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Lorne Terry shows off $130 worth of dried mushrooms. (Ian Brown for The Globe and Mail/Ian Brown for The Globe and Mail)
Lorne Terry shows off $130 worth of dried mushrooms. (Ian Brown for The Globe and Mail/Ian Brown for The Globe and Mail)

Ian Brown Eats Canada

Mushroom-gathering isn't just a walk in the woods Add to ...

There was a single yellow-orange chanterelle mushroom on my plate of charcuterie in Souleio, a fine-food joint and restaurant in Saskatoon.

It looked like a little chef's toque. It was from last summer's crop, and so had been frozen and thawed, and had a peppery, apricot-ish, slightly sour and pissy taste - but really good piss.

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It was my first chanterelle. I wanted to name it. Suzie, perhaps. I wanted to know everything about it.

It turns out Suzie was picked by Lorne Terry, or if not by Lorne, by Lois, his wife. The Terrys live in White Fox, Sask., a couple of hours northeast of Prince Albert (once home to John Diefenbaker, who resembled a chanterelle).The Terrys make the best part of their living foraging in the forests of Northern Saskatchewan, which, as of this weekend, produce what chefs all over North America agree are the world's best chanterelles.

A mushroom off the forest floor in tiny White Fox can easily end up on a plate at a world-renowned restaurant such as French Laundry in California. Northern Saskatchewan is the North American starting point of the multimillion-dollar international wild-mushroom game.

Which is the reason I was in White Fox, wandering though the forest with Lorne and Lois, and why a few words of respect for the mosquitoes in Northern Saskatchewan are in order. They are an effing nightmare. They inhabit the forests where chanterelles, morels, wild blueberries, fiddleheads, wild strawberries and Labrador tea, a shrub used to make herbal tea (all of which Lorne harvests), are most often found. Saskatchewan mosquitoes are not even like the rampaging drunken bullies that swarm the doorways of Winnipeg. Comparing the skeeters of the Peg to the Hunnish bugs of Northern Saskatchewan is like comparing a playgroup of four-year-olds to the Albanian mafia. A popular spectator sport in June in Northern Saskatchewan, especially before the Roughriders start their season, is to sit in the bar and watch people get out of their cars and literally run for cover with their arms flapping around their heads.

But not Lorne Terry, champion forager. "I've been out in the woods so long," he says, "I just don't notice them any more." Maybe he's too busy. Last summer, he personally shipped 18,000 pounds of chanterelles out of his garage, Suzie included.

WANDERING IN THE WOODS

A forager has to know his country. Lorne Terry's grandfather homesteaded in White Fox in 1924 after driving up from Washington state in a Model T Ford with five kids in the back seat and a dog on the running board. (The dog fell off a lot on corners.)

The grandfather was a trapper and hunter. His son became a conservation officer. His grandson - that'd be Lorne - mined in Uranium City and for 15 years ran a hotel north of the Arctic Circle on the Dempster Highway. "White Fox is a big enough centre for me," Lorne said. "Even today, 20 people in a room is a lot for me."

Hence his fondness for wandering the woods with Lois. In the late 1990s, as he contemplated retirement (they're 67 and 63), Lorne heard that a neighbour had earned $400 picking mushrooms. He decided to investigate. Lorne's the deliberate type - calm, sturdy, medium-sized, tanned, balding, thus bearing some resemblance to a large cremini. Many of us do.

His operation, White Fox Gold Harvesting, now forages full-tilt all summer. "The first thing that comes in is fiddleheads," he told me. "We usually get two weeks in fiddleheads, but this year we only got five days. It quit raining and turned hot."

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