impossible to tell where the stem ends and the cap begins. The flesh should be white, except right near the edges. The gills are shallow, and look more like folds in the flesh than sheets of paper, in fact, they are called Ridges or False Gills.
There are a few mushrooms that can be mistaken for this one, but the most common one is the False Chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca) . This mushroom has real gills (like sheets of paper on edge, spread apart a little). The false gills of the true Chanterelle are like folds in the flesh of the mushroom, not thin sheets of paper. The underside of the false one is much more orange. If you look at a mushroom and are not sure, look at the gills or false gills. While the false gills of the Chanterelle will branch out near the very edge of the cap underside, the true gills of the False Chanterelle will start as one at the stipe (stem), branch into two near the stipe, then branch again near the edge of the cap. This is not the case will every gill, but if you compare the pictures of each mushroom below, you will see what I mean. The False Chanterelle is usually darker near the center of the cap and lighter towards the edges. On the true Chanterelle, the color is uniform or patchy a bit, but not a clear pattern of getting darker toward the center. The False one does not have the fruit scent. By the way, if you do mistake a False Chanterelle for a true one, the worst that will happen is stomach upset. It is not deadly.
The one you don't want to mistake for the Chanterelle is the Jack-O'-Lantern (Omphalotus illudens) in eastern North America. This one is poisonous, and can make you quite sick. When you cut a Chanterelle down the center, the color is only at the surface, or just a little into it. Most of the inside is white. With the Jack-O'-Lantern, the flesh is a yellow-orange. Also, the Jack-O'-Lantern grows in clumps at the base of stumps, while the Chanterelle is scattered on the ground.
So, matte yellow/gold color that stands out. Color on top of cap does not get darker in center. White flesh inside - not yellow/orange. Smells fruity. Not growing in dense clumps, not growing from wood. Not true gills like sheets of paper. Trumpet or funnel shaped. Cap and stem are one - you can't tell where the stem ends and cap begins. Ridges or false gills run down stem.
- Cap Morphology: Infundibuliform - funnel shaped
- Spore Bearing Surface: Parallel Ridges or folds that are sometimes called False Gills. They look like shallow, thick gills.
- Gill Attachment (how the Spore Bearing Surface is attached to the Stipe or Stem): Decurrent - ridges run down on to stipe (stem)
- Spore print: Yellow to cream
- Stipe (Stalk): Bare - no annulus (ring) from partial veil
- Partial Veil: None
- Season: Late Summer and early Fall after a period of rain
- Habitat: Mycorrhizal - with conifers, Birch and Beech trees.
- Notes: Bright, matte yellow/gold color. color on cap, though it may be patchy, does not have a pattern of being darker in center like the False Chanterelle. When cut open, the color inside is white. Does not grow in tight clusters. Grows on the ground and not from logs. Fruity smell. Cap and stem are one - cannot find clear defining point where cap stops and stem begins.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
Gill Attachment (how the Spore Bearing Surface is attached to the Stipe or Stem): Decurrent - the gills run down the stem. By: Debivort GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Cap Morphology: Infundibuliform - funnel shaped. Detail of chart by debivort GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Though this picture was taken in the Czech Republic, this is very typical of the type of area you are most likely to find this mushroom wherever it grows. By: Phobulos GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
This excellent picture by Andreas Kunze shows much that you should be looking for. Take note of the size, shape & spacing of the gills. Note how they run down the stem. It also shows that where the yellow skin is peeling back, the color of the flesh is white. Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
These are too old to pick for food. Notice how the caps have have become very upturned. By: User:Strobilomyces GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Below are pictures of what you DO NOT WANT - the POISONOUS jack-o'lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens)
You have to know the jack-o'lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens) before you attempt to gather any Chanterelle Mushrooms. It is very poisonous, and can easily be confused for the Chanterelle if you don't know how to tell them apart. Please read the paragraphs above the Description for how to tell them apart.
THIS IS THE POISONOUS jack-o'lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens). The gills are thicker, shallower & more spaced apart on the Chanterelle. However on both, the gills are decurrent - that is, they run down the stipe (stem). By: Adam Arendell (julius) Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
THIS IS THE POISONOUS jack-o'lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens). In this picture by Jason Hollinger you can see that with the Poisonous jack-o'lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens) the center of the cap has an umbo (convex bump) instead of the funnel shapped center of the cap with the Chanterelle. You can also see the color gets darker and more orange toward the edge of the cap - a pumpkin orange. With the edible Chanterelle, the cap is a consistent (or slightly patchy) egg-yolk yellow from the center to the edge. Attribution 2.0 Generic
THIS IS THE POISONOUS jack-o'lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens). Notice how the jack-o'lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens) grows in clumps - very often near the base of dead or dying trees. A true Chanterelle will be scattered - see picture under description section. By: Ann B. (Ann F. Berger) Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Below are pictures of the false chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca)
This one is NOT EDIBLE, but also not going to kill you - BUT - if you ate it, you would get sick. Know it as well, so you don't make a mistake. Again, in the paragraphs above the Chanterelle description, are hints for identifying it.
Carefully compare the gills with a true Chanterelle. By: James Lindsey Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic
Before Gathering and Eating any Wild Mushroom READ THE FOLLOWING:
This is a difficult subject to approach. I've been studying mushrooms in the wild for about 30 years and they often still surprise and confuse me when identifying.
The problem for a site like this, is that 100% correct identification is absolutely necessary, but hard to do for many mushrooms - even with years of experience, let alone a newcomer to the subject. Best to have someone with genuine expertise show you. If that is not possible, please do much research on the web or with books, preferably both. Do not trust a single source of information - EVER. I have found mistakes on the web, and have even corrected errors on Wikipedia myself. You need confirmation from multiple sources. If you are serious about the subject, one book I highly recommend is "Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi by David Arora". I bought the 1986 edition in 1987 and that is what got me started seriously learning about mushrooms. David Arora is from the west coast, but what he says about east coast mushrooms matches with my experience. There are pictures, and very well thought out step by step identification sequences.
Another book which is very good, and a great guide to carry with you on gathering expeditions is "The Audubon Society Field Guild to North American Mushrooms".
Before you gather anything, you must know the most dangerous mushroom of Eastern North America - it can mean your life if you don't. It is the Destroying Angel (Amanita bisporigera). There is another Destroying Angel on the west coast, the Amanita ocreata. Please take me seriously with this, the Destroying Angels not only kill, but they kill you slowly & painfully. Don't rely on taste, people who have eaten them said, before they died, they were very good tasting. I don't think there is anything, other than maybe the Water Hemlock plant, that kills with such pain and suffering. Look them up, read about them here - KNOW THEM.
I suggest only five mushrooms for the wild food gatherer & mushroom novice to start off with. The Chanterelle, Morel, Hericium, and the Sulphur Shelf and Giant Puffball. The Morel, and Giant Puffball can often be found in urban environments. The Chanterelle, Hericium, Morel and Sulphur Shelf in the woods. The Giant Puffball can be often found in grassy areas in the country. I have seen the Sulphur Shelf in the city on rare occasions on the side of dying trees. These five are relatively straight forward to identify correctly, and do not have deadly poisonous close look-alikes - although there may be similar looking mushrooms that could make you sick - very sick, so always take identification very seriously. Also, these are not mushrooms you can usually buy in the local grocery store. Until fairly recently, Morels could not be grown in artificial environments.
The Morel is a spring season mushroom, Chanterelle, Sulphur Shelf and Giant Puffball is a summer to fall mushroom, and the Hericium is a late summer to fall mushroom, so this gives a fairly large window of time to enjoy them. PLEASE take it very slowly, do a lot of research, look at many pictures, and learn how to identify the edible ones from mushrooms that look like them - STEP by STEP with each aspect of the mushroom. Remember, though I do my best to help you identify them, this is not a dedicated identification guide, you do need to learn more than I provide.
And by the way, be careful of what other people pick. Some people go by simple rules of identification that they have learned from others that don't hold up. They may have been lucky so far, but if you eat what others have picked, you had better hope they know what they are doing. Know what you are picking, don't use simple rules except for one: If you are not absolutely, 100% sure, with each and every aspect of the mushroom, do not eat it.
Learn to take a spore print. Put a mushroom cap on white and black paper, and cover with a cup or bowl and after a couple of hours take off the cup, carefully lift up the cap and you should see a spore print. The color of the spores is an important aspect of identification. Go to the spore print link, where you will see the black and white spore print paper image. Click on it, click again and print it. Here is a link directly to it. You can print the same image below:
The next six images are the steps in taking a spore print:
This is an Agaricus bisporus that I'm using to demonstrate taking a spore print. This one still has a bit of the partial veil left on. It is the partial veil that makes the ring on the stem.
Next, you have to take off the stem so that the cap will sit flat on the paper. If the gills are "free" - don't touch the stem, you can usually break off the stem. If the gills touch the stem, (adnate, decurrent, etc.), you are best to cut the stem off carefully with a sharp, clean knife.
Set the cap, gills down, on a piece of paper. Put a drop or two of room temperature water on the cap, but not so much that it runs down to the paper. This helps the mushroom hydrate which helps it in the process of releasing the spores.
Cover with a glass or plastic container to keep it humid inside for the mushroom.
It can take as little as a couple of hours, to 12 hours in my experience to get a good print. If you have 12 hours, leave it. If you want to eat the mushroom sooner, take a look after a couple of hours. You may not get a nice looking print, but even a few spores should reveal their color.
This is a close up of the spore print. You can see the white lines where the gills were, and the spores on either side that dropped off. This is the brown for a spore print you would expect for an Agaricus bisporus.
Remember the mushroomer's motto: When in Doubt - Throw it Out. Even experts aren't sure sometimes, and will pass on eating a mushroom unless they are sure.
One more thing I will repeat over and over. When eating anything for the first time, only have a tiny amount to make sure you are not allergic to it. This is especially true for mushrooms. Every edible mushroom creates a reaction with some people. There are two choice edible mushrooms that I am allergic too. The Oyster mushroom makes me feel like I have the flu coming on, and the Boletus edulis makes me feel hot, I break into a sweat, and feel sick to my stomach.
If you think I'm being overly cautious, think about what I read years ago (I regrettably forget the source). There are two kinds of wild mushroom eaters: Brave ones and living ones.
Identification: When reading the description for the mushrooms, refer to the chart below for what those descriptions mean.
Creator of this chart: debivort. Used under GNU Free Documentation License. Full size and source of this image here.
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