Wednesday, 28 January 2009

chanter - elle



Cazadero, the little town I grew up in out here in the middle of nowhere, sometimes can offer up a real gem. Rough around the edges, a bit muddled with old loggers and old hippies, Caz still has horseshoes attached to its General Store, and people still use them when they take a ride into town for some flour or some beer. The draw for people is the seclusion, the quiet, the trees: ideal for the hermit lifestyle.

One of these hermits walked down our dirt driveway the other day, a neighbor of ours who I had never met. Michael had come to offer kale seedlings, of the dinosaur variety. He stayed for a tea and a chat, and the three of us (including my dad) got to talking about foraging. With plenty of rabbit, deer, wild boar, and squirrels, along with innumerable mushrooms, greens, and the protein rich acorns that fall like hail from the endless hills of oak trees, these woods really could sustain you, if you knew what you were doing.

I remembered a time, back when I was ten or so, and an Italian friend of my parents had come with his clan of cousins to search for mushrooms. Specifically, the chanterelle. Said to grow in a mixture of madrone and pine roots, after a rain and maybe even when the wind blows in just that special way, the chanterelle takes skill to find. Bruno didn't find any that day, but when I mentioned this Michael perked up. He had found one that very morning, he told us excitedly. In fact, he was an expert mushroomer, foraging up to 50 pounds of the variety Matsutaki for the infamous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley.

Well, do you guys want it? he asked.
Yes! was my immediate response. I don't think I had ever even seen a chanterelle, much less tasted one. Michael brought my up to his car where, delicately wrapped in a white dishtowel a chanterelle lay nestled.

A creamy white, with delicate ribbons stretching from its filmy stalk to the wavy cup of the mushrooms head, it was elegant yet firm to the touch. Dark dirt crumbled from the stalk, and as I brushed it away I really felt like I was holding something special in my hands.


He recommended a recipe, and here I pass it on:

Wild Mushrooms with Red Onions and Vinegar

Because I only had the one Chanterelle, I added a handful of Shiitake mushrooms we had in the fridge. This recipe will work for any of those strange and exotic mushrooms you sometimes see in markets. I also hesitate to give exact measures, I had about a cup and a half of sliced mushrooms, but the quanities should be adjusted to your own taste.

olive oil

a mix of wild mushrooms, sliced to 1/4 inch

one small red onion, sliced thinly in half moons

fresh thyme leaves, about a teaspoon chopped

sherry vinegar, about a tablespoon

cream, about two tablespoons

butter, about one tablespoon


1) Sauté the red onion in a tablespoon of olive oil till soft over medium. Add the mushrooms and sauté till they soften and release their juices, about 5 minutes. Add more olive oil if neccessary to keep from sticking to the pan.

2) Add thyme and cook one more minute. Add vinegar and let sizzle for one minute. Add cream and cook until cream reduces and thickens, about another five minutes.

3) When mushrooms are softened and the juices have boiled away, leaving a thick, creamy sauce, add the butter and let it melt into the sauce, then serve immediately.

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