The epistemology of a chanterelle

Posted on August 16th, 2009 by

Chanterelles? False chanterelles?

Chanterelles? False chanterelles?

Nothing reconfirms one’s sense that knowledge really is justified true belief[1] like a wild mushroom. And nothing illustrates its absence like a wild mushroom either.

A pile of chanterelles has reduced me to a Cartesian, convinced that certain knowledge of the (fixed, mind independent) mushroom world is possible. And utterly convinced that I do not have such knowledge.

For the past two days, I’ve been staring at this pile of bright orange specimens[2] on our counter, saying “chanterelle? False chanterelle? Chanterelle? False chanterelle?” I’ve pored over the web pages of mushroom sites, stared at countless pictures of both varieties, read and reread the characteristics that are supposed to distinguish between the two—all to no avail. I’ve gone so far as to set up a very rudimentary spore print, to determine whether my mushrooms had yellow spores (good) or white spores (bad). The answer, so far as I can tell, is, yellowish-white. Or maybe whitish yellow.

I told my neighbor that chanterelles smell like apricots, so when she took a whiff of my “chanterelle,” that’s what she smelled. (Power of suggestion? Nawwwww….)

I’ll confess that I even tasted them. I know, I know. But after determining that I was looking at either a real chanterelle or a false one (and not the scary Jack O’Lantern mushroom, a lookalike that glows in the dark!), and after three or four websites told me that the false chanterelle was unpleasant tasting but not poisonous, I thought, “what the heck? This will tell me what I need to know, and it’s unlikely that I’ll get a stomach ache from just a sliver.” That was three days ago; I experienced no stomach ache (or any other adverse effect), but neither could I decide whether what I was tasting was “choice” or “bitter and metallic.” When put to the test, I’d have to say “choicely metallic.” Or maybe “metallically choice.” Did Descartes’s skepticism imprint upon me so strongly that I can’t even figure out what I’m tasting? (This writer had no such problem! ) Since my nibble, I’ve come across several websites informing me that, well, gee, maybe they might be kinda sorta poisonous after all…. Again, I’m not dead yet, or even sick, so I’m not worried. But neither am I going to waste any precious butter frying up a bunch of bitter, metallic wanna-bes.

Of course, given their age, if these are the real thing, all they’re good for at this point is drying—which would still be a very good thing indeed. If I could pick all the pine needles and duff out of them.

When it comes to justifying your beliefs, nothing beats the opinion of an expert. Alas, our peninsula’s expert (whom I finally screwed up my courage to contact) is away from home (during chanterelle season???) and isn’t available to look at my shriveling specimens.

Perhaps I’ll just dry them and place them on my desk, as a subtle reminder that, when all is said and done, I do believe in Truth with a capital T. At least when it comes to mushrooms.

[1] Sorry Mr. Gettier.I know you showed us that a justified true belief doesn’t constitute knowledge, but I gotta say, if someone right now told me that: a) The statement “These are chanterelles” is true; b) I believe “These are chanterelles” is a true statement; and c) I am justified in believing that “these are chanterelles” is a true statement, well, then I’d be in chanterelle heaven.

[2] Specimens, I would note, that I gathered while kayaking. Specimens that I spotted on an island, from my kayak. At a distance of about forty or fifty feet. I gotta tell you I was impressed with myself.



  1. Joe Lencioni says:

    OMG, I am obsessed with mushrooms. Obsessed.

  2. Chip Wilmot says:

    They’re chanterelles! How do I know? I don’t. But trust the smell and your spore print.

  3. t leon says:

    Im a mushroom picker from Van. Island, they are chanties..False chanties also have larger “gills” and arent as uniform as well they have a brownish tinge that u can notice when placed beside a true chantie..

  4. abbey road says:

    well i mistook a jack o lantern for a chanterelle and was the sickest i’ve ever been. just cooked and tasted a smidgen but within hours the abdominal hurricane began. beware, the false ones also smell apricot-sweet but the taste is somewhat bitter. not sure if it was a jack o lantern but have had chanterelles in my yard and picked and eaten without trouble. i am still not sure if i’m over it..

  5. Gina says:

    A. You have to cook chanterelles to make them taste good.
    B. Drying chanterelles makes them hard and woody…don’t do it.
    C. fry them up with butter and freeze them if you want to save them.
    D. Those are chanterelles, I pick them to eat and to sell to local restaurants, false chanterelles have very distinguishable differences, mostly in the shape of the gills. Chanterelles have blunt rounded gills that sometimes criss cross around each other.