One of my favourite rural fall activities is hunting for mushrooms. I’m not as outdoorsy as many people I know, but there are about half a dozen types of mushrooms I can identify and pick with confidence, and only one that I’ll go hunting for – chanterelles. Chanterelles are those yellow trumpet-shaped mushrooms that sell in the grocery store for $18 a pound in the fall.

Lots of delicious wild chanterelles to cook for dinner – today is my aunt Maggie’s birthday and we’re having fried wild mushrooms with steak.

You don’t need to be a local to hunt chanterelles on Vancouver Island. I can tell you exactly how to do it. First, you have to pick the right day to go hunting. You’ll need a damp, overcast day, after several days of rain, before the first frost. Hop in your car and start driving into the bush. Find a logging road where you can drive slowly, and watch the forest as you drive. It’s best to have a passenger to help you keep an eye out for the right kind of place.

What you’re looking for is a dense, dark part of the woods. In my experience, chanterelles tend to grow on steep slopes, especially north-facing ones where they rarely get a ray of sunlight peeking through the trees. If you can see undergrowth or brush under the trees, there’s too much light getting in and you won’t find chanterelles. You’re looking for a second-growth conifer forest. There are old rotting logs crumbling into the earth from the last generation of trees, but the live trees are tall and dense at the top, blocking all the light from the forest floor.

Nothing more beautiful than finding free, delicious, gourmet food just growing wild in the forest!

In the forest, chanterelles look like beautiful buttery-yellow-orange caps peeking out from a bed of pine needles. Train your eyes to scan for flashes of yellow on the forest floor. It’s rare to find one mushroom on its own – usually you’ll find four to six together, and then another group nearby. Look on the darker side of fallen logs, in little dips in the earth, and just under the ridges in the hills. If you find a group of chanterelles, try to imagine which way ground water would flow, and follow that direction – the spores will often seed mushrooms along that path. When you’ve searched up and down the slope, move along and repeat the exercise.

Chanterelles are easy to identify. There are no poisonous mushrooms that look anything like them, so even if you make a mistake, nothing that looks like a chanterelle can make you sick. They can range from warm orange to yellow. The underside of the cap is paler than the top of the cap. The gills on the mushroom go down the side of the stem, so it can be hard to see exactly where the cap ends and the stem begins. If the underside of the cap is darker orange or greyish, it might not be a chanterelle – chanterelles are definitely creamy yellow on the underside of the cap. Younger chanterelles are rounded, while older ones tend to become more concave or trumpet-shaped.

The darker mushroom is not a chanterelle – it’s an inedible (but not poisonous) similar-looking mushroom.

As you’re picking, use a knife to cut the stems, rather than uprooting the whole mushroom. I’ve been told that mushrooms can’t regrow if you uproot the entire stem. Also, I like to leave the very small mushrooms and the older, overripe ones behind rather than picking the entire patch of mushrooms. That way the older mushrooms can leave their spores, and the younger ones can grow bigger. It doesn’t seem right to pick every single mushroom in the forest at once.

And there you have it! Happy hunting, and enjoy your mushrooms!

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