Fall is creeping back to us, and with it comes the rain and a deeply vibrant mushroom season. Whenever someone asks me about foraging, the most common question is "is it safe?"
Unlike many I met last year in Europe, my family elders were not foragers. They did not root around in the forest as children looking for the ruby-capped amanita muscariae, picking fiddlehead ferns and morels in the springtime. In this country, a lot of us were brought up believing the only mushrooms that are safe to eat are the ones in your grocery store. That's just rubbish. Afterall, those $14/lb. chanterelles had to come from somewhere.
When it comes to eating the best of what the world has to offer, there is always some risk and I wouldn't want it any other way. You take a chance when you eat oysters on the halfshell, steak tartare, or hell, even sushi. Adventure is what makes eating interesting. Just as I'm not ordering oysters from anywhere that looks dubious, when I go foraging I use common sense. I only eat mushrooms that are easily identifiable and leave the A-level stuff to the pros. For me, I'm more than happy hunting chanterelles, porcini, morels and the like.
I got into foraging through my best friend, and it's been love ever since. There's a primeval joy experienced while waking with the dawn to head out into the woods, and I can't even begin to describe the unadulterated glee of discovery when one spots that first mushroom underfoot (I almost always have to let out a giant shriek!). A couple of weeks ago, I ventured out with a few friends of mine to hunt the late summer chanterelles that crop up in the forests of Oregon. We came back with several pounds of beautiful golden trumpets filling our baskets.
Chanterelles are especially good eaten within a week of harvesting. They're a pain to clean, so it's best to trim the stems when you pick them and brush off as much of the dirt as you can. Put them in a paper bag (never plastic!), or better yet, a nice basket where they won't be too crowded.
This is hardly a recipe, but what I like to do is melt a pat of butter with a drizzle or two of olive oil in a nonstick skillet. Let the butter begin to brown a bit, and in go a handful of chopped shallots and garlic. Once the shallots get a little bit translucent, I throw in the chanterelles. Once the mushrooms soften a little (after 5-10 minutes, depending on how many you're cooking), I like to add a splash of white wine and a handful of chopped herbs (parsely is good, thyme is even better). When it's done, I serve them over a slice of crusty bread that's been ever-so-slightly toasted. It's a simple, satisfying reward for tromping through the woods all morning.