The Wrong Bolete...
This is not a foragers bucket list kind of mushroom, it’s more of a “Damn! Still no Ceps, I’ll just eat this bolete instead…” kind of mushroom. At least, that’s how it was for me.
These mushrooms, collectively referred to as Bolete, are characterised by the traditional toadstool shape but a porous, spongy underside rather than gills. The most sought after (among foragers) being the Boletus edulis, commonly known as the Cep (from French cèpe), Penny Bun (due to it’s appearance) or Porcino/i (Italian).
The Boletaceae Family
It is a very important rule NOT to eat any mushroom (or plant) until you are absolutely confident of identification and edibility.
In some cases, it’s crucial to be able to identify the species of mushroom exactly, in order to avoid eating a poisonous lookalike but for some you only need to be familiar with the genus or family.
The Boletaceae family were categorised into three main genera: Boletus, Leccinum and Suillus, which was reasonably accessible to a novice like me. But in recent years the mycologists have been busy with their microscopes and have complicated the subject way beyond my comprehension!
Some of my favourite books and resources are now outdated which makes it quite difficult to research various species, as I have to keep checking different names depending on publication dates. MUSHROOMS AND TOADSTOOLS OF BRITAIN AND EUROPE (Volume 1) by Geoffrey Kibby is the most comprehensive, up to date book I own, and includes over 90 Boletaceae species (though, doesn’t include edibility).
Rules of thumb are not usually advised when it comes to mushroom edibility, most of them are dangerously false and even the more reliable ones have exceptions.
It’s also important to remember that rules of edibility are usually specific to location; My knowledge of identifying edible mushrooms applies to known UK species and if I were to try to apply that knowledge in other parts of the world, I might easily poison myself with an non UK species that I’ve never heard of!
Having said that, with some experience and research, you can safely eat mushrooms from certain genera without identifying them to exact species.
I’ve been learning about mushrooms for about twenty months and am just gaining the confidence to begin applying these rules and tasting some of this genera with less than 100% certainty of species.
Know Your Trees
This group of fungi are mostly mycorrhizal, having a symbiotic relationship with trees or plants. Quite often, the trees nearby offer important identification clues.
As the name suggests, this grows with Birch, along with several other similar species. Others don’t seem to have such a specific preference but will always be found near trees.
Other Identification Features
This is what I’ve learned so far, I hope it’s helpful but remember that I’m not an expert, so please do your own research, I’ll include some useful links at the end.
When you find a Bolete, take a photo in situ, I prefer to take it from ground level, before picking it.
Notice the habitat, what kind of trees are growing nearby?
Take photos of (or note/draw) the top of the cap, the stem, the pore surface (notice any bruising/colour change).
Cut a cross section, right through the whole mushroom, including the stem, and observe any colour changes. Some will instantly change colour, quite vividly, others may very slowly change. There may be different colour changes in different parts of the mushroom.
Smell it. Leccinum don’t generally have any distinctive scent but it’s a good habit to get into as it can be an important clue in some mushrooms.
Leccinum, (which includes Brown Birch Bolete, Orange Birch Bolete, Blushing Bolete, Hazel Bolete, to name a few) is generally considered to be edible through the genus, with some described as more worthwhile than others.
It’s worth being aware that we’re still very much learning when it comes to wild mushrooms, species that were long considered edible have later been found to be toxic. Also, some people just react badly to some foods, so caution is always advised.
Lot’s of people eat Leccinum mushrooms without any issues but whilst researching for this post, I came across some possible doubt on absolute safety of this genus.
It is advised to try a small amount when consuming a wild plant or mushroom for the first time. Some mushrooms can cause issues if under cooked, luckily, I prefer my mushrooms well done.
One of the key characteristics of Leccinum is woolly dark scales (scabers) on the stems….
Now, this is the part where I begin to curse myself for not taking adequate photos!
You don’t really need to know about this part… I could just return from the hour scrolling through my photos, swearing and muttering and getting distracted by other photos and carry on writing like nothing ever happened…
But, I’ll be honest, I don’t have a decent stem photo. I’m an idiot!
Here’s a random selection of Boletes instead…
Proof Of Pudding
I felt confident that I’d identified my mushroom as either a Brown Birch Bolete or something close enough to be edible and definitely not poisonous.
Descriptions of edibility were not massively positive…
Roger Phillips described them as: Edible but not worthwhile.
Wild Foods UK wrote, simply: Disappointing.
Ironically, when you are expecting disappointment you are less likely to be disappointed and more likely to be pleasantly surprised.
That was the case for me with the Brown Birch Bolete. I only brought home one cap to try and initially just fried four thin slices. I cooked them very well and tentatively tasted them… hmm, not bad.
I decided to cook the rest of it up with some chestnut mushrooms to eat with my breakfast and it was quite enjoyable.
Only a few days later, I came across a lovely patch of bolete, near Oak, and as there were so many, I thought it a good chance to sample bolete number two…
The closest I could get to ID, with some help from the lovely members of facebook group, Mushroom Spotters UK, was either Xerocomus ferrugineus or Xerocomus subtomentosus.
X. subtomentosus goes by the common name Suede Bolete, X. ferrugineus is rarely referred to by a common name but the British Mycological Society give the common name of Rusty Bolete (and list it as Boletus ferrugineus).
Close enough for me. Feeling more confident after my first taste of Bolete, I cooked up a nice portion of these and ate them with some sauteed Cabbage and Mashed Potato.
I enjoyed these mushrooms and so did my friend, who I shared a plateful with but it’s worth noting, perhaps, that we both felt a little strange the following day… Nothing alarming but just a slight off-ness. Maybe unrelated but it’s good to be aware.
Keen eyed mushroom enthusiasts may notice another, more well known, edible mushroom in the photos above… Yes, just after we found this little group, we stumbled across one lone CEP!
We couldn’t find any more despite looking for some time, so we just added it to the pan.
However, only a few days later, we happily became better acquainted with the much sought after edible.
More about that soon…
Links To Further Reading/Resources
Thank you for reading and please feel free to share your own knowledge, experience and other thoughts below.
Please remember that I am just a forager, learning, exploring and sharing. If you choose to eat any wild plants and mushrooms, make sure to do your research thoroughly before consumption.