Chanterelle and Corn Chowder
Lately I’ve been remiss in updating the blog, caught up in the warm weather and all it has to offer. Last week I took my daughter camping at Lake Taghkanic State Park. In addition to hours on the beach, canoeing, and s’mores we managed to fit in some time hiking around the lake in search of chanterelles and black trumpet mushrooms. We had it on good authority that there were several good spots, but unfortunately our timing was wrong and other than some inedible russulas we only found reishi (Ganoderma tsugae) and a couple of Tylopilus badiceps, which were delicious cooked with eggs the next morning.
Expectation and surprise are common themes to most foragers, and I relish both and the experiences that they confer. I’m not the kind of person who goes out for a hike to just bask in the wilderness. I need a reason and purpose to be there, and almost always that reason and purpose involves food. Some people get excited about hiking around new areas for the thrill of seeing what gorgeous vista may lie around the next bend or just over that rise. While I certainly appreciate the beauty that our landscapes contain, what excites me is stumbling upon an undiscovered sassafras grove, finding a cluster of porcini at just the right time, or noticing the tell-tale fuchsia of thimbleberry blossoms far off the trail. The act of finding something new, unexpected, or surprising is a thrill that I relish and seek out frequently on my foraging excursions, and I have no doubt that it’s a sensation that heightens the overall enjoyment of the final product.
On the other end of the spectrum is another experience that I love as well, and for different reasons. This is the act of expectation, where foraging almost ends and harvesting begins. I have a great many spots that I know I can reliably visit to harvest a number of wild edibles. This time of year I spend a lot of time experiencing this when visiting my chanterelle spots. I’ve gone to the same spots for years and I usually know exactly how they’ll behave. Where they’ll pop up first, which spots produce huge flushes and which spots may only contain a few mushrooms, and where the mushrooms tend to be more buggy. As I walk into the woods to these spots I may notice that the ghost pipes aren’t up yet, which indicates that peak chanterelle harvest is still a week or two away. I may stop at a place that I notice lots of red efts to watch them for a minute before I continue. This is the experience of familiarity, comfort, and home. It’s very different than the rush of feeling surprised when foraging, but just as important. While surprise is meeting a hot, steamy, one night stand at a club, expectation is meeting up with an old friend at your favorite dive bar.
After last week’s excitement at the lake I was ready for some comforting expectation this week, and took Aubree out to pick chanterelles. I particularly like taking her out to my chanterelle spots because there’s such a high likelihood of success there, and success is the key in getting a six year old to enjoy just about anything. While she wouldn’t even consider eating a mushroom she loves to pick them, and that’s good enough for now. As I expected, there weren’t huge flushes of chanterelles yet, but we did pick enough to make an event of it. Fortunately the first batch of local sweet corn just rolled into market, which gave me everything I needed to make one of my favorite summer dishes: chanterelle and corn chowder.
Chowders are soups that are made with milk or cream and potatoes. Clam chowder is a classic, but other seafood, chicken, corn, or other vegetables can also be used to make chowders. Often chowders are thickened with a starch of some kind, such as flour, crackers, or cornstarch. While lightly thickened chowders are hearty and filling in the cooler months I find that most chowders are over thickened, where they then become dense and pasty. For summer chowders such as this one I don’t add any additional thickener at all. The starch from the potatoes and corn create just enough body to make the soup rich without it being too heavy.
As with all corn recipes it’s absolutely imperative to use the freshest corn possible here. Fresh doesn’t mean that you just bought it from the grocery store. Fresh means it was picked the same day that you cook it, worst case scenario one day before you cook it. The second an ear of corn is picked the sugars in the corn start to be converted into starches. The longer it sits the less sugar it has, and less sugar is less flavor in the sweet corn world. This recipe is simple, and really does rely on the quality of the ingredients to shine through. While you’re picking up fresh corn at your local farm also check to see if they have potatoes. Obviously they don’t have the limited shelf life that corn does, but freshly dug potatoes are vastly better in this recipe. If you can’t find your own chanterelles your local farm stand or farmer’s market may even have those too.