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Citrus & Chanterelles in Santa Cruz

Gene Lester Santa Cruz Citrus Grove

My January trip to California may have been for work, but I was also able to spend a few rare days with my best friend Jessica while I was on the West Coast. As Chef de Cuisine of Los Gatos’ Manresa, Jes has an even busier schedule then me, so I felt lucky to catch her days off. But she stays busy even in her freetime, often foraging and helping out at the restaurant’s farm, Love Apple Farms. When she asked if I’d like to go looking for chanterelles and citrus, I jumped at the opportunity.

Which brought me, Jes, and a few of the friendly ladies from the Manresa kitchen to the Santa Cruz mountains looking for mushrooms. It had just rained, and the group was hopeful for a great catch. A bit naively, I expected a field full of mushrooms to greet me, ready for whatever enthusiastic picker was interested. Instead we climbed around the country side, using long sticks to search the ground beneath the trees.  I turned over a dried-out chanterelle, but didn’t find anything edible. The girls declared it a dud day in the end, but they still managed to fill up a container with mushrooms in a variety of shapes and sizes. The experience makes it very clear why mushrooms can be so expensiveit’s hard work to find them!

Chanterelle Foraging Santa CruzChanterelle Foraging Santa Cruz
After our mushroom foraging, we went back up the hill to Gene Lester’s incredible citrus grove. He grows an amazing variety of citrus (with nearly 500 trees!) including Mexican limes, Indio Mandarinquats, and Variegated Eureka Lemons. I walked around and tasted as many as I could: bright tangy kumquats, sweet nectarines, and bitter Meyer lemons. The majority (what I didn’t eat) went back to Manresa to be turned into jam, zest, mustards, sorbets, and more for their upcoming annual citrus dinner.

Just thinking about this day brings the citrus scent into my mind, a memory I always associate to my days living in California. Citrus season will soon come to an end, so if you live somewhere warm enough to find them growing locally, pick a few and think of me!

Gene Lester Santa Cruz Citrus Grove


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