At the start of mushroom season in western Oregon, I was lucky enough to take a gathering trip in the Willamette National Forest with employees of the Sweet Home Ranger District, who had scouted out a good site beforehand.
Yellow and white chanterelles (two distinct species that apparently differ only in color) grow at moderate elevations, to about three thousand feet, in partly sunny, recently logged spots full of prickly Oregon grape. Since the mushrooms were just beginning to emerge, most were hidden in the duff. My young friend Eugénie, a farm intern from an agricultural college in France, seemed to know just how to find them. When her head stayed down and her back up for minutes at a time, I knew I should keep close, preferably on all fours.
Thanks in part to another fellow gatherer who didn’t like mushrooms enough to keep them, I brought home about four pounds. Nobody else was home for dinner, so I pleased myself, by eating about a pound of chanterelles sautéed with home-cured bacon, onions, and arugula. Then I set to cleaning the rest of the mushrooms, a tedious job. Though cultivated mushrooms may need no more than a light brushing, wild ones won’t come clean without washing. I shot each mushroom quickly but carefully with the faucet sprayer and picked, scraped, or cut away sticking bits of dirt with a knife. Then I spread the chanterelles out to dry on a towel.
The next morning I could have packed the mushrooms into a paper bag and stored them in the refrigerator, where they would have kept well, slowly drying, for several days. Or I could have cooked them (mushroom connoisseurs recommend sautéing them dry, to better evaporate their water and concentrate their flavor) and stored them either in the refrigerator or freezer for later inclusion in soups, stews, omelets, and other dishes. But I am the Pickle Lady, so guess what I did?
I’d never pickled chanterelles before, and I wanted to try something different from the recipes in The Joy of Pickling (although the one I call Polish Pickled Mushrooms would work well for these delicately fruity mushrooms). I decided to try a variation on an Italian recipe. Here it is, modified to just fill a quart jar:
Juice of 1 lemon
3 teaspoons pickling salt
2 pounds cleaned chanterelles, cut into pieces if they’re very large
1 2/3 cups white wine vinegar
1 cup dry white wine
3 garlic cloves
2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 sprig tarragon
3 allspice berries
6 black peppercorns
Put the lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of the pickling salt into a large pot of water, and bring the water to a full boil. Add the mushrooms, preferably in a blanching basket, and bring the water back to a boil. Immediately drain the mushrooms; they will have shrunk by about two-thirds. Let them cool, covered with a cloth. (You can boil down the blanching water, if you like, to make a tart, mildly mushroomy stock.)
While the mushrooms cool, combine the vinegar, the wine, the garlic, the herbs and spices, and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt in a saucepan. Cover the pan, bring the liquid to a boil, and reduce the heat. Simmer the liquid for 5 minutes, and then let it cool.
Pack the mushrooms in a quart jar, tucking the herbs around the edge. Pour the vinegar with the herbs and spices over. Store the jar in the refrigerator.
Wait at least a day or two before starting to eat the mushrooms. Then serve them as an appetizer or relish, sprinkled with olive oil, or add them to sandwiches. They are wonderful with melted cheese.