The weather in Cologne has been playing truant for some time. Super hot days (it gets extremely hot in summer in Germany) make the adults pant in the sun, while children splash near naked in public fountains. The balmy spring happiness of lying in the sun in the park seem like distant memories and we eagerly brought out our summer clothes. Espadrilles, shorts, breezy skirts and lots of skin flashed into the fashion scene when Cologne temperature dropped. Hail and rain made the nights cold again and during the day, fierce winds sent goosebumps. Grey clouds surfaced on the skies and the sun seemed to have taken a vacation when the heat wave rose again. It was followed by rain, hail, cold and repeat. It drove me quite mad since I was constantly on my toes to save my tropical plants and bringing my son from the kindergarten meant carrying bulky jackets, umbrellas etc.
It was quite a hassle and needless to say, bad mood followed, especially on a sunny day when I got caught unprepared in a sudden heavy downpour which nearly chilled me to the bone. That was a day when I wished for nothing better than to be tucked at home with a steaming cup of chai and a book. But, since that was not meant to be, I gave into a good “venting out” cry and headed for my neighbourhood vegetable seller. Hers is one of my most frequented shops and the sight of neatly stacked colouful veggies never fail to cheer me up. I love reading the German names of the fresh produce, which still roll with difficulty on my tongue, chatting with the owner and selecting the ones which tempt me the most. The shop lady is an old fashioned seller who likes to weigh her products with traditional scales, bind them in the paper before giving out some cooking tips. We get along pretty good and by now, she knows my preferences so well that on that rain splashed day, she cheered me up by producing a box of pfifferling.
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Golden, silky and absolute beauties, pfifferling are the exquisite seasonal mushrooms which are sold in Germany in early summer. Known as chanterelle in English, these aromatic fleshy wild mushrooms look like golden flowers in the forest. They are of a gorgeous orange or yellow colour, meaty and funnel-shaped. The lower surface of their smooth caps are ridged like gills and they have a wonderful fruity aroma. Many claim them to smell like apricots and taste like pepper, thus rendering its German name pfifferling. A species of the genus Cantharellus, pfifferling are found in many parts of the world including northern Europe, North and Central America, Asia (Kashmir, Nepal, Bhutan) and Africa (Congo, Zambia, Uganda). They grow best in clusters in moss carpeted coniferous forests, but can also be found among grasses and mountainous birch groves. In many countries, they are also found under beech trees and chanterelles have the tendency to reappear in the same place year after year if carefully harvested.
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I simply love pfifferling even though, cleaning them is a chore. Just a simple toss in garlic butter and parsley is enough to make an uber delicious pfifferling uber delicious dish and you cannot go much wrong with a handful of these golden beauties. There is a saying, “Make hay while the sun shines” and on that rainy Cologne day, I splurged on my favourite mushrooms. Though, pricey they were my little suns, which cleared up a dreary day.
P.S – There is no sincere love than the love of food. So, here goes a simple pfifferling recipe and this one is my personal favourite.
Chicken Breasts with Chanterelles
The first step of using chanterelles is to clean them well. Since these mushrooms grow gregariously, they carry along a lot of muck, especially in their gills. The best way to enjoy clean chanterelles is to brush the dirt off gently with a soft brush and trimming the bases neatly. Chanterelles and chicken is a natural combination and in this recipe, chicken breasts are poached before cutting into small portions. The chanterelles are sautéed and served over the chicken.
2 cups of white wine (preferably dry)
1 garlic clove crushed
1 bay leaf, sprigs of parsley
4 chicken breast, skinned and deboned
500 gms of chanterelles cleaned and cut into large chunks
4 tablespoons of butter
3 shallots or 1 big onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped parsley for garnishing
In a large saucepan, simmer the wine, garlic, bay leaf, and parsley to a simmer. Add the chicken, cover, and cook until tender. Let it cool before removing the chicken and chopping into small strips. Strain the liquid into a saucepan and set aside. In a skillet, sauté the chanterelles in the butter until tender. Pouring the strained liquid from the mushrooms into the reserved poaching liquid and cook until the sauce is slightly thickened. Now add the shallots, pine nuts, chicken, and the chanterelles to the liquid and cook without a cover for 10 minutes. Complete the dish with the parsley, salt, and pepper.
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Buyer‘s Tip – A number of inedible or poisonous mushroom varieties including the deadly Jack-O-Lantern can be easily mistaken for chanterelles. Ensure that all wild mushrooms you pick are positively identified before eating them.
P.S – This blog post is part of the weekly series called the Cologne Diaries. Every week, Maverickbird will take on a new theme, emotion, and beauty of an expat life in Cologne.
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