Black chanterelle (Craterellus cornucopioides)
The Late Season (text and photo by Josef Szuecs)
As I mentioned in an earlier post, mushrooms generally fruit in species dependent windows of time. The exact timing of these windows vary from year to year, affected by a number of factors. In the SF Bay area, we can start looking for a few wonderful late season mushrooms in December and January. Namely, Black chanterelles (Craterellus cornucopioides), Hedgehogs (Hydnum repandum and H. umbilicatum), and the Yellow-foot chanterelle (Cantharellus tubaeformis or Craterellus infundibuliformis).
Individually, these are relatively small specimens. Caps are typically under 2 inches in diameter. (Except for H. repandum, which can get pretty big.) Though small in size, they like company. When you find a patch, they can number in the hundreds. The three types also like the same habitat, Tan Oak woodlands, so you’ll find them growing in close proximity.
I’ve noticed that the black chanterelles like very wet locations, more so than the hedgehogs. Look for drainages and small basins where water tends to flow and collect. Another admirable feature of this group of mushrooms: no insect infestation. For some reason, the little maggots that fiercely attack porcinis and other species have no interest in these.
The black chanterelles are hard to spot. They are dark brown to black in hue, and look ‘leafy.’ Just like the bed of decaying leaves where they are
found. You really have to find the appropriate habitat and then look hard. The trick is looking for holes. The open trumpet shape, when viewed from above, looks like a round pitch black hole. The flavor of black chanterelles is earthy and fruity. Absolutely delicious. They dry very well. Oh, make sure you tear or cut each one apart lengthwise. The mushroom is a trumpet shaped tube. Bits of debris, small slugs, pill bugs and other undesirables may be hiding in there.
Hedgehogs are easy to spot. Light tan/yellow and almost always atop the duff. Just make sure that your specimens have ‘teeth’ instead of gills. The spore bearing surface of a hedgehog is made up of small spines that hang from the underside of the cap. There are a few small Lactarius that I’ll find growing near them, and these should be avoided. The flavor of hedgehogs is mildly nutty. When cooking them, make sure you brown them nicely to bring out this nuttiness. When I collect a bounty of them, I simply pan sauté them in olive oil, pack in jars, top with more olive oil and freeze.
Finally, the Yellow-foots. A fine mushroom, although mildly flavored. I use them to stretch a pan of hedgehogs. They actually dry well. Yellow-foots are also trumpet shaped tubes, so watch out for stowaways.
Here’s a great side dish made with hedgehogs. Clean and cut a pound, more or less, of fresh hedgehogs, into a very rough chop. Mince a shallot. Toss the shallot into a pan with some olive oil. Cook until translucent. Add the mushrooms. And salt to taste.
In a minute or so, the hedgehogs will release an impressive amount of moisture into the pan. Simmer until evaporated, and then sauté until the mushrooms are well browned. Add 1 ½ cups of Arborio rice. Saute for a minute or two. Add 2 ½ cups chicken stock, (preferably homemade). Cover, drop heat to simmer, and cook for 20 minutes.
Serve with, well, almost anything.