Yesterday we revisited one of our old, favorite hikes on the shoulder of Pennsylvania Mountain above Fairplay, Colorado. We must have done a variation of that hike—sometimes ducking into the forest on game trails to encounter still-open mine holes and long-abandoned cabins, others taking the old road high above treeline only to descend via questionable routes down dry, crumbling couloirs—more than 100 times in the 4 years we lived over there.Those were the days when slippery jacks (Suillus brevipes) and field pennycress (Thlaspi arvense) were the most exciting things ever, back during my big life change when this latent wild edible food obsession was reawakening.
In all those years hiking there, I found only one porcini (Boletus edulis).
But yesterday, as we were driving the long dirt road to our old spot, a familiar feeling came upon me. So while Gregg parked the car and took his sweet time organizing this and that into his backpack, I ducked into the trees for a look around, only to emerge a minute later with a medium-sized porcini button I spotted poking out of the duff.
“Did you find something?” Gregg asked, when I approached the car with my hands behind my back and a shit-eating grin on my face.
We were there on a mission for my favorite black currants (Ribes sp.), which I found for the first time years ago among some conifers next to an old miner’s cabin in a dark valley off the side of the mountain. But after finding that porcini button up in the flats, we decided to deviate from our original plan so as to hit up some more spruce-and-fir forest en route to the old cabin.
It might be that I’m a better mushroom hunter now, or maybe it’s because this insanely copious rainfall is making mushrooms come up where they normally don’t, but in either case it sure is a beautiful thing for such amazing fruitings to be happening, and at the same time to now have the knowledge and experience to witness them.
The porcini kept popping out at us, so we chased them up the trail for a bit, taking only the firm, medium-sized specimens and leaving the small, inconspicuous buttons to grow. (It’s gotten to that point—the porcini are so plentiful that I don’t mind leaving button after button behind.) Though we found evidence of giant, grandfatherly figures, too, all the real big guys were gone, leaving only their animal-gnawed stems, flush with the ground, behind.
These Fairplay high country porcini are funny. They must have been hit by hail or something, as they are weather worn and pock-marked with variable coloration that fades from the normal (for this region) wine-red caps to light yellow-gold in a single specimen.
Porcini & Dark Chocolate
Probably due to so much abundance, the porcini cookery has really inspired me this season. I love them sautéed with onions and garlic powder atop wild pizzas, thanks to my friend Butter, and Gregg has done some awesome meat-and-porcini crock pot dishes. I couldn’t believe how delicious a sautéed-and-caramelized slice of porcini was on a simple sandwich with avocado, serviceberry jam, and homemade bread, or how yummy they come out thick-sliced and grilled.
The other night I tried making porcini for dessert, inspired in part by Chef Bill Greenwood’s recent use of chanterelles in a sweet mascarpone-and-brown-butter-crumble plate. I gently sautéed a few slices of an inspiringly cute, firm porcini button in butter, brushing them on both sides with brown-sugar-sweetened Balsamic vinegar, and then served them with melted dark chocolate and a touch of black Hawaiian salt on top. The verdict: Crazy, and crazy tasty—a great jumping-off point for other porcini desserts! Who would have thought I’d ever see wild mushrooms as dessert?
In Fairplay yesterday we also collected small batches of some of my other once-upon-a-time favorites, including plump, deep-blue juniper “berries” and a bouquet of wild mustards including peppergrass (Lepidium spp.) and field pennycress. So now I’m racking my brain for a dish that combines the three.
Thanks to Nature for so many new inspirations always, and for causing me to see the world in this amazing light.