Wet year makes for great mushroom hunting in Roaring Fork Valley
Veteran mushroom hunters talk in generalities when discussing their preferred picking locations.
“People are famously discrete about their favorite mushroom spots,” said local mushroom forager, David Teitler. “No one is going to tell you where their best spot is unless you are their friend and I am certainly not going to put it in the newspaper.”
No secret, however, is the fact that Independence Pass and areas along the Frying Pan River serve as hotspots for foragers like Teitler. And, while numerous mushroom species grow in Colorado, two stick out as the cream of the crop — boletus (also known porcini) and chanterelle.
“You can cook the boletus or chanterelle with onions, garlic, a little white wine or some shallots,” Teitler said of the mushrooms that often complement pasta, steak, risotto and even breakfast dishes.
“The boletus, specifically, over toast with over easy eggs makes for a really good breakfast.”
A Carbondale resident, Teitler first got into mushroom hunting — a hobby he says at times can “border on obsession,” — while backpacking with friends some 30 years ago.
“The best way to learn about mushrooms is you go with someone who knows, and each time you go out you learn maybe one more mushroom,” Teitler said.
Last year’s Lake Christine Fire, combined with this year’s wet weather, made for particularly good burn morel mushroom hunting.
A rare find, burn morel mushrooms grow the year after a fire in its burn scar area.
“There was a proliferation of morel mushrooms on Basalt Mountain this year,” Teitler said.
Trent Blizzard, another avid Roaring Fork Valley mushroom forager, said that one should always cook mushrooms, not only for their flavor, but safety reasons too.
“There is something in them called chitin, which breaks down when you cook them,” Blizzard said. “Even raw mushrooms that you get from the grocery store, your body doesn’t really turn them into nutrition because the chitin hasn’t been broken down through cooking.”
In Colorado, the premiere mushroom-hunting season occurs in late July and August. However, Blizzard said he preserves the wild delicacy for year-round enjoyment.
“We dehydrate, pickle, and freeze,” Blizzard said of the various mushroom preservation techniques. “There are so many ways you can preserve these mushrooms and enjoy them on food.”
In addition to putting them on pizza, Blizzard particularly enjoys slicing larger mushrooms to cook on the grill — similar to steak.
“These are very desirable gourmet mushrooms that have worldwide markets,” Blizzard said.
One must possess a special permit from the state to sell a wild mushroom. However, anyone can go out and pick the delicacy so long as they obtain a free permit from the Forest Service.
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This bitter little fruit can be one of the sweetest parts of Thanksgiving dinners, and it helped sustain our ancestors and the people who lived here even before them.