Teton Mushrooms In The Wild
Summertime lures many different hobbyists, vacationers, and professionals to the Teton Valley creating one of the most diverse human landscapes in the lower 48 States! However, one thing that all these visitors have in common when they arrive is that they must eat, especially once they find that adaptation to high altitude may have increased their metabolism! The local farming and foods scene here is impressive, but, significantly, the Teton Valley is also a great place to go hunting, fishing, and foraging for wild foods!
The native peoples in this area harvested a variety of wild animals, fish, plants, and pine nuts for their summertime ration, but while all of these potential human food sources are delicious and productive, there is no Kingdom of Nature in which one can find quite so many wonderful and complex flavors as in the Mushroom Kingdom!
The well-known morel provides a meaty texture and mild flavor which actually intensifies if the mushrooms are dried before re-hydrating and cooking. Morel season begins perhaps as early as late April and continues into mid-June. They can be found under conifers, amidst young Aspen trees, amongst Cottonwoods near riverbanks, and in other secret, undisclosed locations. The secret motherlode spots, also known as Honey Holes, can produce 10, 20, 30 pounds of mushrooms or more! The best-known black morels are generally a bit smaller and more flavorful, while blonds and greys can be almost 12” long and usually have a slightly milder flavor.
During the height of summer and into fall, King Boletes—also known as cepes in France and porcini in Italy—can be found at higher elevations in the Tetons and other Rocky Mountain ranges, often associated with Englemann Spruce trees in moister areas. Featuring a mushy “sponge” under the mushroom cap, some chefs prize the “sponge” as the most flavorful part for making broth. The stem and cap have a great flavor and also a great toothsome texture. This mushroom alone can turn any plain potato or rice dish into the deepest, most savory gourmet feast.
Also often associated with spruce trees and growing in the Teton area forests are the famed orange Chanterelles, the almond/marzipan-scented and -flavored large white Horse mushroom, the maple-syrup flavored Orange Club fungus, the fairly-middlin’ in flavor but always abundant Orange Milkys, and, one of my
favorites, the Hedgehog (also known as Sweet Tooth). Most singular of all is the venerated Matsutake.
In meadows one can find Meadow Mushrooms which are much richer tasting but similar looking to common store-variety white button mushrooms; Giant Puffballs which can reach the size of basketballs and weigh 5 pounds or more; and Shaggy Manes which taste good, but must be picked young and cooked within a day or two before they auto-digest (dissolve themselves with enzymes) into a black inky liquid.
I challenge any chef to utilize only meats, fish, and vegetables and make a dish as flavorful as anything which also includes wild mushrooms! I think it can’t be done. Altogether there are at least 20 species of good or choice edibles which grow in the Teton area forests and fields.
If you’d like to continue the conversation, come up to Grand Targhee and meet one of our great Naturalists or dig deep in the natural world of mushrooms on wikipedia.
Words By: Zarrin Leff