By Walt Sturgeon
Well, the season can last into September and may start in June but July is usually the best month to search out most of these popular edibles. Searching can be very easy as some species are really common.
Cantharellus is the genus of true chanterelles but this article will include a Craterellus species as well. Cantharellus species in Ohio are firm and solid. They are convex to slightly funnel shaped. They lack sharp edged gills on their underside and instead have blunt edge “gills” or may be wrinkled to almost smooth. The most famous species is Cantharellus cibarius which is the name used in most field guides. Well, as with many mushrooms there turn out to be several species hiding under this name. The true Cantharellus cibarius is thought not to occur in North America. Matthew Foltz used DNA sequencing to identify three separate but similar cibarius-like species growing within 65 feet of one another in Wisconsin. There are no doubt more out there waiting to be named. No doubt all have been consumed and enjoyed by many. It may turn out that some have better flavor than others but until we know who’s who and what’s what, that is a question for another day. So let’s consider them all as the Golden Chanterelles, Cantharellus cibarius complex. Colors range from egg yolk yellow to orange to salmon or pinkish. Size varies but fist sized is about right, give or take an inch or two. It has blunt edged gill like ridges on the underside. All chanterelles are thought to be mycorrhizal, that is symbiotic with trees or shrubs. So cultivating these tasty morsels has not been done successfully yet. In Ohio the most common host tree for Golden Chanterelles is hemlock. But the complex is also known to occur with beech, spruce and other trees. Like many other chanterelles, you may detect a fruity odor suggesting that of apricots. All Chanterelles tend to grow singly, in a scattered or gregarious manner. Clusters of more than two are rare. See Jack O Lanterns below.
Much more common in Ohio is the Smooth Chanterelle which can often be found in large numbers in our hardwood forests. They are also abundant in lawn areas under oaks. As the name implies this species has a smooth to wrinkled underside. Some consider this species inferior to the Golden Chanterelle. I disagree. Both have the same odor and taste in my opinion. The Golden and Smooth Chanterelles are the target of most Chanterelle hunters. They are abundant and their colors and size make them easy to find. There is one problem though. Peak fruiting usually occurs in July or August. There are no frosts then to deter insects so protein in the form of fly larvae is often an issue. Toleration of these mini protein additions varies from person to person. Cutting the stem near the cap or cutting through the cap will reveal pin holes/tunnels which are an indication of the amount of infestation. I have never heard of the taste being affected or of anyone being sickened by these little pests.
They are versatile treats and can be simply stewed, fried or candied or pickled or used to flavor ice cream or vodka.
Smaller Chanterelles such the reddish Cinnabar Chanterelle and the brownish yellow Appalachian Chanterelle are edible but more effort is required to find enough for a decent side dish. Both of these species fruit under oak and beech at the same time as the larger Chanterelles. A tiny Chanterelle is Cantharellus minor. It would take many to make mouthful.
The thin fleshed Black Trumpet, Craterellus fallax is a really flavorful species. It usually grows in association with oaks and is another summer species. Its underside is not gill-like .The gray to tan colors make it hard to see unless it is found in moss which is a common substrate. In my opinion, this is one of the best summer edibles. It has a salmon colored spore color which can sometimes be observed on the underside. A white spored look alike is the edible Craterellus cornucopioides. If you find a black trumpet look alike with gill-like ridges you have Cantharellus cinereus. It is edible but bitter.
One popular chanterelle fruits later in the season, usually in September and October. The Yellow Foot or Winter Chanterelle prefers mossy boggy woods under hemlock. It is rather thin fleshed. It has yellowish brown to blackish brown caps. The underside has forking false gills which range from yellowish to grayish brown to violaceous. The stem is brownish to yellowish, becoming paler at the base. Its flavor is mild, a bit too subtle for my taste. But as the saying goes “There is no accounting for taste”. Try it. You might like it. OMS has had forays in SE Ohio where this has been the target species.
In closing there are two common possible lookalikes. Most serious is the orange Jack o Lantern, Ompahalotus illudens. It grows on wood (sometimes buried), is usually larger and typically grows in large clusters. It has sharp edged gills. Its gills are bioluminescent. The False Chanterelle is variously considered an inferior edible to slightly toxic mushroom. It has sharp edged gills and prefers woody humus. Its colors range from yellow to intense orange to brownish. It does not have a fruity odor.