Sunday, September 19, 2010
Depending on weather chanterelles are usually the first of the fall mushrooms available. They are also the most plentiful on the Oregon Coast. With the rain that we have been having for the last week or so they should be out in full force, which will help flood the market, and keep the price reasonable. If you are unfamiliar with true "wild" or "forage" mushrooms, you are missing out. There is a lot to learn here, and i am not even going to scratch the surface. Most of the varieties of mushroom you see in the store were at one time wild, but now are cultivated. Chances are they are grown somewhere near you, and they are available year round. Some types you can expect to see in almost any grocery store are- shitake, portabellos, crimini (baby portabello), oyster, button, etc. There is nothing wrong with any of these types of mushrooms, and some are fantastic. Perfectly suited for your day to day cooking. As we work our way up the mushroom ladder though we begin to come across some mushrooms that can not be cultivated. Therefore they must be hunted. That process is called "foraging". People go out to the woods and find them. It is important to note that they aren't on the side of the road either. I know plenty of people that will hike 3 miles up a logging road to find that one secret patch of them. Most of them also wont tell you where they find them, so its a hard business to get into. A lot of what is picked is sold directly to restaurants in what usually goes down like this-
forager (whom i have never met)- Josh- i have about 15# of chanterelles, 1 hedgehog, 5# of lobster, and 2 good sized chicken of the woods. you want in?
Josh- they clean?
forager- kind of
Josh- how much do you want for them?
forager- well what are they worth (my first clue he has no idea what they are worth)
Josh- I will give you (insert ridiculous lowball number here) per #.
forager- was hoping to get (insert ridiculous high number here)
Josh- hmmm. alright. Wanted all the chanterelles and the hedgehog but i cant go that high.
forager- if you want them all maybe i can work something out for you.
it goes on and on. then the person shows up, we weigh them together, on my scale, and he scribbles an invoice on a guest check and i cut him a check. its odd, but happens three or four times a week this time of year. There is some major movement on pricing as it just depends on the market. Earlier in the season chanterelles will be pretty spendy, but will come down a bit as we get some saturation. Also no one has to feed the chanterelles, or own the land they grow on, or slaughter them, so essentially i am only buying the guy who picked thems time or effort. Definitely debatable as to how much that is worth.
If your interested in locating some chanterelles then there are quite a few good books on the subject, but none i know well enough to recommend. I shouldn't have to explain that this can be dangerous work as well. Some of the varieties that exist are deadly poisonous, and foragers are known to protect their secret spots. If you are like me and that sounds like way to much work then some of them will be available at high-end grocery stores in the coming months (a tough one because to get them to a grocery store they have probably changed hands three times- met a guy once who considered himself to be a mushroom broker). They are also available in dried form all over the Internet. Though many of them dry well, the chanterelle actually doesn't so i will buy as many as i can find, and them saute them, cryo-vac them, and then freeze them. They are a treat in fresh form and always a welcome fall sight. I have a blast figuring out all the different things i can use them for. In essence they sum up fall flavors, and colors for me. Perfect with salmon, chicken, steak, pork, or pasta. If you can bribe a friend, everyone should go out mushroom picking at least a few times, pouring down rain, cold, stomping through the forest in search of pure, unaltered, organic, sustainable, chanterelle mushrooms, that wont cost you anything. It could be one of natures best gifts.