By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener There’s no such thing as a free lunch, so the saying goes. But Mr and Mrs Wildlife Gardener recently enjoyed a fabulous meal of sautÃ©ed boletus mushrooms courtesy of Mother Nature, gathered on one of our favourite walks. And lived to tell the tale. Wild mushrooms… eeek! Isn’t that a bit… well… dangerous? Even The Ranger himself says: ‘I’ve always been tempted and never dared.’ And true enough, if you confuse a Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) or a Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa) with a Parasol Mushroom (Lepiota procera) you will most likely meet The Reaper. There is, though, a family of mushrooms called the Boletes, which look so radically different from gilled mushrooms that you can be quite confident that you can eat the majority of the family. Instead of gills beneath the cap:
the boletes have pores like a bath sponge:
And the great thing about the boletus family is that there are no deadly poisonous ones (a couple are nasty and inedible but I’ll get onto those later), and the majority of them are edible and delicious. I have this on good advice. In the summer, I went to The Taste of London Expo, an open-air excuse to be very greedy. Top London restaurants sell samples of their best dishes for a fraction of the menu price and you just walk around filling your face. Eventually unable to face even a ‘waffeur-thin mint‘, I sat down in the demonstrations tent to watch John Wright, author of Mushrooms – River Cottage Handbook No. 1. He was lecturing about collecting wild food, including mushrooms. When he asked for questions from the audience, I put up my hand and asked him if there are any very poisonous boletes. He replied that there are no deadly ones, but three that are bit unpleasant:
- The Bitter Bolete (Tylopilus felleus) which is not strictly poisonous, but tastes worse that horrible bitter stuff your Mum used to paint on your fingernails to stop you biting them. One will ruin a whole mushroom dish if you accidentally include it in your cooking. To detect a bitter bolete, taste a tiny piece of the cap (spit it out!) and it will be noticeably bitter.
- Also Boletus calopus, another non-lethal, but very bitter bolete.
- The Devil’s Boletus (Boletus satanas). These are rare in the UK, so it is unlikely you would come across them. They have red, turning to orange pores underneath the cap and red towards the base of the stem. If eaten, they cause symptoms of food poisoning; diarrhoea and vomiting and stomach cramps. Avoid.
We are just starting out in wild mushroom foraging so I felt we were fairly safe with boletes. We saw some fungi that I’m pretty sure were field mushrooms but because they were gilled I left them, just in case. So we brought home this mushroom and some of its brothers and sisters:
It had no red or orange on its pores or stem. It had no bitterness when tasted. It was a classic Boletus edulis ” the Cep/Penny Bun/Porcini mushroom beloved of those Michelin-starred restaurants at The Taste of London. We did this with them:
And the free lunch? All it cost us was some research and cross-referencing, not to mention a bit of nervous waiting for the urge to vomit… which never came. Yum!
IMPORTANT NOTE If you are going to pick wild mushrooms to eat you MUST get at least two good books on the subject and double check and cross-refer furiously before eating a mushroom. If in any doubt, DON’T! Better still, go picking with somebody who knows what they are doing.