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Horn of Plenty

Ester Gaya
16 October 2013

Kew's IncrEdibles festival features Tom Hare's giant sculptures of some of the UK's most interesting fungi. Kew mycologist Ester Gaya tells us more about one of them, the amazing Horn of Plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides).

A cornucopia

This week I am writing about another delicious mushroom, well known to most mushroom-hunters, the horn of plenty also known as black chanterelle or black trumpet.

Its Latin name, Craterellus cornucopioides, refers to the famous cornucopia from Greek mythology, a horn that could fill itself with all types of foods, drinks, and wealth of any kind. The myth says that Zeus accidentally broke this magical horn, owned by the goddess Amalthea who fed him as a young boy, but that the horn nevertheless kept its magic properties.

Perhaps expecting unending provisions of food from the horn of plenty fungus is a bit optimistic, since they are quite small mushrooms, but I can assure you of a delightful experience! Yet another, altogether more sombre name has been also applied to these mushrooms: the trumpet of the dead (or trompette des morts in French), since it was thought that the deceased, under the ground, could play them as trumpets.

Photo of Craterellus cornucopioides 01

Craterellus cornucopioides in woodland (Photo: Malcolm Storey)

Identifying the horn of plenty

The horn of plenty is actually closely related to the chanterelle we praised last week. They both belong to the same family and share some key features: both have a funnel-like shape and both have blunt ridges on their underside instead of gills. The most striking difference between them, however, is the dark colour of the horn of plenty. If you look closely, you will also see that the edge of the cap of the horn of plenty usually rolls outwards, with its inner surface always blackish and smooth or with some marginal striations, while the outer surface (the fertile part) is smooth or slightly wrinkled, also blackish, or most often light grey when dusted with the colour of the spores at maturity.

This time, if you print the spores you will get a salmon-tinged, yellowish, or whitish colour. Their flesh is really thin and brittle. The taste is mild, but the odour is very sweet, like apricots again, but even stronger than the chanterelle. Some people say that they smell of sweaty socks. I quite disagree…

Photo of Craterellus cornucopioides 02

Craterellus cornucopioides on woodland floor (Photo: Malcolm Storey)

You will have to be eagle-eyed. Not being orange, the horn of plenty doesn´t stand out like a chanterelle. Due to their colour and small size they can be easily overlooked, but if you manage to find one or two there will usually be more, since they tend to be gregarious. Look for them amongst the leaf litter of hardwoods and conifers from June to November, and even in December in mild autumns in southern Britain (and we are having a very mild autumn so far this year!). Outside the UK you will find it in the rest of Europe, America, and Japan.

Cooking horn of plenty

The horn of plenty can look a bit intimidating at first sight. You could easily believe that it is not an edible fungus due its sombre dark colour. But its flavour is delicious when fresh and even better when dry. Some people go so far as to equate it to black truffles!

It can be added to your sauces, or sautéed in olive oil and butter or in stir-fry. It adds good flavour to eggs. But I prepare the horn of plenty with pasta as follows:

  • Finely chop and stir-fry your trumpets in olive oil.
  • Add a can of liquid cream, a pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  • Once cooked blend the mixture and add it to your spaghetti!

Don’t confuse it with...

Craterellus cornucopioides is not easily confused with poisonous species. It is very similar to, but darker than, the grey trumpet (Cantharellus cinereus), which is also an edible mushroom.

And of course, if you want to see Tom Hare's super-large sculptures of Horn of plenty and other fungi, then come and visit Kew! 

NB Please do not pick fungi - leave them to disperse their spores and be appreciated by others. Never pick and eat fungi from the wild unless you are absolutely certain of their identity.


See Tom Hare's horn of plenty sculpture at Kew's IncrEdibles festival until Sunday 3 November 2013

FREE entry for children aged 16 and under.

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