Some time ago I wrote a blog on chance remarks and their repercussions. My interest in collecting chanterelle mushrooms came about from just that sort of event.
A good friend of mine invited me to dinner one evening to meet another friend of hers who is a very well known and successful Newfoundland artist. During the course of the meal she mentioned that I have a summer place in Cupids. This prompted her esteemed guest to ask where my cottage was. When I started my detailed description including historic landmarks, a beauty salon and an old church that had been transformed into a b&b I realized that this man knew the area quite well. That prompted me to ask about his interests in Cupids.
” My wife and I go there every year in late summer and gather mushrooms.” he told me.
” Really ?” I asked. “You mean there are edible mushrooms in Newfoundland?”
“Oh yes, my wife makes wonderful chanterelle soup from them.”
” How can you tell the ones that are good to eat?”
” Well they are easily recognizable, not at all like the toadstools that you are no doubt familiar with” he explained.
He took a piece of paper and did a quick sketch of chanterelles. Carefully he described the colour and the irregular shapes I might encounter. I thought not only am I learning something new but I am getting a sketch from this famous artist. I was tempted to ask him to sign the sketch but felt that would be too tacky. I took the drawing and folded it carefully into my purse . It was over a year later that I thought about it again.
I was searching for blueberries, big juicy ones. Small berries don’t interest me. I turned to go up a path to my favourite area when I noticed a yellow gelatinous mass on the ground. I had seen similar hundreds of times before. But this time my mind flashed back to the sketch I had been given. I bent down, pulled aside some undergrowth and found more of the yellow objects . On close examination I noticed they were not mushy at all but firm and trumpet shaped. Chanterelles, I guessed!
I knew what prospectors feel when they discover gold.
I gathered some. But I wouldn’t eat them till I could find someone to assure me I was not going to be poisoned. It was a dilemma because I really didn’t know any mycologists. Whom could I ask?
Then I remembered I had to drive through Holyrood on my way back to St. John’s That is where my mushroom artist lived. Maybe I could just knock on his door and ask him to take a look. I hoped that wouldn’t be too brash of me.
With some trepidation I did just that. I found the house , a modest country cottage , pastoral , as you would expect from this artist whose brush recreates tree roots and earthy scenes. I knocked on the door . Within a few minutes a charming lady answered. I guessed her to be his wife and explained the story of how her husband had told me about chanterelles, drawn a sketch for me and told me the general area where they had gathered them. ( He wouldn’t get specific because chanterelles are scarce so keeping your find secret is essential to preserving your harvest. Fishermen in Newfoundland would do the same when they found a good fishing ground. It is a part of our heritage to be secretive about our good food sources if that food is not abundant.)
She asked,” do you have some with you?”
” In my car, ” I answered.
“Well , let’s go see.”
I opened my trunk , took out the basket of mushrooms and showed her. She studied them carefully ,passed them back to me and said, “You’ve got yourself some chanterelles!”
Since then I was invited to dine with both her and her husband again. We talked about our harvest of mushrooms hedging around the location of our finds. But when I gathered some just yesterday I remembered some of their references and I think that we go to the same place but from opposite directions. One day I might just meet them on the path and we will get a chuckle out of it.
This September I am hoping to go foraging on Fogo Island with a group of people who have an interest in mushrooms. Some of these foragers come from other countries. Perhaps we will learn of other edible mushrooms that grow here. I will write later about this experience if I am lucky enough to get off the waiting list. Apparently I am not the only Newfoundlander who is interested in fungi .
Chanterelles can sell for $25 /lb in some places but I can get them for free here in Newfoundland. Mine will not be sold. I fry them and enjoy the nutty flavour with chicken, fish too, and alone with rice. Yummmmmmmmm!