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Foraging for fungi

Masie Crow/Vail DailySlow food members Richard McCreadle and Denise Ranken examine a mushroom they found in the Tigiwon Wilderness area.
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MINTURN – Mushroom hunting is a lot like fishing. It takes you outdoors, but most of what you catch you have to throw back.The intrigue in finding even just a handful of edible mushrooms, however, is enough inspiration to keep you trekking. You can’t help but drool thinking about how good fresh wild mushrooms will taste marinated in teriyaki or sautéed with herbs to fill ravioli. Plus, most mushroom species are striking to look at, poisonous or not.The valley’s Slow Food USA chapter recently hosted a mushroom foraging trip through the Tigiwon wilderness area. Slow Food is an international organization in 35 countries that is trying to revive regional flavors and fresh local produce. The group believes that food when enjoyed slowly with friends and family can enhance pleasure and create happiness.Colorado Mycological Society’s Bill Windsor, who’s been studying mushrooms since the ’70s, began the tour by explaining how to use a mushroom’s parts to identify it – and most importantly, to tell whether or not the mushroom is edible.”You are looking for a combination of characteristics,” Windsor said. “The color of the cap, the stem, the gill spacing, the way the gill is attached. Is the stem narrow, wide, smooth or velvety.”Windsor said the spore color is a good indicator of species, too. It’s much more telling than the actual gill color, he said. To see spore color, you must make a spore print. Place the gills down on a piece of paper, then place a cup upside down on your mushroom section to keep the air currents away and then wait a few hours or overnight. When you remove the cup, you should find a print of the cap, and the spore color, on the piece of paper.Mushrooms are sensitive to their environment, Windsor said. Some grow where it’s very moist, like near a spring. While others tend to like certain trees. The Aspen Bolete (Leccinum Insigne) and the Velvet Foot (Flammullina Velutipes), both edible, grow on and around Aspens. The King Bolete (Boletus Edulis), also edible, grows in areas populated by ponderosa pines, a local tree with an orange tint to its bark.

“Once you learn what environment a particular mushroom identifies with, you’ll be able to find more of that mushroom,” Windsor said.But if you’re going to be identifying mushrooms, Windsor advised, you should be able to recognize the ones that can get you into trouble. Most of the mushrooms we encountered along Tigiwon road were poisonous. But lucky for beginners, a lot of the non-edible varieties have very distinguishing characteristics.We found Cortinarius mushrooms which have a cobweb-like veil, called a cortina, under the cap of young shrooms. We picked several Russula mushrooms, which are easily distinguishable because the stem breaks clean like chalk. We also discovered several Trametes Versicolor, a woody-like shelf mushroom that grows on dead wood in clusters.”There is no general rule to telling whether or not a mushroom is poisonous,” Windsor said. “But usually you don’t want to mess with small brown mushrooms. Bottom line is you have to study.”Good edible mushrooms for beginners to start hunting for are the Velvet Foot and Puff Ball (Bovista Plumbea) because they are easy to pick out. The Velvet Foot grows on dead aspens and has a velvety stem. Windsor said he likes to eat them with eggs. Puff Balls look exactly like the name describes – white, round and puffy. The Puff Balls, however, need to be sliced open to determine whether or not you can eat them. Edible ones are solid white inside, and if it has any color or a baby mushroom shape inside, throw it back. “Puff balls will pick up whatever flavor your cooking with. It’s almost like tofu in that way,” Windsor said.A trip to Europe first inspired Windsor to start hunting for mushrooms. In Italy, he was eating wild mushrooms with such wonderful tastes he wanted to learn how to find them himself. So he started with morels and slowly added to his mushroom expertise.”I’m picking mushrooms for the dinner plate,” Windsor said. “If it’s really mature, I’ll leave the old, mushy stuff behind.”

To tell if a mushroom is past its prime or not, feel the cap. If it’s soft, it may be full of insects or rotting inside, so leave it behind. If it feels firm – and is an edible variety – take the cap because it’s good to eat.”When you’re collecting, use a netting bag, basket, cloth sack or paper bag,” Windsor said. “Mushrooms need to breath. If they start sweating, they begin to decompose. Also, you need to eat them when they’re fresh. It’s unusual to find any wild mushrooms in the store that haven’t been sitting on the shelf for a while.”Mushrooms are primary decomposers for forest life. If not for mushrooms, hiking would be pretty difficult because you would have to navigate over piles and piles of dead, fallen trees. Mushrooms, which are basically chemical factories, break down those dead trees so they become part of the soil. So are there environmental ethics to picking mushrooms? Not at all, Windsor said. Mushrooms, which are just the fruit of a plant that grows underground – some which can grow for 20-square miles – spread their spores almost instantly upon blooming. So you can pick every mushroom in an area.”Mushroom hunting really teaches you an appreciation for slowing down and learning about your environment,” Windsor said.Chemical factoriesA great resource for mushroom hunting is “Mushrooms of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mopu8ntains” by Vera Stucky Evenson.



Mixed Wild Mushroom Soup:2 Poundsassorted fresh wild mushrooms3 eachshallots, finely chopped3 eachgarlic cloves, minced2 TBS.assorted fresh herbs, finely chopped1 qt.full flavored broth (beef, chicken, or vegetable)To tastesalt

To tastepepper2 oz. butter1. Clean the mushrooms carefully, keeping as dry as possible.2. If the mushrooms are small, leave them whole; larger mushrooms may haveto halved or sliced, but try to retain the natural shape.3. Chop the shallots, garlic and herbs.3. Bring the stock to a simmer and season with salt and pepper



4. Lightly sauté the mushrooms, then add the shallots, garlic and herbs andcontinue to sauté 2 more minutes. (Be careful not to overcrowd the pan sothat the food stews in its own juices rather than sautéing.)5. Ladle the broth into soup bowls and top with the mushroom mixture.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 618, or cpence@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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