Musings of a Modern Forager 6

The Delight of Wild Mushrooms, and Where to Find Them

There is something indescribable and quietly special about foraging for wild mushrooms. It awakens a hidden drive so dormant that you might not have previously felt its existence. Perhaps it’s a nod to those ancient hunter-gatherer genes, or maybe it’s just one of the most fulfilling ways to experience the natural world as it was meant to be seen. Whatever it is, a fair warning to you my friend: Once you catch the fever, it’s nearly impossible to quell.

My husband Trent and I have been hunting mushrooms in Colorado for about four years now. We started out slowly at first but got hooked after a friend led us to our first “haul.” Every July, we start getting serious about finding our favorite mushrooms in the mountains around Glenwood. Picking typically continues into October, when we often bump into curious elk hunters who wonder about all the tasty mushrooms they might have overlooked.

With the right tools, an ambition to learn, good research, and a little bit of help from Mother Nature, anyone can find and enjoy Colorado’s edible fungi. And yes, you can find them right here in your own Roaring Fork Valley back yard.

Choice Edibles

In the shadows of our coniferous forests, often hiding in plain sight, are natural treats that will leave local chefs and culinary enthusiasts clamoring for more information: choice edible fungi.

While Colorado is home to over a dozen edible mushrooms, there are two widespread choice edible mushrooms that reign supreme during the summer/fall season in our area:

  • the porcini mushroom (or king bolete, boletus edulis)
  • the golden chanterelle (cantharellus cibarius)

Either of these mushrooms will fetch you a small bounty in the commercial marketplace; they are highly valued worldwide in the culinary trade for their savory excellence. You may be surprised to learn that both of them live right here in the Roaring Fork Valley. In season, they are often featured in the valley’s finest restaurants.

The King

Our favorite mushrooms are the king boletes, or porcinis. Their nutty, rich flavor is perfect for risottos, soups, and gravies. These mushrooms grow best above 10,000 feet in coniferous forests all over Colorado. They have a special mycorrhizal, or symbiotic, relationship with spruce and fir trees which means you will always find your porcinis growing near these conifers. A great indicator that porcinis are close by is a very showy mushroom called the amanita (amanita muscaria). Do you remember those beautiful red mushrooms with white polka dots that took Alice to Wonderland? They can lead you to porcinis. Just don’t eat them, or you might end up in Wonderland as well—they are poisonous. Both of these mushrooms like to grow in the same environ, so seeing one often means the other is right around the corner.

It’s also interesting to note that there are some trees to avoid when scouting for king boletes. The aspen orange cap (Leccinum) closely resembles the king bolete and loves to grow around aspen trees at the same elevation. We call these “scabbers.” Their stalks are covered in black scales and stain blue when cut. While some people like to eat these mushrooms, we do not. We always avoid hunting in and around aspen stands.

Season: mid-July through mid-September

Local areas to check: Sunlight, Ruedi, Vail Pass, local ski hills, Independence Pass, Grand Mesa

The Chantie

The chanterelle mushroom is the most abundant choice mushroom available here in the Roaring Fork Valley. Our local secret spot, which we affectionately refer to as Chantie Town, has produced pounds and pounds of chanterelles over the years. Their delicate, fruity flavor is like nothing you’ve had before—almost as if you can taste the forest along with a distinct apricot flare. Truly a delight. We typically find them in coniferous forests above 10,000 feet. These guys grow in small forest clearings or along the meadow edges of the forest, right in the dirt, sand, or duff. Look for orange clusters that can resemble cauliflower florets when in the ground.

Season: mid-August through mid-October

Local areas to check: Sunlight, Ruedi, Flat Tops, McClure Pass, Grand Mesa

We Love a Good Map

So how do you find these elusive fellows? Aside from the tips I’ve already given you about elevation and trees, it’s a good idea to do some map research online before you go. Google Maps will show you elevation lines and its satellite view will also show you the trees. You are looking for flattish areas above 10,000 feet in coniferous forests near high meadows. All mushrooms take hard work to find. Do not be surprised to drive an hour and then hike several miles to find your bounty. An average day takes us six to 10 miles on foot plus two hours of driving round-trip.

Getting in the Game

If your interest is piqued and you’d like to explore the fungus among us, here are a few tips:

Increase the pace of your learning curve by joining a local foray. Both the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) here in the valley and Walking Mountains in Avon offer local, guided mushroom forays. You have to sign up early as spots fill quickly. You will also find forays during local mushroom festivals. Telluride, Eagle, Buena Vista, and Crested Butte all offer festivals during the month of August. There are several local Facebook groups you can join where you might find a friend to take you on your first foray and help you with identification. We have placed links to all these helpful groups, events, forays, and recipes on our website, Modern-Forager.com.

Go out several times with someone else who knows what they are looking for. Mushroom hunting is only scary if you are new and on your own. Try asking around, or put it out there on social media; you might be surprised to learn that some of your friends cherish this hobby. Those of us who have experience can tell the difference between edible and nonedible fungi as easily as spotting an apple or an orange. It just takes some time to learn your environments, indicators, and mushroom identifiers.

This hobby will introduce you to the beauty and bounty of nature. The valley’s mountainous terrain and stunning panoramic vistas will take your breath away at times (yes, sometimes literally!). Above 10,000 feet you will see fields of colorful wildflowers, amazing sunsets, frequent rainbows, tons of wildlife, and remote evergreen forests teeming with life. Even if you don’t find mushrooms, your reward of such beauty is always well worth the trip.

Kristen and Trent Blizzard are local WordPress web developers. They are wildly obsessed with edible mushrooms, heading up into the hills at any chance they get. You can follow their foraging adventures and maybe even find a tip or two on their website, Modern Forager.