The Larch Boletus

When I lived in London,  I used to pick a lot of wild mushrooms, the parks, and the Surrey woodlands were full of them.

My mother was good on identification, my aunts and uncles too, the knowledge passed on from one generation to another, backed up by books and photos.  I have some, not altogether reassuring, memories of my female relatives arguing over a particularly luridly coloured specimen, saying,

‘Of course, this is a good one! ’

and then to my horror, chewing little bits and pulling faces and spitting them out….

…anyway, all I can say is that no one died and no one got ill, though I have met plenty of people who claim to know someone who knows someone who died of eating mushrooms.  Of course,  there are headline grabbing deadly mushrooms, like the Destroying Angel – what a name!  And there are mushrooms that will make you very sick and people do die from eating them every year. You can look up the statistics on these things, though what they don’t say is how many people safely and responsibly pick wild mushrooms each year.

If you want to pick mushrooms you need to find someone to show you which ones are good and far more importantly which ones are bad and also which ones have look-alikes that can be confused. You need to read, study, and observe. There are maybe a dozen ‘good’ mushrooms that I am certain of;  any I don’t know I leave them where they grow.  There are books, on-line resources, fungi groups, all sorts of places to find out more.  Take your time and do your homework.

In some European countries you can take your mushrooms to be identified by an expert before eating them, as far as I know we don’t have that service here.

A few days ago walking the dogs in a glade of larches, we found these little beauties, called larch boletus or sulleius grevellei …… They only grow under larch trees; hence the name. Of course other fungi grow under larch trees, so you need to know the other characteristics of the mushroom as well.  We picked a pound of them and took them home, where I cleaned them up, double checked my identification with Roger Phillips  and various other reliable references and made duxelles with them as in Antonio Carluccio’s A Passion for Mushrooms.

Duxelles are a very simple way to store and freeze all mushrooms: slice some onions, fry them gently, add a little nutmeg if you like it and then add the cleaned and sliced mushrooms and cook them gently. Once the liquid has evaporated, you let them cool down and then either chop them finely and freeze in an ice cube tray so you can pop them in a bag and use them to enrich soups and stews, or just freeze them as they are. Some mushrooms dry well or can be pickled but Carluccio doesn’t recommend that for the larch boletus. This mushroom is good, but not one of the greats like porcini or morels!

So I put some in the freezer for a risotto in a few weeks time, and kept a few to go with our dinner adding a little garlic, lemon juice, parsley and cream. The sweet and earthy aroma of these mushrooms is like nothing else….together with a few of our tender garden charlotte potatoes, a piece of locally raised sirloin steak from Cotswold Edge Farm,  some bright and joyful english runner beans. That was a great supper!

Do you have any special dishes you like to make with mushrooms?

23 thoughts on “The Larch Boletus

  1. Tutak

    Nutmeg! How could you? We saw lots and lots of lovely mushrooms in the woods in Normandy, and I mourned the fact that you were not around to advise…..must get myself a beginner’s guide next time as I am sure many were delicious. We get the odd fairy circle in the communal garden where a tree once stood in the middle of the lawn…can we eat them? I will have to photograph and send…

  2. Christine

    Fabulous post, Jo! I love the idea of sauteeing the mushrooms and then freezing them for later use. You are very fortunate being in the Northern Hemisphere, where so many more varieties of fungi have been identified. In Australia, there are only a relatively small number that are ‘safe’ to pick, with so many unidentified species still yet to be named! We enjoyed some lovely wild mushrooms over autumn, although I only feel comfortable picking a handful of different types for consumption (definitely not the type of activity to take risks in!). I was thinking that the Morels should be out in our area soon and it would be great to find someone in the know to go foraging with. Enjoy your mushrooms! :)

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Christine, I think it’s a very complicated business, especially as they do vary from country to country. I’ve heard about the many unidentifed ones in Australia, but like you I am only happy picking the ones I know and I am very very careful. I”ve never found morels though and I know there is a ‘false morel’ which you need to be able to distinguish from the true ones, which are variable in appearance. Chanterelles are the same, having a ‘false chanterelle’ counterpart. I hope you find someone in your area to go with!

  3. GillthePainter

    That’s a rare talent you have there, Joanna.

    I was walking in a wooded copse with a friend of mine and her French husband, and none of us was able to identify the mushrooms we saw there. So there they remained unharvested.

    I’ve got a delicious Spanish lamb cutlet recipe, using mushrooms as the lamb stuffing.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      I like the sound of Spanish mushroom stuffed cutlets Gill!

      Mushrooms have a way of looking interesting but just a little sinister, it’s their reputation after all.

  4. heidiannie

    I have picked the wild morrels, near a creek where I grew up. They are so gritty it is a chore to clean them, but well worth the effort, as later you cook them with butter, olive oil, and a little garlic.
    I like your taste and style, Joanna!

  5. cityhippyfarmgirl

    I think its great being able to identify the edible ones, to make whole meals out of what you have found- even better. If I was mushroom hunting I would go for the prettiest one, and obviously that would be a big no to eat.
    I always like hearing of anything to do with Antonio Carluccio, he has an enthusiasm that is hard to match.

  6. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

    I’ve only ever had dried morrels Heidi, though I have read about their ability to hold tons of grit in their structure, maybe one day I will find some… butter, olive oil and garlic, perfect I agree :)

    I was just reading about your anniversary meal Brydie…. Wow! Sounds absolutely fabulous! Oh I should say that over at yours. Sorry!

  7. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

    Jo, they look glorious, but like others, I’m too scared to pick any wild mushrooms to eat! I do have wonderful mushroom ladies at the markets though, and they always keep treasures for me – last week it was oyster and enoki mushrooms. I actually slice up mushrooms – usually Swiss browns, because there seems to always be a lot of those at the markets – and freeze them for later use. Works really well, and we then just open the packet and throw them into the frying pan to make mushrooms on toast.

    Hmmm. I adore mushrooms – now I feel like making mushroom soup.. :)

    Celia x

  8. sallybr

    Indeed, you do have a rare talent, I am beyond impressed. My neighbor is a Russian man, in his mid sixties, who knows (apparently) every single type of mushroom on Earth – sometimes we are lucky enough to get a big bag of wild mushrooms he finds in his lake house upstate New York.

    Great post!

  9. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

    Celia, quite right – food shouldn’t be scary – did you see what Christine said above about all the unidentifed mushrooms you have in Australia?

    Sally, how wonderful to have a neighbour like that ! I don’t think I am that talented on the mushroom front, a bit like all my enthusiasms, I know enough to be alive still and stay safe but I wouldn’t want to teach anyone how to do it. You can buy oyster and shitake growing kits I believe, though I imagine they are quite pricey.

  10. Choclette

    What a great find. We usually manage to find a handful of mushrooms each year, so a one off meal of garlic mushrooms on toast or if we’re really lucky a mushroom risotto. Very occasionally we’ve come across a giant puffball and that is soooo delicious – just a slice simply fried in butter – yum.

  11. theinversecook

    Wow, that is courageous and I look up to people who identify mushrooms and then eat them. My aunt told me a story about a neighbour whose family was single-handedly wiped out by a couple of mushrooms. Iit seems that people like to tell those extreme stories to keep people from running through the woods and eating them like raspberries. I wonder if a dog’s nose can be trained to identify good from bad ones (like truffle dogs).

  12. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

    @ Choclette, I like the giant puffball too, though I haven’t seen one for a few years now.

    @ the inversecook I think of myself as cautious when it comes to wild mushrooms, not courageous, like my aunts! The stories are true, people do die from eating poisonous mushrooms and poisonous berries and so on. It is not a risk free pastime, but then there are plenty of other risky activities that people enjoy that don’t arouse such angst. The fear that makes people kick mushrooms to pieces is quite strange. Pickers and kickers and walk on by-ers. I am usually a walk on by-er on a typical outing to the woods, I rarely go out these days specifically to look for mushrooms.

    1. theinversecook

      Yes, it is usually the over-cautious that do much more damage to nature and the environment then people who are aligned with it.

      1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

        I had to think about that one :) But I think you have a good point there! I’m going to be brave now and offer my tuppenceworth: I think certain commercial interests do more damage on the macro scale to nature and the environment than anyone and these institutions are not over-cautious just greedy, selfish and short-sighted above all; but then we ‘benefit’ from their activities, so we are all damaging the environment – whatever we aspire to in our intentions, the reality is somewhat different… I think it’s a numbers game; if everyone went out and picked mushrooms, natural selection would take out the stupid ones, bad luck would take out a few more people, but if too many people picked them, there would be degradation of the eco-system and very few mushrooms left to grow peacefully in the woods, doing their essential work breaking down organic matter….

        1. theinversecook

          Natural selection by mushrooms :-) I think an awareness and perhaps slight change of consciousness is already making a change, even if our actions seem to run the treadmills of large industries just a little longer. People are starting to realize that a change can only happen from within. Going into nature, enjoying it, seeing it. Those are the moments that can transform people. Or being with animals, seeing their one-ness with the moment, those are great lessons.

          1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

            I hope that change of consciousness will be enough Nils, maybe you are more aware of it than I am, one’s perspective shifts as one ages, and it’s hard to be optimistic sometimes.

            One-ness with the moment in all things would be heaven indeed :)

  13. drfugawe

    Tomorrow is my first fall outing for ‘shrooms (Oregon, U.S.) – We had our first rain of the fall last week, which always kicks off the season – so… I’m expecting to find them. I’ll be looking for chanterelles, which is our most available eatable variety. I use your “safe” procedure when gathering – if it’s not familiar, just ignore it.

    I have recently discovered a new way of preparing mushrooms (should work with any kind) – after cleaning them, slice in half, and place in a bowl – and sprinkle with a goodly dose of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (2 Tbs of each per lb of mushrooms) – let rest for 10-15 mins, tossing a few times. Meanwhile heat your oven to 450 degrees F – when oven is ready, move mushrooms to a flat baking pan with sides – slip pan into top third of oven, for five mins, at which time, remove mushrooms from oven and stir well – return them once more to hot oven for another 5 mins – repeat this process until mushrooms are done to your satisfaction. The ideal state of doneness is when mushrooms start to singe on outside edges, but are not yet shrinking (if you leave them in there too long, they WILL shrink away to rubbery lumps!). This will probably take 10 mins, maybe more – but it may be done at 5 mins – best to taste one! When they’re done, add salt to taste, if you wish.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Good Luck! Chanterelles are not so plentiful in my part of the world, though when you do find them, they tend to be abundant, such a pretty mushroom with its apricot like smell and hint of pepper. I think they’re called Pfferfferlingen in German?

      I love the sound of your baked mushrooms Drfugawe, a sort of hot mushroom vinaigrette, the flavours must be intensified by the process, I will definitely try that soon. :)

  14. In a Welsh Garden

    I LOVE this post – absolutely fascinating. I have a couple of identification books for mushrooms , plus the well known foragers handbook published by Collins ‘Food For Free’ but I am not sure that I would trust myself to accurately ID a mushroom…So I agree with first comment:you are very brave -and obviously know your stuff a lot better than I know mine : )

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Hi inawelsh I haven’t picked any more mushrooms to take home since then, though I have seen plenty that I wasn’t sure about. I content myself with taking their photos.

      I am so pleased you like the post :) I keep wanting to call you something else like Joey’s Mum, or Lurker Nurturer or even Harlequin Defender, speaking of which they have all vanished :)

      Now, I tried to reply to this via email, but maybe that sends the reply to you by email, I though it would make it appear here, but obviously it doesn’t. Live and learn and Happy Birthday wishes by the way!

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