Stories : After the Rain

Mushroom hunting is a contact sport. Somewhere up in the ski basin, a slick aspen gave me one in the ribs and now they swing back and forth like old west saloon doors. A few minutes later I could breathe again and came across a spring king bolete, one of the many varieties that could be called porcini, which took some of the sting out of the expedition. Coming down the mountain, it hurt to laugh and hurt to breathe. Breathing I could do without but laughing is difficult. Jaimie said something funny and I nearly died.

There is a book everyone recommends called All the Rain Promises and More whose picture on the front of the author goofing around is enough of an endorsement. The classic experience of a neophyte hunter is to find some mystery mushroom in abundance on a hike, taking a picture for later, and then, when drinking wine at home and thumbing through the book, to realize it was something excellent like a lobster mushroom. This fuels the next trip, and I found myself checking the weather and hoping for rain.

Rallying several days later, and with a new awareness of mushroom hunting and its attendant dangers, I went back for more, to the Jemez this time. Turns out the massive, slightly sodden porcini was child’s play. The bigger ones tend to have worms and lose some of their flavor. Finding some fresh, smaller ones I realized there was another level to it. What an idiot I was last week, thinking I’d scored. The plan of attack for foraging is to make like a fish hook—go deep on trail, and then off piste in some direction. We pulled ourselves up a steep crevasse, avoiding all slick aspens, and finally plateaued in a good patch, dotted with boletes and fly amanita, which are poisonous but look cool. Finally some use for the old mushroom knife, to trim the ends and to brush off the dirt.

I had been wanting some wood ears, since I love to make them in a cold salad, and ran my eyes and hands along downed trees for those slimy little things until I found some. Boiled for two minutes then plunged into ice water, the wood ears go so well with a little minced garlic, chile, shoyu, rice vinegar, and a drizzle of sesame oil. We seem to either find too many (spending all weekend drying porcini) or too few, in this case the latter, but it was just enough to savor.