This time of year brings one of the area’s great bounties: wild mushrooms. The summer monsoons soften the forest floor and mushrooms appear destined for gourmet-caliber dinners.
While many varieties grow in our area, some are edible and delicious; others are poisonous. To be safe, there are several classes offered every year from local Visitor’s Centers. As people who attended last weekend’s Mushroom Foray in South Fork will attest, these classes are a good opportunity for classroom instruction plus a field trip for collection and identification of the different varieties of mushrooms found nearby.
Personally, to limit the risk of getting sick, I only pick four different types for consumption: King Bolete, Hawks Wing, Shaggy Mane and the Chanterelle. All of these exhibit a different flavor and deliver a unique experience to your palette.
The King Bolete is easily identified by a round brownish top and with a sponge looking underside. Mushrooms with fins or gills underneath are always suspect to me and I stay away from them. The Bolete can be found in the forest around 9,000-10,000 feet and often can be spotted from a car while driving mountain roads. This mushroom, also known as Porcini, has a mild flavor and goes well in Italian dishes and is perfect to stuff and bake. It is easy to dry, too, for enjoyment during the winter.
The second mushroom I pick is called the Hawks Wing because the pattern on its top resembles a feathered imprint of a hawk’s wing. When you find one, look up and downslope for others as the spores tend to move downhill over time. These are easily identified once you see your first one. It is very pungent and best in baked dishes such as lasagna or grilled outside with olive oil and seasoning.
Another great one for beginning collection is the Shaggy Mane. This is the gentleman of the mushroom world because it grows thickly right alongside the gravel roads so harvesting is easy. A drive up the many area mountain roads will yield great quantities, but you want to eat them quickly after harvesting. Once stored in the refrigerator they get black ink on them. My rule is that once a mushroom gets “inky” I don’t eat it. That’s thanks to a too close encounter with one that had “spored.” Young, tender ones are always better for me.
The Cadillac of mushrooms around here is the Chanterelle. They are found mainly above 10,000 feet and early reports are bumper crops this year. Long walks in the forest will reward you with a basket full of these tender succulent treats. They have a fluted vase appearance and when you look underneath, the have small rounded false gill edges that run down the stock. Once identified, you’ll love this mushroom sautéed. It is a perfect addition to almost any dish.
Finding the location of mushrooms is often a top secret. I’ve heard even good Church-going people mislead others about where they found Chanterelles. So far this year I’ve seen good quantities of Boletes up Willow Park Road. Go high, park on a road and start looking through forests where the floor is damp. In past years I’ve also had good luck up Park Creek (just past the cattle guard), Beaver Creek and around Jasper and Platoro. Above Hunter Lake was also a good place but this area has been closed because of the fire damage.
When you do find mushrooms, proper harvesting is important to the survival of the crop. A sharp knife is used to cut them above the stem so they’ll return next year. Also, an old onion sack with holes in it or other ventilated container is best to carry rather than a plastic sack. Look online for more information (I like www.coloradomushrooms.com) or ask the local Visitor’s Center for a good guide. You can also check-out www.TroutRepublic.com for photos, recipes, recent locations where I have found mushrooms and tips for cleaning them.
The next six weeks will bring a bountiful harvest of mushrooms to our area. Grab a book, a class or a sense of adventure and head up to the mountains.
And, while you are out there, take your gear as fishing is still good. Poage Lake produced some beautiful Cutthroats last week. And this Tuesday, I took some younger relatives to Big Meadows. Armed with the newer bait that looks like a small rubbery pea in pink and rainbow colors on a number 6 gold hook, we limited quickly. Bubble fly-fishing was also successful thanks to the clouds and a slight breeze. (Don’t let the parking area discourage you, there is shoreline a plenty.) Other area lakes such as Beaver Lake, Road Canyon and Continental still producing limits for everyone I know. The creeks are also very good right now and small flies will let you have a great fly fishing experience. Cooper and I will see you out there!