Fruits of the forest

Mushroom hunting around Red River

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The daily afternoon rain threatens in the distance as my sister, Mary Miller, and I scramble to find one more chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) near Red River.

It is not a banner year for this forest "gold," but we find couple of quarts of these delicious "flowers," several king boletes (Boletus edulis), which are also considered choice, as well as a few hawk's wings (Sarcodon imbricatus), which we prefer to dry, then pulverize to add flavor to soup bases.

Mary and I are by no means experts, but we've come a long way since the days when we'd pick small puffballs in the woods behind our childhood home in Red River. These days, we disdain the small variety, but jump with glee at finding the western giant puffball (Calvatia booniana) - superb when sauteed in butter and garlic.

Along with my parents, John and Judy Miller, and other Red River residents, many of us learned the craft of gathering delicious fungi from Carlo Gislimberti, the popular Taos, New Mexico, chef turned fine art painter. Gislimberti brought his knowledge and love for the wild varieties to the United States and named his first New Mexico restaurant in Red River Il Porcino to reflect that love.

In addition to everything we learned from Carlo, my family frequently consults guide books, though we all follow dad's maxim: "If the book says 'can be confused with…,' leave those alone!"

Mushroomers like the saying, "There are old mushroomers, and there are bold mushroomers, but there are no old, bold mushroomers." Also, "When in doubt, throw it out."

Novices can learn to tell tasty from toxic through a group like the New Mexico Mycological Society (newmexicomyco.org), an expert like a chef or other experienced mushroomer and thorough guidebooks like "All that the Rain Promises and More: a Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms" by David Arora or "Mushrooms of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mountains" by Vera Stucky Evenson.

If you are uncertain about a mushroom and want to identify your picks later, bring two collecting baskets - one for edible and one for unknown mushrooms. Place mushrooms in cloth or paper bags in a basket or other rigid container, like a tackle box. Nothing will destroy your forest finds faster than plastic bags. Don't use them.

We learned it is better to cut mushrooms above their bases to assure they'll come back next year. However, Mark Williams notes in his website, Galloway Wild Foods, "The most important ecological consideration is that the fruit body has been allowed to mature to a point where it has distributed most of its spores. A forager is more likely to damage mycelium by compacting or disturbing ground or leaf litter with their feet than by any picking technique."

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