(Forageworthy) Fungi Flashback Fridays: Cantharellus californicus*

[680 words, 3-5 min read]

Some call them the mud puppy or oak chanterelle, while others call this choice edible the California Golden chanterelle. Whatever they’re called colloquially, I found them for the first time a few months ago! Chanterelles are known for their earthy taste and apricot-tinged scent, and they can be spied in the oaky woodlands of coastal California. Foragers have found soil rich with this edible gold as far north as Mendocino county and as far south as San Diego county.

California Golden chanterelle in my right hand

You can see why some call them “mud puppies”…

But the new fungi fanatic may not have much practice identifying mushrooms…so how does a forager know she’s hit the jackpot?  There is one well-known and poisonous lookalike: the reportedly bioluminescent Jack O’ Lantern (the common species in the western U.S. is Omphalotus olivascens, while olearius is in Europe). The way that I make sure chanterelles aren’t actually fool’s gold is by comparing gill structures. See a comparison between Omphalotus olivascens and Cantharellus californicus below:

Comparison between the reproductive surfaces of Omphalotus olivascens/Cantharellus californicus

Omphalotus olivascens (left)/Cantharellus californicus (right)

See how the Jack O’ Lantern (left) has deep, broad folds of gills, while the California Golden chanterelle has forked, gill-like ridges that are much shallower? Additionally, I have never seen chanterelles in clusters at bases of trees. I have only seen single fruitings of chanterelles growing in fairy rings on hilly land. I found them amongst leafy litter below a hilltop of Live Oak trees.

Jack O' Lantern mushroom

Omphalotus olivascens (Jack O’ Lantern)

A note on the reported bioluminescence of the Jack O’ Lantern: bioluminescence would be a solid way to confirm whether or not you’ve found fool’s gold or the real thing, as there are zero reports of glowing Cantharellus specimens. But Michael Kuo of Mushroomexpert.com reports there is no validity to the claim that Omphalotus olivascens and related fungi glow in the dark. Perhaps one evening I’ll pass a glowing Jack O’ Lantern in a dark forest…that’d be awesome, but I won’t hold my breath after reading Kuo’s account!

pan of shredded California Golden chanterelles

Ready for stewing!

Anyway, chanterelles aren’t my favorite fungi to forage (I like oysters and blewits a lot more, read more about oysters here), but they’re more than edible. In fact, California Golden chanterelles are the most substantial, meaty mushroom I’ve ever tried. They’d probably be great for pickling, if you’re into that.

When I cooked them, I first stewed the chanterelles to increase palatability/edibility. I was surprised at how fibrous and meaty this mushroom is, and I knew I needed to increase the shroom’s tenderness if I hoped to make a palatable dinner.

shredded chanterelles stewing in a pan

Stewing chanterelles

Next, I added them to a base of sautéed onions, garlic and herbs, and gravied them heartily. Then I served them over rice with peas 😋

plate of gravied chanterelle mushrooms over rice with peas

*Looks* just like chicken…but doesn’t taste like it…texture reminded me of cooked bamboo. Flavor wasn’t as distinctive to me as other edible mushrooms.

There are apparently over 500 scientific names applied to the genus Cantharellus, but less than 100 of them are considered scientifically valid. And all of them are edible (as far as I’ve seen in my research), so you are likely to have some species of forageworthy Cantharellus near you.

What Cantharellus species have you identified? Or, have you found mushrooms you *think* are in this genus, but can’t identify? Share your findings in the comments!

The next (Forageworthy) Fungi Flashback Friday will see a post on blewits. I’m fascinated with them right now, and they’re absolutely *amazing* when roasted. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!


Genus:  Cantharellus

Species: californicus

Edibility: choice (though not my jam)

Scaly chanterelle specimens at the MSSF

Turbinellus floccosus a.k.a. the Wooly chanterelle or Scaly chanterelle; vase-shaped like the chanterelle but part of the Gomphus genus









*Disclaimer: This site is provided for informational purposes only. Taylor assumes no responsibility or liability for any consequences of readers actions. Though every reasonable effort is made to present current and accurate information, identifications may be incorrect (Taylor is a novice) – but that’s where community input helps! Please, feel free to correct misinformation you find (or just add your two cents) in the comments!

Happy foraging!

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