Trumpets. There are a couple different species, but for this post, I’m referring to craterellus fallax Known as the “La Trompette de Mort” or trumpet of death in French. With their all-black structure, I’ve heard people say looking for them is like looking for holes in the ground, and that’s not far from the truth. Famous Mycologist Chuck Barrows went until he was 60 without finding a single one. I was lucky, it only took me 4 years.
From my experience, when you’re hunting them you want to look for moist, shady areas, typically in the middle of summer in the Midwest, say from June-August. They may be close to a small source of water or a wet/swampy area where there’s decaying and dead wood.
Where do black trumpets grow? In my area, around white Oak trees in Minnesota, as well as with pine. A good trick to remember is that trumpets like to be often in the same areas chanterelles will grow, so if you keep your eye out for the easy-to-spot golden chanterelles you can get lucky.
Symbiotic, or No?
An interesting thing I’ve noticed, and something you can use to your advantage, is that trumpets seem to operate in two ways: mycorrhizally, and saprobically, meaning that they grow both in harmony with certain trees, and will seem to live off of decaying matter. Contrastingly, golden chanterelles only grow mycorrhizally. Most of the time with mushrooms from my experience, they’ll be one or the other but not both, which makes black trumpets extra special.
If that wasn’t interesting enough, there’s more than one species to learn about and enjoy, each one with slightly different characteristics. Two I’ve found are craterellus foetidus and craterellus cinereus, but supposedly there are others too.
Trumpets have one of the most potent flavors of all wild mushrooms, especially fresh. They may be small, and flimsy, but they pack a serious punch. As thye’re hollow, black trumpets, like their cousins yellowfoot chanterelles cook very fast. Once they hit the pan they’re pretty much done, but they make up for their small stature with a great flavor which is intense, and echoes their smell: exciting, woodsy and deep, with a hint of something sweet.
Like most mushrooms, these marry wonderfully with cream. Like other chanterelles, I would caution you to cook these by themselves, their flavor can be overwhelmed by other mushrooms such as morels, or by really strong flavors like garlic, smoke food, or spicy seasonings. One of my favorite ways to eat them is to chop them finely, and make a sauce with them using meat stock to garnish a plate, but they’ll enhance, soups, sauces, butters, salads, pasta’s, you name it, just remember what you make will be black, or speckled, or both.
The Black Trumpet Bitter
Lastly, an important thing to know about these is that they can be bitter if you use too many in a dish. To counteract bitterness, I make sure that the mushroom has direct contact with fat in a pan, this is especially true with dried trumpets. For example, if I’m going to make a sauce with dried or fresh black trumpets, I like to cook them in a little butter first until wilted, then I might add some wine, then stock, etc.
The bitterness will concentrate itself, so be careful when making reduction-type sauces. One thing you can do with dried trumpets, is to save their rehydrating liquid for a different use than the dish that will have the physical mushrooms, or just discard it.
Trumpets are one of the mushrooms that, from my experience, will sometimes for massive, ridiculously large colonies. The harvests will vary from year to year, but if you’re lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, you can find an heirloom to pass down to your grandchildren. Two friends of mine have patches like that in Minnesota, and on a good year, with an extra hand or two, you could pick 30, 40lbs or more.
Luckily, when you have a big haul of trumpets, you don’t have to worry about them going bad on you, since they dry like a dream with their hollow form. in fact, if you leave them in open air, I find they often dehydrate naturally, unless they’re very damp.
Once they’re cracker dry, store them in a sealed glass container or mason jar. Re-hydrate like any other mushroom covering with warm liquid, stock, or booze, then remove the mushrooms, strain the liquid for debris and add the mushrooms back to their liquid.
Cleaning is where these get a little tricky. You really have to be careful with these if you are picking them in an area with a lot of pine, or after a rainfall. Since they’re hollow, they have a tendency to accumulate dirt and debris inside of them and can be a real pain to deal with.
First things first. Cleaning starts in the field. I like to bring a scissors when I know I’m going to pick black trumpets, since I can just bend down and snip-snip-snip, leaving the dirty bottoms behind and keeping all the mushrooms in my bag clean. If my trumpets are very clean, I just open them up, leaving them in one piece, and give them a brush with a mushroom or pastry brush.
If my trumpets are a dirty or it’s rained recently, I slice them in half lengthwise and then give them a gentle dip in some cool water, working quickly so that they don’t absorb any liquid. After you wash them, just set them on some paper or cloth towels to air dry a bit and shed any water that may be sticking to them. Then cook or process as usual.
Here’s some of my favorite recipes specifically for black trumpets, or where they can be substituted. The black trumpet jus at the bottom of the page I’ve used for years.
- Jacques Chibois’s Carbonara of Chanterelles and Black Trumpets
- Beluga Lentils With Black Trumpets and Mirepoix
- Black Trumpet Coulis
- Black Trumpet-Shell Pea Soup, With Purslane
- Rabbit Braised In Milk, With Black Trumpets And Carrots
- Triple Black Trumpet Polenta
Black Trumpet Jus
I use this as a garnishing sauce at restaurants, it can also just be a really good gravy, you could definitely use fresh trumpets too here, adding cream would give a very good result too.
- 2 grams dried black trumpet mushrooms
- 8 cups homemade, unsalted chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon shallot, diced ¼ inch
- 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, plus one tablespoon for finishing the sauce
- ½ cup dry sherry
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- Reduce the chicken stock on medium in a wide pan saute or brazier pan until you have about 2 cups left.
- Heat a small sauce pan with the teaspoon of butter and add the shallots. Brown the shallots lightly, then deglaze with the sherry and add the reserved stock, mushrooms and their liquid. Continue simmering the sauce while you cook the quail, it needs to be reduced to about ¼- ½ cup.
- To finish the sauce heat the sauce, then whisk in the butter to thicken it. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon easily, like gravy. If it doesn’t, reduce it a while longer. Double check the seasoning for salt and adjust as needed.