Gnomes and fairies live near mushrooms. If you want to find the little people, patches of fairy clubs are your first stop. An essential part of the October fungal explosion, they are often overlooked in spite of littering the ground in camouflaged troops sometimes in the thousands, like exclamation points in the carpet of moss. I have not personally met any little people in this habitat, but clearly from the name they must be there. If you don’t encounter them, go to plan B, which is collecting fairy clubs for food. There are several types, none of which are known to be poisonous: standard, giant, purple, white, yellow, along with short and stout ones and long and thin ones. Some grow alone, some are scattered, some form in dense fingers, and some branch like coral. They are little treasures, and there are never enough to measure in pounds.
In the family of club fungi, Clavariaceae, the superlative species to hunt is Clavariadelphus truncatus, the coral club. It should be called the giant fairy club, but that name was taken, oddly, by a smaller club. C. truncatus grows in small groups and is easily recognized by its truncated form. Truncated means it’s club-shaped with a flattened top. They have a steep downward taper; a lumpy, wrinkled surface; and resemblance to a baby chanterelle with a more ochre hue. They are roughly the size of a thumb.
There are delicious and distinctive wild edibles that haven’t yet entered our food stream consciousness, many of which are fungi. Coral Clubs are one of them. They have the rare quality of being complete in flavor and in no need of sauces or spices. They taste like sweet teriyaki chicken with a suppler texture. The sweetness is apparent when fresh, which definitively separates it from other bitter tasting clubs, along with almost all fungi.
In some textbooks Clavariadelphus is listed as inedible or no info provided. Even among the most avid foragers, few gather this gem. Fairy clubs are fleeting and labor intensive to collect, unlike large durable genera such as chanterelles and matsutake. They start coming up well into autumn, and then the first frost renders them watery and mushy. As with garden tomatoes, wild berries, sardines, and shaggy manes, clubs are built with short windows of ripeness. Even when the timing is perfect, insects may have hollowed them out. Don’t be discouraged. Foraging is about discovering nature’s nuances. People dream about treasure, buy metal detectors, shop at antique stores and garage sales. The original treasure was food.
Identifying Attributes: Various colored obelisks rising a couple inches above the needles in random patterns of delicate dissemination.
Look-alikes: Earth tongues have a similar stature but are tougher and with mostly darker hues of green and black in the shape of elongated spades. They are also edible.
Culinary Attributes: A sweet and firmly spongy delicacy. Cook in coconut oil with a little salt and add as a garnish. Purported to be donut-like when lightly battered and dusted with sugar.
Wine Pairings: Austrian Riesling is complex and smells sweet yet is dry and won’t mask the personality of clubs. //
Kelly Chadwick grew up wandering the outdoors, which led to a lifelong passion for the natural sciences. He wrote about inky caps in August.