In 1999, the Pacific golden chanterelle was declared Oregon’s official state mushroom, making Oregon one of only two states that has an official mushroom (spoiler: the other state is Minnesota, who championed the morel).
Unique to the forests of the Pacific Northwest, this mushroom grows abundantly in the late summer and fall once the rains begin to sprinkle the ground, popping out of the mossy floor like a legion of golden-crowned gnomes reaching out of the Earth for the sun. Because chanterelles have a symbiotic relationship with trees, such as Douglas firs, spruces and hemlocks, they grow with ease in conifer forests across the state.
Chanterelles, which are in the genus Cantharellus, are renowned for their delicious flavor, gorgeous color and a prolific presence in Oregon forests. They’re one of the most popular edible mushrooms across the country.
“They’re easy to find, they’re distinctive and very hard to mix up with other mushrooms. They have a great texture and flavor. It’s a nice starter mushroom,” said Matthew Kilger, a longtime mycologist, forager and owner of Eating Oregon LLC. “They’re also usually pretty clean and bug free, which is a luxury. Chanterelles are probably the most notable of Pacific Northwest mushrooms.”
Whether you’re foraging just to say you found something, simply enjoying some time in the woods or planning a meal of butter-braised goldens for dinner, chanterelles are a delight for the eye, mind and taste buds.
Let’s break down the art of the chanterelle. For our purposes, we’re going to focus on foraging along the Coast Range, including within the Siuslaw National Forest. The coast is not only a hotspot for perfect chanterelle conditions, but also has a wide range of roads and access points to make for easy walking and hunting.
Where are they hiding?
Like most mushrooms, chanterelles tend to avoid areas that are either too dry or too bright, opting instead for moister, canopied forests that provide nice, filtered light and shade for fungus to thrive. Chanterelles thrive in older forests or areas heavily populated with coniferous trees after a rainfall. Look for other related species of flora for telltale signs of a chanterelle environment, such as fern groves or decaying logs and stumps.
Chanterelles fruit directly out of the ground, not on trees or other materials. It’s often said that chanterelles like to grow in “veins” or groups together when they fruit. If you found one, odds are, there are more hiding not far away.
A great place to start is by looking at a good map and selecting a forest road to drive up until you’re in mushroom territory. Siuslaw National Forest provides two maps, one for the Central Coastal District and one for the Hebo District, to provide both inspiration for the journey and confirmation that you’re hunting in the right place.
If you’re feeling uneasy about heading straight into the unmaintained woods, you can also opt to forage on a hiking trail. Lightly used hiking or walking trails that traverse through forest lands are a great way to start to train your eye for mushrooms without needing a stellar sense of direction. Keep your eyes peeled for the golden color of chanterelles on your walk, or practice taking a few steps off trail to peruse before connecting with the path again.
Pro tip: It’s easy to get turned around when wandering through the woods, scanning the ground for chanterelles. When you get out of your car, drop a pin on a GPS of your choice just in case it’s needed later, and be sure to look up every once in a while, and take stock of the surroundings.
How do I know it’s a chanterelle?
Part of the reason chanterelles are so popular is due to the easy process of identification for this mushroom. There are two common look-alikes, the jack o’ lantern mushroom and the wooly chanterelle, neither of which are deadly – just a recipe for a stomachache. However, once you understand the key characteristics of true chanterelles, even a beginner will easily be able to tell the difference.
Here are the basic identification tools to confirm that you’re in possession of a chanterelle:
- Chanterelles should be some shade of yellow or gold on the outside, and pure white on the inside.
- The gills underneath the cap of the chanterelle are “false” gills, sometimes referred to as veins. The gills are forked and folded amongst each other, rather than running in straight lines, and cannot be separated from the cap without tearing the mushroom.
- The stalk of the chanterelle is solid, not hollow.
- When separating the chanterelle, the “meat” of the mushroom will peel, almost like string cheese.
Can chanterelles be over-picked?
Because they grow in reoccurring colonies, chanterelle spots are beloved for their consistency, and also heavily guarded for that reason. A prized chanterelle spot can, in theory, produce a beautiful bounty year after year. But is it possible to over-pickchanterelles, potentially to extinction, in any given spot?
Answer: Well, we don’t reallyknow the answer yet. Sorry, I know that isn’t as satisfying as a hard “yes” or “no,” but it’s the truth. Because mycology and the science that goes into mushrooms is so complex, identifying something like the potential chanterelle-extinction in an area due to over picking would take decades of research and study to answer definitively.
However, there is research on the subject, including the “Oregon Cantharellus Study Project,” first launched in 1986 by the Oregon Mycological Society.
Over nine years, volunteers tracked 5,000 individually labeled and tracked chanterelles in an area within Mount Hood National Forest and began to harvest the mushrooms in a multitude of ways: cutting with a knife, pulling from the ground, and leaving several control groups entirely untouched.
The data collected from this study demonstrated there was a slight positive relationship between harvesting and short-term production of mushrooms. It also proved there was no obvious correlation between chanterelle production and cutting or pulling the mushroom from the earth.
In other words, the study showed that over-harvesting isn’t going to lead to short-term extinction of chanterelle patches, but more research is needed to understand long-term consequences. The control patches that were being harvested regularly actually showed a slight increase in chanterelle production over time, according to the study results.
How many chanterelles can you pick at a time?
Mushroom hunting occasionally requires permits depending on what area you are foraging in, and it’s important to be well-versed on the rules. Knowing when, where and how you’re allowed to harvest in any given forest will not only keep you and the spaces safe, but also help to avoid fines of upwards of $5,000.
Always check with local rangers when possible prior to foraging to get the most up to date rulings and area closures. Foraging in off-limit areas, such as locations of fire closures or private properties, is not allowed.
There is no harvesting allowed of mushrooms on national parks or national monuments in the state.
State forests and parks:
When foraging in state forestland in the areas of Astoria, Tillamook, Forest Grove or the North Cascades, no permit is required for personal use, up to 1 gallon or less per vehicle.
When inside Oregon state parks and recreation areas, the limit for mushroom harvest increases to 5 gallons a day per person and includes other edibles such as berries and fruits.
U.S. Forest Service lands
When foraging on Forest Service land, such as in the Siuslaw National Forest (west of Salem and Eugene) or Willamette National Forest (east of Salem and Eugene) anyone can harvest 1 gallon of chanterelle mushrooms per day without a permit. If you plan on collecting more than a gallon per person, a permit is required.
Permits can be obtained by those 18 and older from any district office in the area you plan to forage in. They are $2 a day with a minimum of 10 days ($20 for a 10-day pass) or $100 for a full calendar year.
Harvesting mushrooms in more sensitive spaces such as botanical, research or scenic areas is not allowed. Rules for wilderness areas vary depending on the forest, so call ahead.
Bureau of Land Management
Individuals may harvest up to 1 gallon of edible mushrooms per person per day on land managed by BLM, no permit required.
Cooking and eating chanterelles
Chanterelles may be popular for their prolific appearances in the woods, but they’re also renowned for being just straight up delicious. Often described as both fruity and peppery in flavor with a “melt in your mouth” consistency, the meaty texture of chanterelles makes for an excellent addition to dozens of culinary ventures.
Christopher Czarnecki, chef and owner for the Joel Palmer House Restaurant in Dayton — which specializes in mushroom cuisine — has been hunting for and cooking with mushrooms like chanterelles for as long as he can remember.
“Working with chanterelles and other mushrooms is in my blood. Our knowledge of mushrooms and how to cook them goes back generations,” Czarnecki said. “Chanterelles lend themselves to fresh flavors really well, and when made properly it can stand out nicely in a dish. Cream sauces, alongside proteins, we even pickled chanterelles and served them with martinis for a while.”
Masterpieces made by Czarnecki that highlight the golden mushroom include a vegan saffron soup with chanterelles, sautéed chanterelles with sturgeon or even just chanterelles on their own, lightly braised with fresh mozzarella, basil and tomatoes.
Another bonus about cooking with chanterelles? Accessibility, both in quantity and price.
“Whether you foraged for them or bought them in the store, chanterelles are so accessible and abundant that it’s not so scary to try and make a meal with them or try something new,” Czarnecki said. “It’s less risky than a $100 mushroom. You can experiment and not worry about ruining them.”
Czarnecki’s tip for first-timers: use a little soy sauce or tamari as a portion of the dish salt component to amp up the umami flavor of the chanterelle.
When preparing your chanterelles, washing them with cold water and a gentle toothbrush is often the best method for a deep clean that preserves the structure of the mushroom, according to Czarnecki. If you aren’t planning on cooking them immediately, however, do not get your chanterelles wet! Store fresh chanterelles in a paper bag in the fridge for up to 10 days before rinsing and cooking.
Finally, if you have enough chanterelles to want to save them for the future, there are a few options for long-term storage — with the knowledge that they are arguably best when fresh, no matter the method.
Because they are already a fragile mushroom, drying doesn’t work well for chanterelles, as they lose most of their flavor and crumble apart when dehydrated. Chanterelles are best preserved either frozen or pickled, after being lightly cooked beforehand via a dry sauté or steaming.
Explore Oregon Podcast:Chanterelle season is here. How to find, harvest and eat Oregon’s state mushroom
Here are some basic rules to follow to be the politest forager possible:
- Carry your foraging finds in a mesh bag or basket that allows spores to drop during your walk. This will help future mushrooms to spread and sprout anew, and is often better for the preservation of your haul – plastic erodes chanterelles and tears up the mushroom.
- Leave behind mushrooms that don’t fit into the edible category, both literally and in terms of being a picky selector. Chanterelles that are too small, covered in bugs or generally past their lifespan should be left in the woods.
- Tread lightly. Hiking boots can make a big impact if you’re crashing through the woods! Walk slowly and with intent, protecting the environment around you and any potential mushrooms you might find. Aim to not leave a trail behind you whenever possible.
- Be respectful to others you encounter while in the woods. There is nothing worse than a cranky mushroom hunter.
- Leave no trace applies to foraging in many senses. Pack out all trash, debris and anything else that comes into the woods with you.
Joining the community
Now that you have all of the details on chanterelles, it’s time to get into the woods and get your hands dirty. If you’ve never foraged before, a great start to mushroom hunting can be found in local or online foraging communities and clubs. Ranging from guided forays in the woods to helpful remote forums on identification and more, participating in a mushroom-focused group is sure to help further your knowledge and connect you with fellow fungus enthusiasts (and professionals).
Here is a roster of some great groups to get you started:
Skyla Patton is an outdoor reporter and multimedia storyteller. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ganjajournalist