Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Finding Wild Mushrooms: Tips from Experienced Foragers II

Today we have a mushroom foraging post from Sean Sterrett. Sean is an organic farmer, beer brewer, and a PhD Candidate doing research on Turtle Ecology at UGA.  He shares his experiences road cruising for Chanterelles in Georgia as well as a delicious Chanterelle Wine and Cream Sauce recipe; all photographs on the post are Sean's. If you have any questions for him, please write them in the comments section at the end of this post. 

1. Can you describe the process of selecting the right mushroom foraging spot?

I found out quickly that mushroom picking spots were all around me. And they're likely around you too if you're anywhere in the vicinity of a forest. Some of the most productive spots for picking are less than five minutes from my house. The only mushrooms I really spend time looking for (at least for now) are chanterelles (Cantharellus spp.) and morels (Morchella spp.). Both of these mushrooms are found in deciduous forests and often in association with oak, poplar and beech trees (although this is a short list) this is certainly where I focus my search.

Weather and seasonality seem to be just as important as location. You'll see the mushrooms pop up just after significant rain events. For example this summer has been incredibly wet in the southeastern U.S. and chanterelles can even be found on the side of the road in abundance. So, road cruising is effective for both snakes AND edible mushrooms. 

Just like other biota, mushrooms have certain times of year where they are present or "active". I live in Georgia, so the window for finding morels is much shorter compared to the Midwest or Pacific Northwest and limited to early spring.  However, chanterelles can be found for a majority of spring, summer and fall and usually limited by rain. 

A forest floor view of Chanterelles in Georgia

2. Many people tell me they are afraid to go picking because they don't know how to properly ID edible wild mushrooms. How did you learn to ID edibles?

I think everyone should have a healthy respect for mushrooms...I still do which has restricted what I'm willing to pick and eat. I've also heard some rough stories of eating the wrong mushrooms. I used a combination of internet forums and websites, natural history books and the help from friends and family to feel confident in identifying chanterelles and morels when I started picking. I try to depend on diagnostic characteristics to distinguish between targets and non-targets.  It seems like the most confusing mushroom for chanterelles is the Jack-O-Lantern (Omphalotus olearius). While this look-alike wouldn't kill you, the false morel (Gyromitra esculenta), which resembles my favorite mushroom, is potentially deadly and keeps me on my toes when picking and cleaning. I highly recommend the book, Mushrooms Demystified, by David Arora. It's still a new book for me but I've learned quite a bit and it's a book that experienced pickers trust. I'm hoping to expand my mushroom picking interests, but am moving fairly slow...I'm alright with that.  

Morel in Indiana, March 2013
3. What kind of permits are required to harvest wild mushrooms in Georgia?

As far as I know, there are no permits required for mushroom harvest in Georgia. I've been told about permits and limits in other parts of the U.S., but I've never lived somewhere where harvest for personal consumption was regulated.  
Because many mushrooms are associated with the root systems of trees (symbiotic mycorhizal), the edible mushroom are often considered the fruits or flowers of the actual fungus.  So, it's my impression and assumption that harvest is sustainable. I would like to have a conversation with a mycologist to confirm these assumptions. 

4. Not many people forage for their own food, so I'm wondering, what are your motivations are to do so? 

I'm interested in continuing to remember where food comes from. This sounds cliché, but it's fairly easy to buy food at a grocery store and not consider where it originated. I still do.  But, I try to explore how foods are made (processed or originate). All food comes from the ground in one way or another so keeping in mind the HOW, WHEN and WHERE is important to me. One way I keep this in mind is to use both local foods and try to learn the process of making certain foods. There are some exciting hobbies that can sprout from these curiosities. For example, I've been brewing beer the last few years and want to get into brewing ciders and wines, as well as cheese making. In addition to picking wild mushrooms, I'm also interested in learning how to cultivate mushrooms in my backyard. These hobbies are all much easier than most realize.  

Most folks react positively to mushroom foraging and are often envious...because wild mushrooms are both expensive and delicious. So, it's nice to share your pickings and chat about mushrooms whenever given the opportunity.

5. Can you describe some of the unique tastes of the wild mushrooms you pick?

Mushrooms add a significant amount of body and meatiness to any meal. Most people associate chanterelles with an apricot flavour. I've never smelled that but I do get a floral aroma and this is one way you can tell if the mushroom is fresh. Morel mushrooms are embedded into my flavor pallete and are a very memorable part of my childhood. But if asked to describe their flavor, I don't think I have a very descriptive answer. Savory is all that comes to mind. I prefer to enjoy morels lightly dusted in flour and pan-fried in a light mixture of mild olive oil and butter. They are a likely my favorite food that I've come across.  

Chanterelles (Cantharellus sp.)
Chanterelles are a fantastic addition to just about anything, but I have one classical sauce that is especially amazing on pasta or fish:

Chanterelle Wine and Cream Sauce

~3 handfuls of chanterelles (half roughly chopped, half finely chopped)
1/2 cup dry white wine of your choosing (something you would drink).
3/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
smoked paprika

  • Dry saute the chantrelles over medium heat to remove most of the water.
  • Add chopped shallot and garlic along with olive oil and butter, and saute until shallot and garlic are translucent and mushrooms are cooked through (8-10 minutes).  Add paprika to your liking.
  • Add white wine to deglaze pan and reduce alcohol content (couple minutes).
  • Add heavy cream, bring to boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the mushroom flavor has been infused and sauce is thickened. 
  • Finish with chives and salt and pepper to taste


  1. Sean,

    Thanks for the informative post and great pictures. I'm wondering if on your search for Chanterelles in Georgia you have found any of the Jack O'Lantern mushrooms or the edible Trumpet Chanterelles? If so, do you find them in the same habitats?


  2. Hey Olivia,
    We do think we came across Jack O' Lanterns and the gills and cap shape were obvious characters. I haven't come across Trumpet Chanterelles, but have come across several patches of Cinnabar Red Chanterelles (C. cinnabarinus), which are smaller in size and a striking red, but supposedly edible and peppery at that. Oddly enough, have only found the red chanterelle adjacent to roads. Most of my searching has been in forest interiors with plenty of downed leaves.