“… The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep …”
In this, arguably, most famous of poems of Robert Frost, the poet is suggesting that we are often tempted in life by things along the way – things that are lovely, dark, and deep. And I think he’s also saying that in a better time, there’s plenty of reason to fall victim to the seduction of the woods, for the woods too has promises to keep.
And so it was for me, recently, as I feel victim once more to the seduction of the dark and deep woods – I did so quite willingly, for I sensed that the timing was right for the woods to give up one of its “promises” – I sensed the seasonal bloom of the white chanterelles was nigh.
Yesterday was one of those rare days – not only was it pleasant, weather wise, but after so many trips out to the woods where the only reward is being out in the woods (OK, that’s not such a small thing!), my optimism matched up with nature’s timetable, and I hit the bloom of the white chanterelles within a day or so of first emergence.
I have a nice spot in McKinley, on BLM land east of Coos Bay, in the foothills of the Coastal Range, where I can depend on catching the white chanterelles each fall, and if I get the timing right, I’ve got them all to myself. I have a few picker friends who swear to me that my spot is smack dab in the middle of a heavily picked area, but actually I’ve never seen another picker anywhere near my spot – but I never go out on a weekend, and even though I do see evidence of others having been there, if you hit it right, none of that matters!
I love those whites! First of all, they are just meatier than are other chanterelles – and then, at least in my favorite spot, they tend to cluster heavily together – so, when you find one, you are actually finding 10 or 20 within sight while on your hands and knees. And they are just bigger! Yes, I know, yellows can get huge – but the yellows all start out as pinheads visible on the surface. The whites tend to begin their development deep under the surface of the duff, and as they grow, they literally dig a hole through the soil, so that when you go to pick them, you can actually reach down into that hole, sometimes 5 or 6 inches, to find the base of that baby – I have never found a little white – to me, they are the kings of the chanterelles.
For awhile, I was a little fearful that we might be witnessing a scenario where the real rains would start so late this year that we might have a seriously depleted bloom. I started checking my spots in July, a week after we got an inch or so of rain – Nothing. Then again in August it rained nicely, and after a week or so, I checked again – that time there was an initial flush, but when no followup rains occurred, that was it. My picker friends tell me these false starts are bad for the season, ’cause it can mess up the internal clock of the mycelium, and it may trigger a failure of the full bloom to happen at all.
And so it was with a degree of trepidation that I ventured out to the woods yesterday. But when I saw the first mushhump, I knew my fears were unfounded, and that I was in for a magical day. The woods was keeping its promise to me!
Here a few shots of the experience (I find it difficult to get pictures when the picking activity is hot and heavy – you too?)
Even though it’s true that the cleaning, processing, and packing up the mushrooms is certainly not the fun part, it is the real reason why I’m interested in these babies in the first place – I only do this for culinary purposes. It gives me no end of pleasure to know that down in L.A., they’d pay more that $100 for this pile of white chanterelles – maybe lots more!
Once they’re packed up, I’ll freeze them and use them over the next year in all kinds of ways, some more creative than others – here’s some instruction on how I process and prepare them. I’ll soon be doing some Chanterelle Breads that I’ll share here. In the meantime, I feel neglectful in not giving you a mushroom recipe, but I could do no better than to share once more with you, Lydia Bastianich’s recipe for Chanterelle Sauce – do not be fooled by the simplicity of this sauce, in ten plus years of cooking chanterelles in every form and way, I’ve yet to find anything better.