Archive for Edible Fungi

Wood ear – an Asian cooking favourite

Wood ear mushrooms, Auricularia cornea, are often seen for sale in Asian food shops.  The grow quite widely on the east coast – I have seen them around the Lismore area, and they grow in the  Cairns area as well as in the Hunter valley, where you can find an excellent description here.

I don’t have an image in my collection, but if someone would be kind enough to donate one, I would be happy to use it and give appropriate credit.

I have not eaten this one, and don’t know how to cook it either, but would be happy to have information on this.   Cultures of these mushrooms are available in Australia, via an enthusiast, on the east coast at least.

Update 29 June 2012

I have had a kind offer of use of images from Kathy.  Here is one reproduced below.

Auricularia cornea by Kathy

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Shaggy Parasol – not worth the risk

Chorophyllum rochodes is a known as the shaggy parasol mushroom and is classed as edible.  There are many other mushrooms of similar appearance, however and I strongly discourage people from eating this genus or any of the related ones, such as Lepiota.   The risk of fatal poisoning due to a mistaken identity is real and the consequences too awful to contemplate.

Another member of the genus, Chlorophyllum molybdites (below) has a very similar appearance, but instead of white gills, they are feintly green.  It is not a deadly mushroom, but it will make you very sick and is a common cause of mushroom poisoning in North America.

I won’t elaborate further in the identification of these mushrooms, since I do not advocate even considering them for consumption.  And that says something!

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Laetiporus sulphureus – an exciting prospect

In other parts of the world Laetiporus sulphureus is known as chicken of the woods and is  considered a good edible mushroom. I had not heard of any occurence in Australia, but Ray Palmer of north Queensland has reported it growing on Eucalyptus near his home.  You can see Ray’s pictures on his Flickr site, here.

I would emphasise that I have not eaten this mushroom, and I am not aware that Ray or anyone else has either. So it is in the ‘potential’ category for the moment. But an exciting prospect!

Note 26/2/2013.  Since it is reported as edible in the comments below, I have upgraded this to the ‘edible but untried’ category.

If should be noted that the edibility of L. sulphureus depends on the substrate.   On this page, they recommend that you don’t eat it if it is growing on Eucalyptus.

If anyone has any further information on this, I would be most interested to hear about it.

Footnote:

As noted in the comments below, Forthferalz has drawn my attention to some other references to this fungus in Australia.  This picture is provided by blueswami.

I am not sure what angle this was taken at, but in comparison with other pictures, it seems to be upside down.  I think it looks more realistic like this:

There appears to be quite a wide variety of morphologies and colours for this genus.  Even in North America, where it is widely consumed, there appears to be differences between the east and west coast experiences, as well as some confusion about which species is being consumed.

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Pluteus petasatus – edible, but not great

For a few years I have noticed some mushrooms coming up after I had burned piles of branches and stumps and so on. At first, I thought these were Volvariellas, but closer inspection showed that they were Pluteus petasatus. They have quite a distinctive cap, grow in clusters and have a characteristic pink spore print.

For some reason, these mushrooms tended to grow at the base of some tall weeds that also grew after the fire. I have no idea what the basis of this association is.

David Arora records this mushroom as being the best of the genus Pluteus, but after frying some up and tasting them, I concluded that they were very similar in taste to Volvariella speciosa and are not something that I would be drawn to eat in particular. Like Volvariella, they would probably go well with some silverbeet or spinach.

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Laccocephalum mylittae – an ancient edible

After there has been a bushfire in the forests around here, and in fact in many parts of Australia, there are a number of fungi that are triggered to send up fruiting bodies. One of these is Laccocephalum mylittae  (formerly Polyporus mylittae), known in early colonial times as Blackfellow’s bread. This is because it was eaten by the Aboriginal people and it has a sclerotium with a texture rather like grains of cereal pressed together. When sliced it is dense like pumpernickel. This fungus may well have been consumed as a food for tens of millenia. It is widespread across the country.

The fungus spends most of its existance feeding on fallen or buried logs. From this woody matter it transports material to a large underground sclerotium which slowly grows in size. It is reported to grow to as large as 600 mm diameter, but the ones I have seen have been about the size of a football. The sclerotium is heavy, with an estimated relative density of 1.1. This growth may go on for 30 years or more, until there is a fire to trigger off the cycle. The sclerotium rapidly sends forth a fruiting body which is apparent at the surface of the ground within a couple of days of the fire. These are commonly seen along side fallen logs. The mushroom is fairly non-descript at first, eventually becoming more defined as it consumes the sclerotium over a period of about a month.

Here is a young mushroom with the sclerotium attached. The mushroom is white, whereas the sclerotium has a dark brown skin covering it.

One can easily imagine that the Aboriginal people would have swept through areas they had burned a couple of days earlier to harvest the scelorotiums, which can be quite numerous. Being dense, they provide a significant food source and they do not appear to decay rapidly. They can be crumbled up and dried out into something resembling a cereal grain. Whether the Aboriginal people did this is probably unknown. The picture below shows the scerotium cut open to reveal the inner texture.

It is entirely possible that this fungus could be cultivated like any other wood rotter. I have a specimen that I will attempt to clone if I have the time and inclination. It might make an interesting addition to our native food cuisine. I would describe the taste as bland, but a friend found it to be quite pleasant. It would lend itself to some creative cooking. Apparently, it has significant nutritional value.

The mature specimen is shown below. It can be seen that the mushroom has grown, while the sclerotium has become depleted.

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Phlebopus marginatus – Salmon gum bolete

Phlebopus marginatus has the largest fruiting body of any mushroom in Australia.  It is a truly spectacular mushroom.  I am including it here as it is recorded as being edible, but the sheer joy of the whole growth event may surpass any pleasure from eating it.

In Western Australia it is known as the Salmon gum bolete, and  Roger Hilton has recorded it as being edible.  The pictures below, however, are from Victoria  (thanks lizza)

It grows in rings.  These might be described as circles of giants.

The actual size of an individual mushroom can be up to a metre in diameter.  This picture shows one in comparison with a block splitter that is 800 mm in length.

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Identifying a field mushroom

Disclaimer  :  These notes are provided as a guide only.  While every attempt has been made to try to assist in the identification, the risk of eating any wild mushroom rests with the individual and I do not accept  any responsibility for consequences  that may arise from the action of anyone eating wild mushrooms.  See also the Ag department notes, Perth.  and inedibles and lookalikes

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The fungus that we know in Australia as a field mushroom is a member of the genus Agaricus.  Examples of this genus are:

Agaricus bisporus – the classic small supermarket mushroom

Agaricus bitorquis – marketed as a larger form of supermarket mushroom

Agaricus avensis – the almond mushroom

Agaricus campestris – the classic if oft mis-identified field mushroom.

This list of features has been put together to assist the average person to identify an edible field mushroom.

1.  Cap colour and texture

The cap of the edible Agaricus species varies from white though dun and on to a slightly pinkish colour in species like A.  sylvaticus.  The cap may be slightly scaley, and may be cracked.  It is always dry and is never slimy to the touch.

Any mushroom with any hint of green in the cap colour should be rejected as this is the colour of the deadly Amanita phalloides.

 top of small field mushroom, typical of those found in lawns (Dave Freer)

top of large field mushroom, similar to supermarket field mushroom (Dave Freer)

top of Agaricus arvenis, showing scales

A forest mushroom, showing red tones on the top

Top of Agaricus bitorquis.  A clean off-white, with undulations

A horse mushroom from the Riverina district of NSW.  Note scales.

A mushroom from a backyard in Penhurst, Victoria, showing some radiating spots.

A mushroom from Digby in Victoria, showing red/brown central region and radiating scales.

2.  Gill colour

The gill colour may vary from brown to pink or off-white in the young mushroom, but it will always darken to a dark brown in a mature specimen.  Never eat a mushroom with white gills.

Pink colour of immature specimen of  a small field mushroom.  Picture courtesy of Dave Freer.

 

3.  Spore print

The spore print is always dark brown.  Not pink, not rusty.  Dark brown only.

How do we take a spore print?  Easy.  Place the mushroom, or a piece of it, on a piece of waxed paper and place a glass over the top, with the edge of the jar just propped up by a matchstick or something similar to allow water vapour to escape.  Place in a position away from draughts, overnight.

A simple setup for taking spore print

A spore print of an Agaricus species

4.  The stem snaps away from the cap

The stem of an Agaricus has a texture that comprises a bundle of stringy cells running axially.  The cap has a different texture.  At the point of the junction of these two textures, there is  region where the two will break apart cleanly.  Try this for yourself with a supermarket mushroom.  Note in this mushroom the dark gill colour.

5.  Smell

Field mushrooms have a distinctive smell that is either ‘mushroomy’  due to a chemical called octenal, or almond/aniseed due to the presence of benzyl alcohol and benzaldehyde.

If the mushroom has a smell of phenol, which is the smell of India ink, or phenyl disinfectant, or sometimes described as ‘chemical’, then it should be rejected.  If in doubt,  there are two approaches you can take;  1) put the mushroom in a plastic bag for 15 minutes and then sniff the contents or  2) cook a piece of the suspect mushroom.  The bad smell will become more apparent if there is phenol present.

It is often reported that some people can tolerate eating mushrooms that contain phenol.  The only stories I have heard of such poisonings have involved the whole group of consumers.  I suspect that the truth is that some people report eating yellow staining mushrooms without ill effect, but they have in fact consumed one of the arvenses group rather than one that contains phenol.

6.  Colour of cut or bruised flesh

The colour of the cut or bruised flesh may be brown or red or yellow, or there may be no change in colour at all.  Here for example is an edible mushroom, Agaricus bitorquis, which is showing red on a cut piece.  Photo courtesy of Dave Freer.

Brown or red bruising is ok.   A yellow colour may be ok or it may indicate Agaricus xanthodermis, which will cause stomach upsets.  There is much confusion about this.  The yellow colour is an indicator of  A. xanthodermis, which contains phenol, but it does not necessarily indicate an indedible mushroom.   For a diagnosis of an indedible yellow staining mushroom, one needs to have the yellow stain in combination with a phenol smell, as mentioned above.

7. Substrate

Field mushrooms will always be found growing from some kind of soil.   They never grow directly from wood and they do not  grow in the middle of cow pats.  There are some deadly species like Galerina that grow from wood and if it is growing from a cow pat, there is a good chance that it is the notorius hallucinogenic ‘gold top’, on the east coast at least.  They do not tend to grow from wood chip or bark mulch either.

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