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  • Writer's pictureEd Joice

Black Trumpets (Craterellus spp.)



I have been hunting and harvesting chanterelle mushrooms throughout the midwest for over 10 years now. In all the guidebooks, as I researched chanterelles and their close relatives, I would find information on the “horn of plenty” or black trumpet mushrooms. Apparently, they were said to grow in very similar habitat to chanterelles, often beneath pines up north and amidst the white oaks in the southern part of Minnesota and the midwest. Also, like chanterelles, they are said to possess a flavor profile that is simultaneously nutty, fruity and earthy or umami. It makes sense, because black trumpets are of the genus craterellus, which is housed in the same taxonomic family as the chanterelles (genus cantharellus): the Cantharellaceae family.


However, despite all these references to these mushrooms in the literature, they continually evaded me in the field. I would find lbs upon lbs of chanterelles in an area and all I was looking for was its darker colored brethren. David Arora recommends looking for black holes in the ground to better calibrate your brain for finding these mushrooms. A few times in the last few years I have been lucky enough to find some of these fungi. Here’s what I learned.


How to Find and Identify Black Trumpets


There are many similarities to black trumpets and chanterelles, as noted in the intro above. It is difficult to overstate this fact because of the extent to which this trickles down into all aspects of how we interface with these fungi: hunting strategy, identification, harvesting method, preparation and consumption. Basically, the strategy for finding, identifying and enjoying black trumpets in the kitchen is in many ways a reminder of the basics of chanterelles, with some key differences. Let’s start with the similarities.


Habitat


Like chanterelles, black trumpets are also mycorrhizal, growing from the ground in close association with particular tree species. In the lower part of the midwest, chanterelles can be found in large quantities growing “gregariously” in “troops” or “veins” of the forest floor. They tend to grow in forests of white oak or beech that have not yet become overtaken by buckthorn, honeysuckle, or other invasive species. Black trumpets agree with this habitat but tend to do particularly well in areas still maintaining healthy biodiversity, with loose, mildly sandy soils, often growing on slopes. Though I wouldn’t say that when you find chanterelles, there is often black trumpets nearby, but I would say that when you find black trumpets, there are often chanterelles nearby.


Similarly, in the northwoods, black trumpets are found near chanterelle habitat on occasion. Chanterelles grow extremely abundantly among the jack pine and white pine stands in the forests of the northwoods, and black trumpets can be found in these environments as well.


These mushrooms start growing in the midwest at the height of summer, once the forests are imbued with heat and rain, typically late June or July. This season can extend well into the fall, until temperatures start dropping consistently below around 60 degrees for daytime highs.



Identification


Broadly speaking, the fruiting bodies in the Cantharellaceae family all have primitive gill structures, which is in turn inherently true of all black trumpets. With that said, these “primitive gill structures” can vary. They also tend to all have a highly concave cap often becoming funnel-like.



Note the smooth underside of the Craterellus fallax

The poster child of the black trumpets is craterellus fallax (or craterellus cornucopioides for the European variety). These mushrooms truly do look like bugles growing out of the ground with a black, dark brown or grey color for cap, stem and spore disseminating structure beneath the cap. There is little discernment between the stem and the underside of the cap, and the surface to both is fairly smooth aside from the occasional wrinkles formed just beneath the margin of the cap. The stem is mostly or completely hollow, with the depression in the top of the cap running down the length of the stem, sometimes to the ground. The flesh of craterellus fallax quite thin and insubstantial, so when harvesting for cooking you need quite a lot of them to add up to much mass. With that said, these mushrooms pack a lot of flavor, which can be stretched with other mushrooms if needed.




The paler color and more pronounced false gills of craterellus foetidus.

The other major black trumpet mushroom found in Minnesota and the midwest is craterellus foetidus. This mushroom more closely resembles a chanterelle, in that it has a more distinctly defined cap that, when young, is much more mushroom shaped and then as it ages starts to take the vase or funnel like shape akin to craterellus fallax. Often the cap is slightly offset from the stem, but they can occur with the cap centrally unfurling from the stem as well. On craterellus foetidus, false gills are more easily found and sometimes are much more developed though not as obvious as in cantharellus cibarius or gomphus species. They can also be entirely absent with smooth undersides of the cap, a la c. fallax. Typically, craterellus foetidus is a paller color and is narrower than a craterellus fallax, and foetidus, though often smaller, has more substantial flesh.


The spores for both these mushrooms will be a pale creamy spore print, and for c. foetidus is will likely have a pinkish hue whereas for c. fallax it will have a yellow-orangish hue.


Look-alikes


There are not many mushrooms that one would mistake for a black trumpet. In fact, because of the black trumpet's incredibly effective camouflage, it is much more likely that you won’t find any at all, than you would find something that looks like it but is not a black trumpet. With that said, I could imagine a novice encountering an old devil’s urn (urnula craterium) and thinking it might be a black trumpet. Devil's urn grows in spring and from wood (saprobic), but its fruiting bodies, which are much tougher and leathery than a black trumpet, will stick around for some time and might be encountered in the summer during black trumpet season. With that said, devil's urn is a "cup fungi" with an underdeveloped stem and is not funnel or vase shaped like a black trumpet. There are other dark cup fungi that do grow from the ground (like black trumpets) and that may have a stem, but they are very small and rather than being vase shaped, they are more shaped like a goblet--a cup atop a stick.


Some funnel shaped fungi that might be mistaken for a paler colored black trumpet would include possibly gomphus clavatus, also known as Pig's Ear mushroom. G. clavatus is much larger than black trumpets with thicker walls. Though it does have the same funnel shape, its primitive gills are much more pronounced and are a purple color. It also tends to grow in the mossy soils under conifers of the far northern part of the midwest and into Canada.


How to Use Black Trumpets in the Kitchen?




Black trumpets have a earthy, fruity flavor similar to chanterelles that can play a variety of roles in the kitchen. Sauteed in butter and served atop a slice of fresh sourdough could be a simple and wonderful way to enjoy them. My favorite is to incorporate them into a creamy pasta or risotto. They can be sauteed whole or minced, or mixed with other mushrooms to stretch out their flavor. Get out there and find some of these beauties, because they are delicious and you will not be disappointed!


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