The Last of the Great Porcinis

Fresh from the mountainside, a haul of porcinis.

In a few months I’ll be cross-country skiing while humming Christmas carols—a sobering thought.

A varmint got here first.

So like everyone else in my valley I’m madly squeezing in every last drop of outdoor activity while the sun shines warmly. That means golf and fly-fishing, gardening and mushrooming. A world of porcinis (boletus) still awaits me on the mountains, but the weather is getting drier (not good for mushrooms, which are mainly water), and the ‘shrooms are getting bigger and mushier, more likely to have been marked by a toothy chipmunk or other small animal, less suitable for my purposes.

Two perfect porcinis.

There are plenty of fine specimins still to be found, and I’m trying to forage every week now. That’s hard while preparing to co-lead a trip to Israel and Jordan in a couple of months and to teach adult Sunday School starting in just a few weeks, plus heading to a fishing competition in northwestern Canada in days. Things like bike rides and dinners out have to wait until mushroom season ends, and I schedule every week’s activities with an eye toward what I’m less likely to be able to do the next week.

But when I’m on the mountain, I cover more territory now. Seasonal campers are long gone, the sputtering roar of dirt bikes has fallen silent, and fewer foragers have pulled off onto the side of the dirt road. I show the same courtesy while mushoroming that my fly-fishing guide does while maneuvering his boat, never cutting in front of another forager/angler to steal his/her territory. Fewer foragers means more ground to cover politely.

But mushrooms like these are scarce commodities—and high-priced ingredients on the open market—that flavor soups and sauces when the snowflakes fly. They bring a little summer richness into the white bleakness of winter and remind me of warmer days, sweeter scents (snow doesn’t have a scent), bigger adventures. Mushrooming is an Easter-egg hunt for adults. You never know what you’ll find.

Waiting for the dehydrator.

So looking ahead and given that my divorce from turkey is finalized, I’m serving Wagyu tenderloin for Thanksgiving, complete with sherry-porcini gravy (and a few dried currants from my bushes). So I’m slicing mushrooms to dehydrate (I feel like such a Mountain Mama), as well as quartering small ones to freeze. I’m queen of the slow-cooker in the colder months, and I’ll be thankful for the harvest I’ve put away. (My husband will be thankful, too. He’s a fan of good food.)

Waiting for the freezer

And when I taste that deep, earthy porcini flavor I’ll think of days scrambling up cutaways in the forest and mountain-goating down steep slopes with far less grace. I’ll remember the scent of warm pine and spruce, the chattering of small mammals, the stomp of big game somewhere up in the trees. The quiet camaraderie of fellow foragers, the joy of finding a field, the excitment in of carrying a heavy bag (five gallons is the daily limit) of porcini back to the vehicle. The knowledge that by foraging, I’m engaging in a practice that’s as old as time.

And I’ll dream of next August and September, when these babies pop up through the organic material on the forest floor. I’ll remember friendships I’ve made and shared while foraging in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, where I’m fortunate to live year-round.

A pircini in situ.

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