Winter Chanterelle – Edibility, Identification, Distribution, Ecology, Harvesting, Usage

Winter chanterelle

Winter chanterelles – craterellus tubaeformis

Craterellus tubaeformis, AKA Trumpet Chanterelle or Yellowlegs (US)

  • Edibility: 4/5 – Great earthy flavour that belies their flimsy appearance
  • Identification: 4/5 – see descriptions of several other similar edible species that often get confused with, or deliberately referred to as, winter chanterelles below. Referring to C.tubaeformis as Trumpet chanterelle helps to avoid confusion.
  • Distribution:   3/5 – Reasonably common (though easily missed) and often occurring in large numbers where established
  • Season:  September – January (stopping growing after first heavy frost, but fruit bodies often persisting for some time after that)
  • Habitat: Spruce, pine, beech, with a preference for heavy leaf/needle cover and particularly moist slopes. Often blaeberry/bilberry is present.
  • Ecology: Mycorrhizal, helping tree partners in the uptake of water and nutrients in exchange for simple sugars. Largely unappealing to both insects and slugs, though the hollow stems can be home to fast-moving millipedes! More on the ecology of slower-growing, insect resistant mycorrhizal mushrooms here.

Winter Chanterelle infographic. I discuss ©GallowayWildFoods.com

Several similar species to craterellus tubaeformis are often lumped together as “winter chanterelles”:

Golden chanterelle (craterellus aurora) shares the same id and edibility scores but rarer (2/5). Distinguished by wrinkled surface on the underside of the cap rather than pseudo-gills of c.tubaeformis. Don’t confuse this with the related, but much stocky/distinctive “true” chanterelle, cantharellus cibarius, which is golden/orange all over.

Ashen chanterelle (craterellus cinereus) is very similar, lacking the yellow colouration – also edible.

Sinuous chanterelle (Pseudocraterellus undulatus) is also similar, though lacking gills and yellow colouration – also edible.

Golden chanterelle (craterellus tubaeformis) Right v Sinuous chanterelle (pseudocraterellus sinuosis) Left

L Golden chanterelle (craterellus tubaeformis) v R Sinuous chanterelle (pseudocraterellus undulatus)

The winter chanterelle is a common, easy to identify and delicious mushroom that can be picked in large numbers right through November and well into December in most of the UK.

With their drab brown caps (3-7cm across) and flimsy flesh, winter chanterelles aren’t nearly so glamorous as the true yolky-golden chanterelle (Cantharellus Cibarius). Confusingly, the French refer to our chanterelles as girolle and winter chanterelles as chanterelles. Thats why you will often find up-market (or possibly pretentious) restaurants selling girolle. As if the world of wild mushrooms wasn’t confusing enough! This is why scientific names are really useful sometimes – although even they change quite regularly as scientists re-categorise (not so long ago, C. Tubaeformis was known as Cantherellus Infundibuliformis).

Frozen trumpet chanterelles near Newton Stewart - Still delicious!

Frozen trumpet chanterelles in mid-December – Still delicious!

Fortunately, once you look beneath the wavy, irregular cap, identification becomes much easier.

Most obvious is the bright yellow/orange stem which gives the common name of yellow-leg. The beige gills are also distinctive by being vein-like rather than deeply grooved (think combed plastercene) on trumpet chanterelles, or even less substantial wrinkles in the case of golden chanterelles. These two species are so similar to the non-scientist that in this instance it isn’t crucial to distinguish between them – both are good eating mushrooms with a sweet fruity scent (you need to stick your nose in a basketful to smell this) and a delicate, earthy flavour. A final identification feature is the funnel-like cap and hollow stem of fully grown specimens.

Winter chanterelles in the slanting sunbeams of late November. ©GallowayWildFoods.com

Spotting the dingy caps of winter chanterelles in leaf-strewn woodland can be incredibly difficult – even if you know where you are looking. I return every year to a specific tree beneath which I know they will be growing, but it can still take several minutes to spot the first one. Then, as so often occurs while foraging, my eyes seem to tune into the right wavelength and dozens of mushrooms magically emerge from the leaf litter.

 

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Where established, they can occur in large numbers – I once found a densely packed foot wide pathway of them forming a huge ring. In the exact centre of the ring was a large and perfectly formed penny bun. No wonder mushrooms are often associated with fairies!

trumpet chanterelles

Well disguised – there are 8 winter chanterelles in this picture

Winter chanterelles mostly grow in association with conifers, especially beneath spruce and pine, though I find plenty under beech and western hemlock trees too. You can find vast numbers of them in those large, soulless deserts of sitka that support very little else (mushrooms don’t need light to thrive). In my experience they prefer habitats with a good damp covering of moss and leaf or needle litter.

As a relatively slow-growing, insect-resistant, slow-to-rot mushroom, much of my discussion in this post about about (true) chanterelles also applies to winter chanterelles.

Despite their flimsy texture, winter chanterelles, are one of our finest edible wild mushrooms, and can vastly improve any mushroom dish. They have a high water content so I sometimes resort to wringing them out before cooking (or as I harvest them in the woods).

Roast/fry them quite hard once you have driven off most of the moisture. Their slippery texture and earthy flavour make them a natural partner in creamy, garlicy sauces – especially with linguine. They grow during the pheasant shooting season and fit naturally in any game casseroles, pies or stews

Recipe: Pheasants with winter chanterelles and root vegetables

pheasant+winter chants5

Pheasant with winter chanterelles ©GallowayWildFoods.com

If you are lucky enough to find some, the chances are you will gather enough for more than one meal. I recommend preserving gluts by lightly simmering in a 3:2:1  in vinegar solution (3 parts water, 2 parts cider vinegar, 1 part sugar) then preserving in oil, or sauté in butter then freeze. They also dry quite quickly and well in a dehydrator, warm, airy space, or in a very low fan oven with the door left slightly open.

Where winter chanterelles grow, they can occur in huge numbers

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14 Comments

  • Tessa says:

    I have just found a fabulous patch in the french alps – a steep ravine with moss. However, as I am new to mushroom foraging, can you tell me if I can pick from the same patch again and again in a season, and how long should I leave between pickings? Thank you.

    • Mark Williams says:

      Winter chanterelle mycelia can be vast, with different parts “fruiting” at different times, so it is worth revisiting the spot. If carefully harvested, with minimal trampling, it will fruit for many years.

  • Inge Copertino says:

    Do you have notes on foraging mushrooms in the LI, NY area?

  • joe says:

    Mark, so chanterelles are terrible when dried, BUT you’re saying that Winter Chanterelles can be dried and it does not adversely effect the taste?

    • Mark Williams says:

      Pretty much…though I wouldn’t say chanterelles were terrible dried – just a shadow of their former glory! Winter chants dry and reconstitute most excellently

  • Mary St. Antoine says:

    Brian Sephton – just found about 1000 of these and I’m drying some. Tried some in a white sauce with onion and they were excellent. What is your recipe?

    • Brian Sephton says:

      Hi Sorry I don’t visit here enough but the recipe is :-
      1 litre of winter chanterelles dehydrated in a frying pan until the water has stopped bubbling from them .Add then to a crock pot with 1 litre of beef stock -you can use veggie but we prefare the taste -a small tin of tomato puree and a block of roquefort cheese (we will only use Roquefort having tried lots of different blues ) use a small amount of thickening ( cornflower,maize flour or ordinary flour but then you must make a roux to acheive the consistency of the soup you prefer .Then add 2 dl of double cream Then add the juice of half of a lemon just before serving .Sprinkle with fresh parsley as you serve ,If you want to spoil yourself serve with cheese on toast slices ,we use Cheddar for those.
      Please don’t make this for a visit of friends as you will begrudge all they take ,every drop

  • Rachel Hampton says:

    I agree, a five star mushroom. They dry very well here in Finland. I pull them apart straight down the middle and lay them on paper and within 2 to 3 days they are dry . I happily try your recipe.

  • Silas Pollitt says:

    Just found a huge bounty in the mountains here in Vermont, northeastern US this morning. Found them with what appears to be terra-cotta hedgehogs.

    • divesh kamal says:

      Im in Cardiff (Wales, UK), and I find terracotta hedgehogs growing with sinuous chanterelles and the odd girolle too. The forest is pretty large and all three grow together in one little spot even though they dont appear elsewhere in the forest

  • Betty Gillman says:

    Just found a great quantity in the woods near my home, in Ontario, north of Lake Superior. I have visited the same spot several years now, and this year is the best yet! In the past, I’ve picked them through the snow, in to October, after that it gets too cold up here. Love the flavor!

  • Craig Routledge says:

    I managed to finally find these locally, having only found them previously in the New Forest. I think it’s taken so long as they’re really so difficult to spot. You can be within a foot in eyeshot and still miss them! They seem to be growing with oak, with also some beech nearby. The ground was mossy with lots of rotting leaf litter and was very, very wet. Which maybe seems the key to finding them rather than association with specific trees. Now, what to make with them …..

  • Shannon Stewart says:

    Just Harvested our first Bounty in late January no less. Large groups of them in the mossy slopes of North Vancouver 200m plus or minus elevation.

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