Out of the ashes of last year's devastating fires grows a culinary delicacy.
Last year was hard on our state. Wildfires raged across several of our beautiful mountain ranges, taking out old growth and beetle kill forests as they spread, breaking our hearts along the way.
But nature is always waiting to give us a few surprises. Like the Phoenix from the ashes, the fires usher the way for new growth, and the emergence of one rare treat: fire morels.
Fire morels, or burn morels, only occur the year after large burns. There are the things of legend, with people hearing of them but never getting a chance to pick or savor them. But this year, they are popping up through ashy forest floors, including the burn area of the Spring Creek fire near La Veta. It burned over 108,000 acres, putting it squarely in the top three biggest fires in the state. That also gives quite a bit of space for these rare mushrooms to grow.
"Avid mushroom hunters will tell you that fire is essential for finding morels. These fungi, distinguishable for their dark, honeycomblike caps, pop out of the ground by the bushel in spring after a large wildfire," says washington.edu, adding that why these morels grow after a fire is still a bit of ecological mystery.
The fire morels are highly coveted for their uniqueness, as well as for their meaty texture and umami flavoring. The earthy, nutty flavor even wins over those who claim not to be into mushrooms. Not to mention they are loaded with nutrients. Because they are so hard to find, you'll often find the morel family of mushroom in fine dining and expensive dishes.
According to UntamedFeast.com, there are a few tricks to finding these little gifts of nature.
"Fire morels like pine, and spruce, but if you are in a burn, look on the outer edge, or for patches where the trees are not charred, we call this the soft burn. They like where the needle bed is reddish and are often in between tree roots or the shade of fallen timber. You won’t have much luck where regrowth has taken off, that is where the ground has already ‘greened up’. The more mosquitos biting the more likely you are to find morels."
Fire morels are reaching the end of their season, but other Colorado mushrooms are literally ripe for the picking this time of year (puffballs are a personal favorite).
If you aren't experienced at mushroom hunting, it's best to learn what you are looking for before you go. It's a growing hobby that offers a lot of fun-gi! Check out the Colorado Mycology Society website for more information, foraging events, identification workshops, and so much more.
As always, share your thoughts with us in the comments below.