Thanks to Mary Hampton Campbell of Lady's Island for sharing the story of an exciting find in the yard.
Mary and Buddy Campbell are Master Naturalists.
By Mary Hampton Campbell
Several weeks ago, my daughter and I were plunking around our rural property on Lady's Island searching for natural items that could be used for props in a nature-inspired photo session.
We gathered pine cones, bright green moss, super-size trumpet vine seed pods, and some giant oak leaf hydrangea leaves. Then we came across an amazing stand of bright orange mushrooms, each resembling a squash blossom, I thought. I called my friend who was helping with the photography set-up and told her about our find. "No mushrooms," she said, "Wild mushrooms have a bad rap." So I promptly forgot them for a week.
When I remembered them, I wanted to show them to my husband, Buddy. He plucked one, and we took it home for further investigation. The previous day, I had purchased some chanterelle mushrooms from William Thorp at the Port Royal Farmers Market. Could it be that we had our own little patch? Out of the fridge the purchased ones came for a side by side comparison. Very similar, but ...
On to Google and Wikipedia ... Our specimen matched the online pictures, but there were warnings of noxious "false chanterelles." Buddy quickly snapped a photo and sent it to our friend, Woody Collins, who knows all things about wild mushrooms as well as many other little known secrets of the earth. A phone call followed, and Woody confirmed our find. Chanterelles!
I inquired about how to harvest these wonderful edibles, and Woody explained, "Go to the base of the mushroom, and using your thumb and index finger, grasp it as if you were holding a cigarette (I've never smoked but have a mental picture), pull the plant toward you, and lift it gently from the dirt."
Buddy picked up two grocery bags from the kitchen, and we walked down to the road to our magical site. I felt ecstatic! (Just like Dellarobia Turnbow, the heroine in Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel "Flight Behavior." Dellarobia discovered a colony of orange Monarch butterflies on her farm in Tennessee. They were supposed to be in Mexico. This encounter changed her life forever. Highly recommended reading, by the way.) Buddy and I filled a bag each and headed home where we dumped the mushrooms all in a pile and took more pictures.
After delivering several sacks of mushrooms (proper storage is a paper bag) to friends who had generously shared some of their fresh produce with us, I began the laborious task of cleaning the mushrooms. One hour later, after they were free of dirt and pine straw, we took more photos. The new color was glorious. They had turned from a bright orange to a softer sherbet color.
Later, with a recipe in hand from William, we sautèed the mushrooms in butter and olive oil, adding white wine, chopped parsley, salt and pepper, and a splash of fresh lemon juice. As we stood over the stove and gently stirred, we remembered the large, crusty loaf of fresh bread we had purchased from Beaufort Bread Company (now open on Lady's Island). We cut chunks and stood right there, dipping the bread into the sauce and eating right out of the pan.
The next morning, Buddy and I woke up at 4 a.m. before the alarm sounded. (He was having an early medical procedure.) "Hey, Buddy ... we're still alive; we had no gastro- intestinal upset; and there were no mushroom-induced hallucinogenic dreams!" Yeah! (We had not poisoned our friends.)
A few days ago, we checked on the mushroom patch to be sure that the small ones we left last week were still thriving. Indeed, they were. We'll be back to dig in the dirt again this weekend. Who would have thought that such a delicacy prized by chefs and craved by gourmands in places like New York City could be growing right in our Lowcountry side yard? It doesn't get any better than this.
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