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Gone shroomin' 

Fungi festivals and forays planned statewide

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Ready to hunt Smurf? August brings together teams of mycophilic enthusiasts and fungi loyalists via The Telluride Mushroom Festival and other southern Colorado mushroom gatherings. Head shop frequenters rejoice! But beware: The type of mushrooms that many readers seek won't be the aim of these celebrations. No, these events center themselves more on the identification, culinary application and medicinal aspects of our spore friends.

Telluride hosts the largest and most active festival, complete with nationally renowned mushroom experts; a silly, costumed mushroom parade; and a cooking competition, among other activities. Now in its 25th year, the fungi festival initially started as a practical, medicinal inquiry into the mushroom's benefits, then split into Apollonian/ Dionysian camps -- the latter winning out and evolving into the current gala. The festival prides itself on informing people about edible, psychoactive and poisonous mushrooms.

"We're largely a mycophobic culture, which is quite the opposite of the Eastern Europeans, for example," said Jason Salzman, organizer and son of Telluride Mushroom Festival founder Emanuel Salzman. "It's not as common here to see families out hunting wild mushrooms together in the woods. There's paranoia about the poisonous types, although nobody has actually died from mushrooms in Colorado. Our goal is to educate people about mushrooms and their various facets, to open their eyes to mushrooms' presence in our world."

Though most people are quite familiar with the fungi offerings of generic supermarkets, many are unaware of the nutritional and medicinal benefits found in the multitudes of other mushrooms. Immune stimulation, cancer prevention and aphrodisiac properties are a few of mushroom enthusiasts' beneficial claims, and there's psychoactive journeying for those whose aim is of the recreational/spiritual nature. Doctor Atkins would give 'shrooms a good review, as they are composed mostly of water and, for their weight, yield high protein and low carbohydrate ratios, though they don't alone suffice for a surviving diet if lost in the woods.

"There will of course be no illegal substances at our festival," assured Salzman, "though we create a platform by which people can discuss their personal experiences with the psychoactive aspects of mushrooms. Part of the education comes from drawing a line between the food, drug and poison nature of different types of mushrooms.

"My family has been hunting mushrooms for years," he said. "We used to look for butterflies, but then my sister got sad about killing them and pinning them down -- so we started looking for wild mushrooms."

If Telluride and psilocybin chat seems too much to handle for a weekend, try a day trip to Creede or South Fork to participate in a mushroom foray. South Fork offers a foray focused on the identification and collection of native Colorado mushrooms, and Creede will host a similar foray into the woods, followed by a how-to informational meeting regarding the best methods for cooking up your day's spoils into lovely meals. Mycologist Larry Renshaw will be on hand to inform patrons and will also present a slide show on the evening of the first day. Both forays offer two days' worth of searching the woods, but space is limited. Reservations are suggested.

The following recipe utilizes one of Colorado's more common wild mushrooms, the porcini.

Sencha Porcini Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tarte Tatin

1 pound fresh porcini mushrooms

4 cloves fresh garlic

4 ounces goat cheese

8 tablespoons butter

2 sheets puff pastry (frozen works well and is easy to use, but if you are a purist, make your own)

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Thaw puff pastry and have 8 ramekins ready to fill. Cut out 8 tops for ramekins from pastry. Set aside. Next, clean and slice porcini. Place 3 ounces of sliced mushrooms in each ramekin, top with a clove of garlic and 1 tablespoon butter. Place pastry top on ramekin and cook on sheet tray for 30-35 minutes in 350-degree oven. Remove from oven and carefully invert on to a plate. Lift ramekin -- crust will be on the bottom -- sprinkle with goat cheese crumbles, salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

-- Recipe compliments of Chef Brent Beavers, Sencha, 331 S. Nevada Ave.

-- Matthew Schniper

Telluride Mushroom Festival

Presented by Fungophile

Aug. 19-22, 2004

$295 per person, includes entry to all lectures and workshops and all meals

Call 303/296-9359 or go online to www.shroomfestival.com

South Fork Mushroom Foray

Meet at the South Fork Community Building at 8:30 a. m. to catch 9 a. m. carpools. Returns at 2:30 p.m. Bring lunch and collection tools.

Aug. 20-21, 2004. $5 per person/day.

Call 719/873-5512 for more.

Creede Mushroom Foray

Meet at the Underground Community Center at 8:30 a.m. Returns early afternoon. Bring lunch, water and collection tools. Meeting to follow lunch; 7 p.m. slide show with $2 suggested donation.

Aug. 20-21, 2004

$25 per day or $40 for both days for adults; $15 per day or $25 for both days for children 14 and under accompanied by an adult

Call 719/658-2374 or e-mail creede@amigo.net to reserve a space

Random mushroom fun fact: If you didn't already know, the mushroom that sprouts above the ground is simply the flowering part of a deeper root system.

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