Sunday, September 15, 2013

COLORADO: THE GREAT MUSHROOM HUNT

As I mentioned in my previous post, Bob takes our sons to Colorado every summer to go hiking. Sam, like Bob, enjoys going to the summits, but Andrew is more interested in what can be found below treeline: mushrooms.  His interest in mushrooms began in a botany class at UCLA, and a few years ago he joined the Los Angeles Mycological Society, where he has learned even more about mushrooms at lectures, at fairs, and on field trips.

Andrew and I would follow Bob up to treeline (although sometimes he got there hours before we did), and then for the next four to six hours we would slowly make our way back down to the trail head, searching under trees and bushes on and off trail for, primarily, the somewhat elusive King Bolete mushroom, the most prized of the Colorado mushrooms:

Tucked in among the twigs and leaves, they look like warm, brown rolls fresh out of the oven:



The have a very distinct cobweb-like pattern on their stems:
. . . and underneath the cap is a hair-like covering that looks like a Pointillist painting:



Most of the other mushrooms we looked at had what Andrew called "gills" under the cap.  This one would make you very sick if you ate it:



The other edible mushroom that we probably saw the most of was the very unique, easy-to-identify Hawk's Wing mushroom:
Like the King Boletes, these were also quite large:



Of course, there were many, many varieties of mushrooms that were not edible. We examined all of them, and Andrew took some of them back to our cabin at the end of the day to study as he pored over his textbooks and the Colorado mushroom website in an attempt to definitively identify them:
















I especially liked these, which looked like they had been sprayed with gold paint:


Some of our most exciting finds (at least to me) were what I learned were Amanita Muscaria, a poisonous  mushroom that emerges from the dirt covered with yellow scales that gradually shrink as the mushroom grows.
The scaly mess above eventually turns into this little beauty:
Honestly, I thought these mushrooms were just the stuff of fairy tales, cartoons, and Alice in Wonderland, but they can actually be found all over the world. In Colorado, they often grow in tandem with King Boletes, so finding them was a good omen.

At the end of each day we admired our bountiful harvest:



We took the mushrooms back to our simple cabin kitchen and, using pretty rudimentary tools and seasonings, created an amazing range of succulent Mushroom Masterpieces worthy of the finest restaurant:

We sauteed them in butter:
. . . and in olive oil:

We also dipped them in egg, rolled them in seasoned bread crumbs, and deep fat fried them:

However, our favorite dish was mushroom soup. On one night Andrew made a rich mushroom broth by boiling a large pot full of mushrooms for several hours.

The next night we added sauteed mushrooms from the day's haul to the saved broth, along with artisan carrots, kale, and onion from the local farmer's market, and then some seasonings and cream:
It was truly magnificent:

It was a blast to go mushroom foraging with Andrew. During the four days we spent together in the Colorado mountains, I think I got about a semester's worth of mycological education and training. I still wouldn't be brave enough to identify and eat a mushroom on my own, but I have a lot of respect for Andrew's knowledge and abilities.  Not only did I get to share his passion, but I also got to eat his wonderful cooking!


3 comments:

  1. What an amazing array of mushrooms! Incredible how many varieties you found in a single place. Mushrooms rank among my favorite foods--I can only imagine the fun your taste buds had eating them.

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  2. Our mushroom feast was incredible. And I can now comfortably identify King Bolete and Hawk's Wings mushrooms, something I could not do before.

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  3. Andrew needs to rent himself out, that's for sure. Can these mushrooms only be found in secluded forests, or high altitudes? That soup description is making me hungry!

    Loved the picture of the red/yellow mushroom, and I, too, thought it was just an artist's illustration!

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