Mule Mushroomimg: Hunting “Aeyer Schweumli” from the Saddle
My mom used to point them out to us as kids. We’d be walking through the forest in western North Carolina and she’d point down at an orange mushroom and say, “Lueg. As Aeyer Schweumli”. “Lueg” means “look” in Swiss German, her native language. Aeyer Schweumli is what she used to call chanterelles. *
My brother Christian recalls a whole different side to my mom’s mushroom picking. As he remembers it, she’d, “sample an unknown mushroom to see if it was poisonous. Just nibble a tiny sliver, then spit it out. She would never say what constitutes a poisonous mushroom in terms of taste, So did she know what she was doing? Was it all bluff to impress the kids? We’ll never know. But it wasn’t mushrooms that did her in.“
After she picked an Aeyer Schweumli, she’d stick it in her pocket, carry it home and cook what remained of the mushroom for supper. Often it was just mushroom shards. My mom was a vigorous walker.
My mom Lislott Harberts (born Blatter) was originally from Switzerland. She moved to the ‘States in the 1960s and could never understand why none of our neighbors picked Aeyer Schweumli. Or Morchla. Morchla is what she called morels. In Switzerland, those are both considered delicacies.
One of the things that used to freak out our neighbors about picking wild mushrooms was that they thought we’d get poisoned. That was a risk with some of the other mushrooms we grew up with. The red and white spotted toadstool comes to mind. But it’s hard to confuse a chanterelle with anything else.
The Swiss name for chantarelle, “Aeyer Schweumli” means “egg mushroom”. That’s a good description of the color. Chanterelles really have the same color as an egg yolk. Some are dark orange and some tend toward yellow but they’re all a shade of egg yolk.
They’re funnel-shaped and orange with heavy gills that run from the top of the stem out to the corner of the cap. Around here in western North Carolina, there’s no other mushroom to confuse them with.
Where the Chanterelles Grow
This week, Julia and I saddled our critters and headed into the woods to look for chanterelles. She rode her pony Pie, I rode my mule Cracker. I brought along a paper sack to keep the mushrooms in. Plastic is okay but seems to make the mushrooms sweat more so I like to stick with paper.
From our barn, we headed up West Creek, the westernmost creek on our property. West Creek runs down a rocky bed with lots of seeps and springs that drain into it. It bubbles along over mossy rocks and under the roots of giant beech trees and along the way, Julia and I just stopped to listen to it. I even made you a recording so you’d hear what it sounds like. Just click on the player below from some cooling creek sounds.
West Creek’s banks are covered in rhododendron, oaks and moss. The forest floor is dark and cool with lots of millipedes and granddaddy long legs crawling about. These are ideal conditions for chanterelle mushrooms.
Chanterelle are picky about where they grow. The first quarter-mile of along West Creek, we didn’t see any. Then, in a cool cove of tulip poplar and white oaks, we spotted the first orange mushroom on the forest floor. I dismounted, grabbed the bag off Cracker’s saddle and started picking. Julia held Cracker while I worked. Here are some photos of that I thought you’d enjoy.
Back home, I sorted the chanterelle, removing little leafy bits and twigs and the occasional bug I didn’t want to cook.
Cooking chanterelles is easy. A bit of salt, pepper and olive oil is all you need. Butter or bacon grease works, too. I cook them in our cast iron skillet on a medium flame. They’re a wet mushroom so as you cook them, they give off a lot of water. Once the mushrooms are swimming in their own broth, I just turn the flame down low and cook just long enough to cook off a bit of the juice. Don’t pour off the juice or thicken it with corn starch or flour. Just be patient and you’ll be rewarded with a bonkers-rich tasting sauce.
Chanterelles are rich fare. They have a meaty, peppery flavor. You can eat them as a stand-alone dish but I like them best served as a side. Julia and I enjoy them with green beans, a piece of fish and a hunk of cornbread.
Let me Give you a Heads up
Mule Cracker’s done a lot more than pick mushrooms with me. Right now I’m working on”Trash to Triumph”, the account of my journey from North Carolina to Idaho with Cracker and another mule, Brick. Just click right here and I’ll let you know when it comes out.
* For you Swiss speakers, pardon my spelling.