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Pickin and Grinnin': Chantrelle hunting in the Cascades 

It's chanterelle season in the Pacific Northwest. You can find the apricot flavored mushrooms at every store in town. The prices range from $15.99 to $19.99 a pound. And, most of the mushrooms are from Canada. Which seems a little steep considering if you have a day and love nature you can get them local and free.

Last weekend I drove 50 miles to the Sahalie Falls area on the Santiam Pass. I spent the next few hours wandering through the forest enjoying the sounds of the McKenzie River and the smell of Douglas fir trees. When I left I had over ten pounds of the best mushroom I have ever eaten.

Chanterelles are fairly easy to identify if you know what you are looking for. The key is that they have false gills. True gills are what you find on a Portobello mushroom. They are separate and can be picked off from the cap. False gills are ridges that cannot be separated from the cap. They look like gills that have melted. The false gills descend part way down the stalk and branch on the outer edge of the cap. Other identifying features of the chanterelle are the yellow golden color and the convex cap.

The best places to find chanterelles are in old growth Douglas fir forests. Look under the beds of needles. All of the mushrooms I found were only partially exposed. They looked like golden brown leaves. But once you "get your eyes on" the difference between a leaf and real chanterelle bulge is very distinct.

Chanterelles have three poisonous look alikes that grow in this area; they are the Jack O' Lantern, Scaly Vase Chanterelle, and the False Chanterelle. The False Chanterelle is identical to the Chanterelle except that it has true gills. Scaly Vase Chanterelles grow in a funnel shape. They look like a chanterelle turned inside out. The Jack O' Lantern's are very orange, have true gills and glow green in the dark. I found the best way to identify a true Chanterelle is to go to the store and check them out because once you have held a real one in your hand it is difficult to mistake them.

And, once you have tasted a true fresh Chanterelle you will know why they are so highly coveted in the mushroom world. There are many complex and fanciful recipes for Chanterelles but my favorite is very simple. I found that the best way to preserve the delicate fruity flavor is to sauté them with a little butter and salt. And, trust me, after that first bite you will always have another reason to spend a little more time in nature.

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