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The Chanterelle Hunter and Gatherer

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One August several years ago a French girl came to stay; she arrived into a 'Haar' - a wonderful Scots word to describe the fog that rolls in from the sea but is also used for the general misty dampness in Scotland. The longer the haar lasted, the more I felt the need to convince her that the house really did have the most magnificent views. Eventually, three days later, the haar cleared and we could see glorious hills bathed in warm, Scottish sunshine.

Yesterday, the sun burnt the haar off very quickly so I grabbed my trusty bicycle and began to clank the gears up the first hill as steamy tarmac dried in my path but, living in the Angus glens, a hill is an everyday part and parcel of a cycle ride. I'm told by a friend who lives way up a local glen, in the most delightful house (that the author J M Barrie rented for summers... but I digress), that there is an electric model that, at the tweak of a button, propels you uphill. Presumably you tweak it off as you head down the glen - bliss, albeit a tad lazy. However, I see the uphill cycle as an enticing challenge and of course it gives me an excuse to indulge in the odd extra slice of Victoria sponge; at this time of year, dripping with jam from locally grown raspberries.

My current bicycle does the job, albeit noisily, as I pedal up hills, but the problem is that the basket is too small. I covet the large box on the front of an Oxford lodge Porter's cycle; and why you may ask - to carry the rewards of my foraging, of course.

There is much controversy over eating foraged mushrooms and you should certainly only forage with experience or help from someone who has it and carefully check your hoard when you return home. Nicholas Evans, the author of The Horse Whisperer and members of his family became seriously ill after eating a rare mushroom (deadly webcap), which they mistook for a Boletus Edulus (cep). This said, I am interested by the number of screwed up noses I receive when I say that I've been picking wild mushrooms; perhaps it is because some look unappetizing or because some of them look rather rude (young Penny Buns); who knows, but for my part I stick closely to mushrooms that I can safely identify and find yummy to eat.
For instance Chanterelles are well suited to Glenland Angus. They enjoy the combination of both warmth and dampness and so yesterday I was on a chanterelle mission with son number five.

My youngest son has been chanterelle hunting since he was a toddler, welly boots have fallen into muddy streams (chanterelles hide under moss and bracken on the banks of ditches) but nowadays he's usually way ahead of me in the wood (on the cycle too) on his mission to find those orange mushroom that smell so delicately of apricots - our Chanterelle Heaven. We call it heaven because, on finding one chanterelle, more will soon turn up; they lurk in the undergrowth disguised as autumn Beech leaves. Our take home message for take home heaven is: -

Ask the landlord's permission before you help yourself.

My main rule is to only pick for your supper pot, not your neighbour's; woe betide any mercenary forager with carrier bags full when I find them in the woods.

Use a basket (not a plastic bag) because fungi decay quickly and need to be kept cool and aerated.

Use a knife (there is a special mushroom knife called an Opinel - it's French of course; that nation is full of wild mushroom lovers), because if the mycelium (a fine net of threads at the mushroom base) is broken, this may prevent future growth.

Take care that the mushrooms aren't being spoilt by maggots - give them a good brush before eating.. I'm told that you can purchase a special mushroom brush for this purpose but I've yet to find one. I don't wash mushrooms.

If this is your first tasting don't be greedy just in case chanterelles don't agree with you.



A delicious, simple recipe: Chanterelle Tarts

Delicious foraged chanterelles, lightly poached in chicken stock and baked in cream on a crisp pastry base.

Makes 4

What to find:

For the pastry

100g plain flour
25g lard
25g butter
2-3 tbsps water
Butter to grease

For the filling:

150g chanterelles
Chicken stock *
3 large eggs
125ml single cream
Salt and pepper
Handful chopped parsley

What to do:

Put the oven on: 200ºC 400ºF gas 6 (and later lower the temperature to: 150ºC 300ºF gas 2)

1. Rub the flour and fats together and add enough water to make a dough.

2. Lightly grease 4 individual flan dishes. Roll the pastry thinly and line the greased flan dishes.
Prick the base of the pastry with a fork. Cover the pastry with silver foil and baking beans and 'bake blind' in the pre-heated oven for 5-6 minutes.

3. Remove the foil and beans and return the case to the oven for 2-3 minutes to crisp the base. The case is now prepared for the filling. Lower the oven temperature to 150ºC 300ºF gas 2

4. Meanwhile put the clean chanterelles in a pan and add enough chicken stock to cover them.
Bring to the boil and then simmer for 3-4minutes. Drain the chanterelles and pat them dry with kitchen roll.

5. Break the eggs into a bowl, add the cream and salt and pepper and beat together.

6. Roughly break the poached chanterelles, divide them between the flan dishes and pour the egg mixture between the quiches. Scatter the chopped parsley on top.

7. Bake at the lower oven temperature until the quiche is just set (about 10 minutes). Leave to cool and continue setting.

* Vegetarians can poach the chanterelles in vegetable stock.

©Fiona Bird