The Eastern Black Trumpet (Craterellus fallax) is known by many names including horn of plenty, trumpet of death, and devil's horn, but poor man’s truffle may be the closest approximation to the fruity and almost smoky flavor of this common yet camouflaged gourmet edible. As midsummer approaches we grow excited at the prospect of filling our baskets to the brim with these dark, ruffled beauties before turning them into countless culinary delights.
Description: Black Trumpets are small (1 – 4 inches tall) mushrooms that are gray to black to tan in color, tubular shaped when young, and become trumpet or funnel-shaped as they age. Their veiny, wrinkled appearance is due to false gills: forked ridges or folds running from the underside of the pileus, or cap down the stipe, or stem and which appear as textured skin rather than the hanging, knife-like true gills of Amanita, Russula or Jack-o'-lantern mushrooms. Black Trumpets have hollow stems and are therefore thinly fleshed and possess a pale pink to orange spore print. Though dark in color, their diminutive size, vase-like shape, and false gills resemble their golden, apricot-scented cousins, the chanterelles. In fact, another common name for the mushroom is Black Chanterelle.
Ecology: While Craterellus fallax is found across the eastern United States, it has close relatives across the continent and beyond. The European C. cornucopioides is the original “Black Trumpet” first described by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753 and known as “Trompette de la mort” or “Trumpet of Death” in France. Both C. foetidus, the Fragrant Trumpet, and C. caeruleofuscus, the Cerulean Black Trumpet, are found broadly across the American Midwest while C. caeruleofuscus, the California Black Trumpet, is found along the western coast of North America. All are considered choice edible mushrooms and often fall under the general umbrella term of “Black Trumpet.”
Here in New England, the Black Trumpet is found growing singly, scattered, or gregariously in small clusters within mature hardwood, deciduous woodlands composed of oak (Quercus spp.) beech (Fagus grandifolia) and maple (Acer spp.). They prefer washes, low spots and depressions dominated by mosses and it is not uncommon to find them near other edible mushroom species like Golden Chanterelle (Craterellus cibarius), Yellowfoot Chanterelle (C. tubaeformis), Red Chanterelle (C. cinnabarinus) and Hedgehog Mushroom (Hydnum repandum). These brightly colored compatriots can be particularly helpful when the desired mushrooms are obscured among dried and decaying leaves. In terms of timing, Black Trumpets in New England will fruit from mid-July to late August when soil temperatures range from 60 - 70 degrees F. On the west coast of the United States, California Black Trumpets are a winter mushroom, and fruit from November through March. This species is associated with Tanbark-Oak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) and is typically found on forested hillsides alongside moss and Sword Fern (Polystichum californicum). While the specific ecological connections have yet to be worked out, it appears that Black Trumpets can grow both as mycorrhizal symbionts with hardwood deciduous trees and as saprobes, feeding off decaying organic matter.
Cultivation & Harvesting: The ideal growing conditions and ecology of Black Trumpet remain elusive. Luckily for chefs and mushroom hunters alike, the species is annual, with large flushes returning year after year to the same patches across the United States where summertime (New England/Midwest) and late fall/winter (Oregon and California) precipitation permits. When mushroom foraging, remember the primary rule related to health and safety: when in doubt, throw it out! If you are not 100% sure what it is, do not eat it! Though Black Trumpets have few poisonous look-alikes, we recommend new foragers hunt alongside a trusted authority. In addition to great smartphone apps such as Seek, iNaturalist and Google Lens we highly recommend paperback resources such as Edible & Medicinal Mushrooms of New England by David L. Spahr, Mushrooms: How to Identify and Gather Wild Mushrooms and Other Fungi by DK Books, the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, The Complete Mushroom Hunter by Gary Lincoff and All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms by David Arora, among others. As for harvesting, keep in mind that the Black Trumpet mushroom is itself the fruiting body of the unseen mycelium growing below ground, so harvest a selection of the patch without taking everything in sight. When picking, cut the stem near the base of each mushroom or simply twist it to free it from its mycelial anchor.
Medicinal Info: Generally, mushrooms are a rich, low-calorie source of fiber, protein, and antioxidants. They may mitigate the risk of developing serious health conditions, such as Alzheimer's, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes3 and can serve as an ethical and sustainable meat replacement. Research suggests Black Trumpets may have antitumor and antimutagenic properties, suggesting a generalized anti-aging ability.
Cooking: In New England, the Black Trumpet is the closest thing to truffle we’ve got. Its unique fruity and smoky flavor lends itself well to broths and stocks, soups, cream and white wine sauces, and gravies. They also dry well and can be dehydrated and ground into a powder for use as a spice, adding complexity to vegetables, meats, fish, eggs, grits, polenta, and risotto. Combining just a few of them with less-flavorful mushrooms can go a long way. As always, we advise practicing caution when trying any new mushroom for the first time; eat just a little and wait 24 hours to see how your body feels before really diving in.
1Ohtsuka S, Ueno S, Yoshikumi C, Hirose F, Ohmura Y, Wada T, Fujii T, Takahashi E. Polysaccharides having an anticarcinogenic effect and a method of producing them from species of Basidiomycetes. UK Patent 1331513, 26 September 1973.
2Gruter A, Friederich U, Wurgler FE. Antimutagenic effects of mushrooms. Mutat Res. 1990 231(2):243-9.
3Brennan, Dan. “Health Benefits of Mushrooms” WebMD 9/17/2020. https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-mushrooms#:~:text=Mushrooms%20are%20a%20rich%2C%20low,Selenium