Trumpets in the Woods?
Written onJune 01 , 2007
I have always enjoyed a treasure hunt. The thrill of discovery is surpassed only by the joy of seeking something unknown but special. In this instance, the treasures that draw me back, year after year, are the multitudes of mushrooms we are fortunate to have in New England. As the snow starts to melt in early spring, visions of fanciful fungi start to invade my thoughts.
With this in mind I collect my backpack, my field guide, and a small flat bottomed basket. Upon entering the woods near my home in Saxtons River, I step onto the forest floor and the earthy smell of decayed leaves and flowering mosses rise to greet me. My journey often takes me off the main path and I find myself negotiating my way over stone walls and fallen trees. The forest is quiet, save for the birds and the rush of the wind, and the pace is slow. I have found that these walks are meditative for me. With a keen eye, I experience the woods in ways I hadn’t before discovering mushrooming.
The best way to learn the art of mushroom identification is firsthand. Subtle differences between some mushrooms make it essential to turn to an expert for guidance. Our woods are home to many edible mushrooms but there are some poisonous and deadly ones, as well. Because there is no single feature that identifies a mushroom, you must examine all its parts and always make a spore print in order to identify it. Spores are the tiny reproductive units of mushrooms. Place the mushroom cap with the gill side down on a piece of white paper to make this print. In a few hours to overnight, the cap will release its spores and you can check the results in your field guide. Better yet, take a local mushroom identification course (see sidebar).
At this time of year, from June to September, the Black Trumpet mushroom graces the forest floor. These mushrooms can be found in mixed woods, those made up of a wide variety of trees including coniferous and deciduous and often grow in wet mossy ground or on moss-covered, decayed coniferous logs. Because the Black Trumpet (Craterellus fallax), also known as the Black Chanterelle, blends so well with its surroundings, it may be hard to find at first. The good news is that once you discover one of these gems, it’s likely there will be many more nearby. True to its name, the Black Trumpet is dark brown to black and, on occasion, charcoal grey. It reaches 2 to 4 inches in height and half as much in width. Spore prints of this delicacy are white or cream. Remember to always check your reference materials as you seek to identify the mushrooms you find. If there is any doubt, return them to the woods.
The Black Trumpet is easily identified and safe to eat. It has been a favorite of mine because of the delicate, almost apricot-like flavor it lends to dishes. It is also easy to dry and can be reconstituted when the need arises. Here I’ve included a recipe for wild mushroom risotto. This dish can be made with fresh or dried mushrooms. If you make this fragrant rice dish on a cold winter day, it will bring back fond memories of foraging in our summer woods.
Illustration by Meg Lucas: Black Trumpet Mushrooms