I'm prepared to be surprised, if that paradox is possible, by any visit to the Lexington Farmers Market; I'm rarely disappointed. Last Saturday's surprise: chanterelle mushrooms, grown and foraged in Kentucky. When I visited Lonnie Wilson and Sharon Stratton of Hoot Owl Holler Farm (Boyd County) at their stand late in the morning, they had about five remaining ounces of the egg yolk-yellow, trumpet-shaped fungi. I bought a quarter-pound and rushed away without getting proper cooking instructions.
Behold our household's first chanterelles. (Wouldn't that be a grand name for a backup group of stunning female vocalists, The Chanterelles?) Until now, I have seen chanterelles only in New York City greenmarkets and at Eataly, at times when I had neither the cash nor the kitchen required to try them. I had believed them to be primarily a west coast mushroom, or, at best, bi-coastal.
Devon Winter's The enchanting chanterelle: Gourmet goodies free from the forest, in Backwoods Home Magazine, explains a bit about chanterelles' habits:
Chanterelles grow in a symbiotic relationship with living trees. They gather moisture and minerals to feed the trees, and in return, trees offer the mushrooms food in the form of photosynthesized carbohydrates.
Because of that intricate relationship, Chanterelles are almost impossible to cultivate and are not yet commercially grown (although researchers are trying).
In many parts of the world, including California and the mid-Atlantic coast, they grow around the base of oak trees. In the Pacific Northwest, they favor Douglas-fir and western hemlock forests. But wherever you seek them, you'll always find them around the base of living trees.
I had no idea chanterelles grew in Kentucky. I was not paying attention. Jesse Frost just wrote about Rough Draft Farm's abundant Monroe County chanterelle harvest earlier this month.
Apparently chanterelles grow vigorously, well, and across some months in forested areas around the world. Missouri, Arkansas, and many of Kentucky's sister fly-over states tout their native chanterelles. From Henderson State University (Arkansas), for example:
Contrast the uncertainties of collecting morels with those of collecting a group of mushrooms known as chanterelles. Chanterelles not only have a much longer fruiting season (months instead of weeks) but they are so widely distributed in the plentiful oak-hickory and mixed forests in Arkansas that they are considered common if not ubiquitous mushrooms.
Ubiquitous. So, maybe more chanterelles will find their way to the Campsie table. I cooked these first chanterelles as a highlight for a dinner centered on a splendid grilled chicken from Elmwood Stock Farm, a Campsie green salad, Lazy Eight Stock Farm certified organic fingerling potatoes, and Raggard Creekside Farm carrots. I used the Lisle V. Roberts principle, developed in response to a couple of years of trying the yield from Mother's mushroom foraging: "Anything's good if you fry it in butter."
Another surprise for me? I did not absolutely love my first taste of chanterelles; I had assumed I would. Morel mushrooms sautéed in butter are my all-time favorite food, followed closely by another umami monster flavor: fresh oysters rolled in cracker crumbs and. . . yes, sautéed in butter. (Dad's principle makes sense to me.)
Chanterelles tasted a bit more fruity than umami, or fruity/floral mixed with umami. Surprise on top of surprise.
The Kentucky chanterelles, so tender they tore easily as I tried to clean them up a little,
also amazed me by cooking up into fairly firm, chewy bites. Unlike
mushrooms I cook more often (Shiitake, button, portobello) these give up
very little liquid as they cook, and do not shrink much in size.
I plan to try chanterelles again, next time with a recipe or two in hand. I'm thinking of these two: Fresh Chanterelles with Shallots, from epicurious, and a more elaborate Wild Mushroom Risotto, from bon appétit. I will have to work up to Chanterelle Sorbet (scroll down) or Chanterelle Ice Cream.
Note to LFM shoppers: Hoot Owl Holler consistently offers some of the most intriguing and unusual produce in central Kentucky. For example, firm, nutty-tasting young Zephyr squash that look like double-dipped Easter eggs entertained me for the past few weeks. In addition, Lonnie Wilson must be a great cook. He consistently offers excellent cooking advice for his beautifully grown, exotic produce. A few years ago he coached me into ease with fennel bulbs and fronds. The fine farmers at 4th Street Farm's planted some young Hoot Owl Holler red-veined sorrel this year; I look forward to its maturity next year, and to whatever approaches Lonnie suggests to cooking it. If Lonnie fails me—which hasn't happened yet—there's always "Anything's good if you fry it in butter." Or maybe olive oil, with a little Blue Moon Farm garlic and crunchy salt.
Elmwood Stock Farm sponsors Savoring Kentucky.