Last year I read Eugenia Bone’s Mycophilia. She is a wonderful writer (I also recommend At Mesa’s Edge), and this is my favorite kind of food/cook book. It’s the kind of book that takes you on a journey with the author as she explores a new topic or food. I find this kind of book much more inspiring than those that simply present a collection of recipes from some revered chef with some cute anecdotes. But I like those too.
Anyway, since reading Bone’s book I’ve cooked much more with mushrooms and experimented with new varieties I’ve found at the market. I love them in place of meat in ragù and bolognese when I’m cooking for vegetarian friends or when I just feel like mushrooms. But it wasn’t until very recently that I summoned the courage to hunt them myself. So I gathered a few friends, one of whom had some actual mushroom hunting experience, and we ventured forth into the Columbia River Gorge for a hunt.
We tromped, and searched, and muddied ourselves, and if you’ve ever been in the Pacific NW in October you know, we got wet. And we were fairly successful.
It’s hard to describe the joy of finally spying the real thing after spotting so many other beautiful mushrooms that (as far as we knew) shouldn’t be eaten. Finally your eyes zero in on what you’ve been searching for, partially buried in the dirt. You dig it up. Trumpet shape, check! False gills, check! Apricot scent, check! And then, five feet away, another golden beige-y lump in the dirt. And another a few feet from there. More chanterelles! You scurry to collect them all before one of your friends wanders close enough to realize your jackpot. It’s thrilling.
This is most of what we gathered amongst the five of us. We may have been a little late in the season, or in too popular an area (we saw several cars parked along the road we took). Regardless, we were all proud.
That night I sautéed the chanterelles with shallots in butter. Once the liquid from the mushrooms had reduced, I seasoned well with salt and pepper, stirred in some cream, and tossed with a short cut pasta. They’re a mild flavor that seemed to call for a simple preparation. I’d like to try them as a soup next time. Preparation aside, the secret ingredient is definitely the pride of having hunted them yourself.