Frog and Mushroom Season* is here! It finally dried up a little bit this morning, so I headed out to a big live oak tree in our apartment complex where I saw some chanterelles last year. I found the patch right at the end of summer, so have been eagerly awaiting hot muggy weather (for once) when they would return. Was not disappointed!
It’s a little hard to tell in this photo, but these are not your average chanterelles. They’re TRAFFIC-CONE ORANGE. Why? Because Gainesville is where the Deep, Deep South starts to slowly drip into the tropics and we don’t do anything normal down here y’all.
You often hear mushroom-hunters talk about the deep intimacy with the forest required to find mushrooms and learning to read signs in the duff. That sounds awesome. It is however not an experience had when looking for neon-orange mushrooms against a grassy green background. I have to say that being a busy postdoc, I do appreciate their efforts to make themselves visible. They’re like little good ol’ boys in hunter vests doing their best not to be mistaken for deer.
The danger with urban foraging is that eventually people will notice that this lady keeps coming to their front yard for the mushrooms and realize they’re edible. We live in grad student housing and free food is really popular here! My main hope is that people will steer clear of eating things the color a safety hazard warning sign. If anybody asks I can always tell them I’m collecting them for a science experiment. They don’t have to know the experiment involves a lot of butter and a frying pan.**
These are properly known as cinnabar chanterelles, Cantharellus cinnabarinus. Local mycophiles tell me it’s “not the best chanterelle but it’ll do.” Traditional chanterelles evidently have some fruity apricot-like aromas. This sounds very lovely but alas, I don’t think we get “real” chanterelles down here. That’s ok. I cooked these last time in browned butter (why? because I got distracted while the butter was melting, that’s why) and still found myself daydreaming in odd moments about how good it was for a month afterwards. One shudders to imagine how these neurons would fare in the presence of “good” chanterelles.
*Frog and Mushroom Season: Gainesville’s way of reminding you that the tropics start somewhere around 16th Ave. Begins in mid-June and ends when rain stops 6-10 weeks later. Toadstools sprout, flourish briefly, develop an Einstein-hairdo-like coating of parasitic fungi and dissolve into mush; eg, it rains long enough for mushrooms to sprout mushrooms. Tree frogs go on a mating frenzy and descend to the ground en masse. Up to three at a time may attempt to leap into your house at any time when you open the door, leading to a Marx Brothers-esque routine of shooing out multiple tiny inch-long creatures that can jump 6 feet in a single bound. You succeed in liberating two and lose the third only to find it mummified in one of your sneakers the next morning where it tried to wait out the night in the moistest place it could find. Frog and Mushroom Season.