Published: October 18th 2010October 9th 2010
Pacific Gold Chanterelle -- Cantharellus formosus
The ground bends and distorts underfoot as I gingerly make my way through the rainforest, carefully finding my footing on a forest floor covered with a carpet of brilliant green moss and jumbled, rotting wood. Each step is a carefully calculated hop or tip-toe across catwalks of fallen trees and branches, each log lying on the remnants of older logs and coated with ferns and saplings. After just a few minutes of stumbling around in this slippery and dripping-wet maze, I realize why 4 out of 5 Queen Charlotte Islands' residents prefer to wear gumboots, even on a sunny day.
I pause for a moment to take in my surroundings. I am merely a few metres from the edge of the logging road, but once I enter the refuge of the woods the silence becomes deafening. It is broken only by the garbling and cawwing of an overhead raven and the occaisonal subdued splattering of a raindrop, after having been delayed by the fir boughs far above is liberated by a gentle breeze and finally makes it way to the soft earth.
The air is thick and moist and the sweet smell of fungus swirls around my nostrils. The
hunt is on!
Fly Agaric (immature)
Amanita muscaria a.k.a. the legendary "Berserker" and quintessential toadstool.
Today's prey is Cantharellus formosus
; otherwise known as the Pacific Gold Chanterelle
A "chanty" is not the most challenging find of the mushroom kingdom - that is, if you know where to look! With its unabashed gold hue, it tends to catch your eye; after you've let your eyes adjust to the darkness of the forest and spotted it once, the mushroom hunters' eye quickly hones in to find more...and more.. and more! The chanties nearly sparkle and jump from the forest floor into your bucket.
The low-impact harvester makes sure to carefully cut the mushroom off at the base of the stem, allowing it to grow back, using a small, folding pocket knife. A large hunting knife isn't particularily helpful to carry when there's a very good chance you'll slip off a moss-covered log and fall on it. Out here, help may not come for a while.
The sheer remoteness of mushroom picking in the Queen Charlottes can be staggering, especially in the autumn. I drove my girlfriend's car into a ditch (sorry!)
on one excursion and waited about 2 hours before a motorist passed by to offer a pull.. and I was
less than 3 km from downtown!
There are other risks associated with this activity; another mushroom picker in the same area received a whopping total of 5 stitches after falling down an embankment and cutting his hand on some forest debris on the way down. And while there are no cougars or wolves on the islands, the local black bear (Ursus americanus carlottae
) that patrols these forests is the largest subspecies of its kind. We came across one during a jog but he seemed quite relaxed and confident - luckily mushroom season coincides with salmon season so they're well fed!
Once home, the smell of sauteed mushrooms fills our small apartment. Cantharellus formosus have a meaty texture and a mild-to-moderate taste with pleasing earthy and nutty undertones. They definitely go well with a dish of local prawns in garlic-butter sauce or in a mushroom risotto with parmesan cheese.
Outside, it's just another "Haida Gwaii Friday Night" as the wind screams over the pier and the rain batters against the window. Warm and dry, we pause to peer out at the storm, then return to the steamy delicacies in front of us.
While the biggest action on
Ralphie in the ditch
Yet another hazard of mushroom hunting..
these islands is found outside, hidden under a log in the cold, dark woods, it's nice to be inside enjoying the fruits of our chanty-picking labour. About Pacific Golden Chanterelles / Cantharellus formosus:
No water or oil is necessary in the pan; as the chanterelles heat up, they release enough water to cook themselves in. Avoid washing chanterelles! Unlike your store-bought button mushrooms, this fungi absorbs and secretes water, causing a washed chanterelle to become soggy and waterlogged, or worse, shed its own flavourful juices! Because of this, avoid picking chanterelles in the rain when dirt and debris will get stuck to them. Recommended mushroom-picking equipment:
folding pocket knife, bucket, mushroom-identifying chart/book, rain gear, rubber boots. Important:
Amateur mushroom pickers should always be 100% certain of a fungus' edibility before consuming. Confirm a mushroom's identity using a guide, asking an expert (pop by the Mushroom Buyer Co-op in Queen Charlotte City - they're very helpful and can help you identify your mushrooms, and even buy chanterelles from entrepreneurial pickers for $2.50/lb) and even performing a spore print.
Also, pay close attention to the fast-changing weather; the rainforest is a dangerous place to be when
Purple Club Coral
Clavaria purpurea. Yes, it is edible, but do you really want to try?
a storm kicks up due to falling trees, slippery conditions and washed out logging roads.
There are more photos below