Months have passed since we combed the woods looking for summer mushrooms. Chanterelles mostly. Girolle if you prefer the French. Mushroom hunting is certainly not done for the year, but the July explosions of golden yellow along the forest floor have long since passed. It was a great year for chanterelles, and at times during the peak of the season you’d be hard-pressed to find your field of vision devoid of the delicacies. Easy to spot and hard to confuse with its less-safe brethren (owing to chanterelle’s false gills and unique shape), with its bright color and taste reminiscent of stone fruit and earth, it is not shocking that golden chanterelles often serve as a gateway fungus to the broader kingdom of wild mushrooms.
In a good year, finding chanterelles will prove remarkably simple. Unlike its close relative black trumpets (a.k.a. the trumpet of death), which grow in small, delicate clusters, their dark color concealing them in the shade they prefer to inhabit, or the humble camouflaged morels of spring, chanterelles are flamboyant, ostentatiously breaking ground wherever they please. An observant walk through the woods after a July or early August rain should be all it takes to locate ample chanterelles. Lots of trees and moist, but not soaking, ground are key—other specifics don’t seem to matter too much around here. They are everywhere. And with a little effort, and some luck, you can find a spot to call your own, where you can return season after season, taking a yearly pilgrimage to reconnect with land you don’t likely visit nearly enough.
Mushroom hunting is addictive, so it won’t be long before you’ve eaten your fill, given away enough to feel like the world’s greatest altruist, and still have a couple of pounds of choice specimens left to work with. For the excess, cooking and freezing the chanterelles works, and so does pickling. But we prefer to preserve our bounty by simply allowing the mushrooms to dry out, particularly when blessed with a glut of black trumpets. After a week or three at room temperature with good air circulation, their color sets and every time you walk past them you’re greeted by a rich and heady scent reminiscent of apricots and sweet compost. You’re also reminded of the fleeting nature of their summer season, because by the time they dry enough for storage, it’s likely their time of flourishing in the woods is over. Once dry, the chanterelles and black trumpets can constrict to a quarter of their fresh size. Without their water, the small, hard, desiccated mushrooms become a concentrate of what they were, a distillation of the few weeks of summer and forest. Properly dried and stored in an airtight jar, the mushrooms last indefinitely.
The dried chanterelles and black trumpets can wait for months, or even years, a suspended embodiment of summer hibernating in your cupboard. There they remain until being summoned, to be awakened with a baptism of boiling water. As they soak, they come back to life, bringing with them a summer and a forest that in our mind is not much more than a faded memory. Dishes that incorporate these refreshed mushrooms, even more so than those using fresh ones, enjoyed long after their harvest when the weather starts to grey, bring us back to the abundant times of summers past, and makes us look forward to future pilgrimages in the abundant summers yet to come.