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Mushroom foragers find $4,000 worth of the fun guys known as chanterelles

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

'Tis the season - mushroom season, that is. A pair of fungus foragers, who live in California's Humboldt County - that's north of San Francisco - recently pulled in more than 200 pounds of chanterelles.

DAN GEBHART: Sometimes all you see is just the little - a little, tiny piece of orange peeking out from underneath the forest duff. And...

JORDAN ANDERSON: And it's just like this bright gold-orange that just kind of pops and glows against the forest floor.

CHANG: Chanterelles are a beautiful, golden, flower-like fungus, and they're pretty hard to cultivate, so you can really only find them in the wild, making them a pretty hot commodity. Dan Gebhart and Jordan Anderson are the lucky mushroom hunters. Our co-host, Audie Cornish, spoke with them last week.

ANDERSON: I definitely have heard that they, like, honey-holed out there. You'll find a drainage, and there'll just be orange everywhere. And I kind of thought that was just a folk tale. And this year, we found them.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

My entire experience of this is seeing Nicolas Cage and his pig in that movie earlier this year.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: So help me out. What's (laughter) - can you actually sniff out (laughter) a mushroom in the woods?

GEBHART: Well, every time - Jordan doesn't really believe me, but every time that I have stopped and started smelling the air...

ANDERSON: (Laughter).

GEBHART: ...And said that I could smell them, we found some shortly after that. And I'm not sure if I'm actually smelling the mushrooms or if it's just the way that the forest smells...

ANDERSON: (Laughter).

GEBHART: ...After it first rains. But chanterelles do have a distinct smell.

CORNISH: Can you describe it? It's radio, so I always ask those annoying questions.

GEBHART: Yeah.

ANDERSON: (Laughter).

GEBHART: It's sort of fruity and earthy at the same time, you know, buttery, apricot and an earthiness to it that just smells like, you know, warm, fertile forest humus.

CORNISH: Now, you post on a Facebook group about all of this. Do you - how did people respond?

GEBHART: Some people responded, you know, congratulatory. Some people seem to be a little bit envious. And other people were very interested in if we sold them or not. I just don't feel right about selling something I find in the forest. I don't know.

ANDERSON: That's how I felt about it. It's just something about bringing money involved doesn't make it fun anymore. You know, the fun part for me was we dehydrated the bulk of it and grinded it up and sifted it and then combined it with salt.

CORNISH: Mushrooms, salt - any other recipes?

ANDERSON: Oh, so many - the way I cook chanterelles is, you know, with chardonnay and butter and a little bit of honey and garlic and then if you just side it with some pasta or some rice.

GEBHART: I really like to dry saute the - any wild mushrooms you forage, you pretty much have to dry saute them first to get all the water out, which takes away their rubbery texture. And then you add a bunch of butter. And I, personally, like to do, like, a little sweet and spicy thing, so I'll add, like, a little bit of honey to them and some crushed red pepper along with salt and pepper and fresh garlic. One of my chef friends told me one time, with chanterelles, especially an ingredient that is so fresh, you pretty much just need to help it to the plate. You don't really have to do a lot to it in order to make it great.

CORNISH: In the end, is this kind of a journey - is the destination-type thing? Like, is it more fun to be doing the cooking and eating, or is a lot of this about the adventure?

ANDERSON: The adventure for sure - whether you're out there and you're, like, actually looking for, you know, gold in the woods, which is kind of what it feels like. It's just fun to adventure out there and, like, just have an appreciation for it.

GEBHART: For me too, yeah. I enjoy the hiking and the foraging and the thrill of finding them in the woods. I - obviously I love to eat them as well. And I'd say even more than eating them, I like to give them away, to just see people's faces when you show up at their house and hand them a box of fresh chanterelles, you know?

CORNISH: Well, Dan Gebhart and Jordan Anderson, thank you so much for speaking with us.

GEBHART: Thank you.

ANDERSON: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.