Forest Fridays: Toot toot, trumpets of the dead
By John Schwartzer
As Halloween approaches and we head out to the woods for brisk hikes in search of game and spectacular views, keep an eye out for a brass band from the beyond. Look to the ground for small horns played by the departed from six feet under. Of course, I’m talking about Craterellus fallax, the trumpet of the dead (aka black chanterelle, Eastern black trumpet, or the horn of plenty).
July through early October is the best time to find these tasty morsels. Black trumpets are a widespread forest mushroom that grows from the ground in hardwood forests. They are typically found under beech and oaks and seem to like mossy spots. Some sources list them as a saprobe, meaning they consume decaying plants. Other sources consider them mycorrhizal where they provide benefits to tree roots and receive benefits from the trees.
Photo: Black Trumpet by Sam Williams, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)
With few lookalikes, none of which are deadly, these make a good starter mushroom to forage. They appear like upside down, hollow parking cones growing from the ground. They vary in color from tan to grey/black, but the lip of the cone is generally darker than the body. As the chanterelle name implies, they resemble true chanterelles Cantharellus spp. (viewed from the side).
Photo: Black trumpet by mixibirder, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)
There are no gills to release spores; sometimes there are wrinkles or ridges running down the spore-bearing outside of the cone. The width of the mushroom ranges from one to three inches and a monster specimen can reach up to five inches. These are very fragile and thin fleshed; use caution when collecting so they don’t get crushed in the basket.
They tend to appear numerously, but generally not touching each other. So, where you find one, tread carefully. There are probably more.
The flavor is described as delicate, truffle-like and playing slightly smokey notes. They are best used in dishes that won’t dominate their subtle flavor. Pastas, fish, rice, and pizza can create a wonderful ensemble with trumpets. If you come home with plenty of horns and can’t use them all at once, they dehydrate well. Some foragers think the flavor improves with drying.
The devil’s urn, Urnula criterium, which have a crenulated lip and are more goblet shaped. These saprobes are found growing on rotting wood or hidden wood below the soil surface.
Photo: Devil’s urn by Brit Nahorney, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)
Pig’s ears (Pseudocraterellus spp. and Gomphus spp.) which are much fleshier, not hollow, and pinker/violet in color with more pronounced false gills.
Photo: Pig’s ears Gomphus clavatus by by davidreik, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)
There is a very similar species that grows in Europe and Asia. Known in France as trompette de la mort, C. cornucopioides, is a species which until recently included C. fallax.
Photo: Trompette de la mort by Francois-Xavier Taxil, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)
Whenever mushroom foraging, be 100% sure of your identification. Learn from an experienced forager and join a mushroom club. Always cook wild mushrooms. And when in doubt, throw it out. There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters. There are no old-bold mushroom hunters.
About the Author: John Schwartzer
John Schwartzer is the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry woodland stewardship practices specialist. He is a 2008 graduate of The Pennsylvania State University with a B.S. in Forest Science. Before taking on his current role, he was a DCNR service forester for seven years educating and assisting forest landowners in southcentral Pennsylvania. His other previous occupations include research aide, a brief stint as an arborist, and he has been a forest technician for the US Forest Service, PA Game Commission, and DCNR Bureau of Forestry. John lives on a small hobby farm in Perry County PA with his wife Kellie and two sons. If he’s not reading a book, you can find him playing in his woodlot. John is an avid hunter, lackluster angler, wild food/foraging enthusiast, and hopeless gardener.
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