Our early season rainstorms have yielded two predictable outcomes: angsty tweets from farmers market vendors trying desperately to keep self, customers and produce dry, and a splendid sprouting of mud puppies, a.k.a. California chanterelles, at local farms.
California is the one state currently blessed with its own species name for chanterelles (Cantharellus californicus) and with good reason. Where the more commonly known Cantharellus cibarius is delicate, spindly and more uniform in shape and size, the Californicus chanterelles are big, meaty, fleshy, and will sometimes expand to the width of a hand. Shaq's hand. They range from the Bay area to down here in L.A., but don't really start popping up until the ground gets a good douse in fall and winter. This weekend's water could mean a nice-sized chanterelle crop is in store, just in time for Thanksgiving, prompting a few menu revisions at home.
The person who figures out how to cultivate these commercially would be eligible for whatever the culinary equivalent to the Nobel would be. Chanterelles are strictly a wild, foraged crop that pushes up through the mud at the base of the Live Oak trees so prevalent across much of our state. Farmers who keep some wild land intact are sometimes lucky enough to get a slightly lucrative secondary crop. Market goers are then lucky to buy some, assuming the farmers are willing to sell.
If the mushrooms appear muddy and bruised, chalk it up to a hazard of their growth needs. They might not be pretty, but they still taste great and can be cleaned up with a soft bristled brush. Chanterelles are one of the most easily identifiable wild edible mushrooms out there, thanks to the vase-like structure and long false gills that extend the length of the stem from the top. Be sure to look for that when selecting your fungus. Farmers are some of the most skilled mushroom pickers out there, but even a veteran picker may miss the occasional non-edible in the mix. And that could seriously ruin your week.
Tutti Frutti Farms has a pretty reliable supply from their land up in Lompoc. You can find them at the Hollywood, Santa Barbara, Ojai, Agoura Hills, Ventura, Burbank, and Santa Monica markets. Another great supplier is Clearwater Farms who is also happy to provide you with California truffles and occasionally, Black Trumpets. They also supply the earthier, more delicate Yellowfoot chanterelles, which are found farther north.