In the middle of summer — especially after a good rain — wild, delicate chanterelle mushrooms can be found in Missouri.

Morel mushrooms seem to get all the attention when they pop up in the spring.

But in the middle of summer — especially after a good rain — Chris Miller says there’s something even better waiting to be found.

Wild, delicate chanterelle mushrooms.

Unlike morels, which blend into the forest floor with their tan and brown colors, chanterelles are easy to spot. Their bright orange-yellow color stands out, just begging a mushroom hunter to find it.

“I’ve been hunting morels every spring for 20 years and liked to pick them when I was turkey hunting,” Miller said. “I’ve noticed these orange ones but I just didn’t know what they were. If I don’t know what it is, I don’t eat it.”

But after joining a mushroom page on Facebook, Miller discovered those orange ones he’d been passing by were forest delicacies. He’s been hunting chanterelles on private land near Stockton Lake for the past three months.

He says they’re tastier than morels.

“It’s like a light taste of the woods, with a fungus-like, earthy flavor with the light, subtle hint of fruit,” Miller said. “I lightly cook them in butter or olive oil, with garlic, shallots and a little rosemary. You can put them on steak or in risotto or just eat them.”

Morels vanish with the first hint of hot weather, but that’s when chanterelles flourish. During a recent hunt, Miller waded through knee-high grass and scanned the forest floor on a long walking trail looking for that telltale orange color.

“As long as we get rain they’ll keep popping up even into fall,” he said. “I love being out here. If you stop to slow down and look, you’ll probably find other edible kinds around, too.”

If you go looking for chanterelles, there is one big asterisk. There’s a very similar-looking orange fungus called the Jack O’Lantern mushroom that is toxic. Eat a meal of Jack O’Lanterns and it’s not likely to kill you, but the severe stomach and intestinal distress, along with vomiting and diarrhea it will cause, will make you want to never make that mistake again.

Miller said it’s best to go with someone who knows the difference between a chanterelle and Jack O’Lantern. Though they look similar, a Jack O’Lantern has distinctive “gills” or ribs under the cap. A chanterelle lacks those.

Jack O’Lanterns also typically grow in large groups on top of dead wood. Miller said chanterelles grow out of the ground, usually singly or in pairs. They’re shaped like a small vase.

“Fresh chanterelles, if you smell them up close, also have a faint citrus smell, like apricots,” he said. “They are definitely my favorite ones to eat, better than morels. And here, holy smokes, I’ve been passing them by all these years!”

If you’re interested in learning more about chanterelles, there’s a good Facebook group — Missouri Mycological Society — that can help identify Missouri mushrooms and fungi. Or the Missouri Department of Conservation sells a book — Missouri’s Wild Mushrooms — by mushroom expert Maxine Stone.

Disclaimer: While some Missouri mushrooms are edible, others can be lethal if eaten.  Anyone hoping to find and eat wild Missouri mushrooms needs to be absolutely certain they know what they are picking.


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