Archive for Edible Fungi

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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Boletes – a lost resource

“Few orders of plants appear to contribute more to the support of animal life in Western Australia.  Many species, Particularly, the genus Boletus, are used as food by the natives and directly supply no inconsiderable portion of their support for several months a year.”

James Drummond, the pioneer botanist of WA.

This quote is from an article by eminent mycologist Roger Hilton, in a short article about edible fungi he wrote in the journal Landscope in 1988.

In Western Australia there is a large number of boletes that spring up each Autumn.  Judging from overseas experience, it is likely that a lot of these are edible species, but all of the knowledge of Aboriginal consumption of these fungi sadly has been lost.

Hilton comments there are boletes that will make you sick, but none that are known to be lethal like the Amanitas.   However, there has been one recorded case of a fatality from eating a bolete.  In this case it was from muscarine in the mushroom. 

From time to time, I experiment with some of the many boletes that spring up on my property.  My standard test is to lightly fry a few small slices in some oil and do a taste test.   By this means, I have been able to eliminate a few as being too revolting to consider.   There remain others that are tantalisingly tasty.  I tried one a few hours ago.   It was a handsome specimen with firm white flesh and a black cap.   When cooked in this way, it produced a wonderful tasting type of crisp.  So far, I am feeling no ill effects from the very small pieces that I tasted.   But this is not for the faint-hearted!   Over the years, by cautious exploration, I hope to be able to find one or two boletes that are edible.  I would rather be using a gas chromatograph for the initial assessments, however.

Presently, the only boletes that are known to be edible are the Slippery Jacks and Phlebopus marginatus, the Salmon Gum mushroom which often appears in the news because of it’s giant size.

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Coprinus comatus – The shaggy ink cap

This mushroom is not a native, but it grows in Australia.  It is often found in parks and on waste ground and once established in a patch of ground, they will come up year after year.  Often, they favour grassed areas where the grass clippings are allowed to rot down in situ.  The one below is on the edge of the local football oval where it comes up each year with the onset of the first rains and continues to fruit through winter.

These mushrooms, in common with all the members of the genus, self-decompose into a black inky mess.   The one above is beginning to go through that process and the one below is well into it.

For culinary purposes, the mushrooms need to be picked before the decomposition process has set in.  Decomposing specimens need to be kept apart from fresh ones.   They can be kept in iced water in the fridge for about half a day to avoid onset of the decomposition reaction.

For years I tried to incorporate these mushrooms into dishes without much success.  They always turned into a horrible slimy mess.  Then someone explained the trick.  You need to slice them and then toss them in a pan for a while on low heat until they have lost a good proportion of their moisture.  After that, they can be cooked as you would a normal mushroom.  The de-watering step ensures that they remain firm during the cooking process.

It is also possible to dry these mushrooms if you happen to have a dryer, or if the weather is sunny.  Drying must be done to the point of crispness.  Once dried, they can be used to impart a distinctive flavour to dishes.

Some members of the genus contain a compound that reacts with alcohol in the same way the the drug antabuse does.  This particular species, however, does not contain anything that interacts adversely with alcohol.

Footnote May 2011. I found a large patch of these growing nearby a few days ago and picked several kilograms of them. In order to handle them quickly, I decided to chop them and render them down to a soup in a stainless steel pot. It was an expensive pot with a copper insert in the base and I bought it for making jam. They rendered down nicely and I left the pot on the stove overnight, then decanted it into two smaller containers in the morning. The resultant mix had a pleasant, almost sweet smell. However, upon tasting a small sample of soup made from the mix, my senses were soon overcome by an unpleasant metallic taste. Research suggests that this is 1-octene-3-one. I can still taste it after 24 hours and two intervening meals. I have never tasted anything with such a persistant after taste. So that is something to be wary of with this mushroom. I have dried a smaller sample of them, and will investigate their taste with caution.

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Agrocybe parasitica

At the top of my list of edible mushrooms that I have not tried is Agrocybe parasitica.  That is because it is a large mushroom and can occur in fairly large clusters.  It should also be possible to cultivate this mushroom.

 

Above picture is courtesy of Reiner

Various sources disagree with respect to the edibility of this mushroom.  None list it as poisonous, but some advise caution.  On the other hand, Watling and Taylor (1987) describe it as an excellent edible.  Their description can be found here.

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Truffles – the new crop of the region

In this corner of Western Australia, black truffles are becoming big business.   Although the soil requires quite a bit of lime to bring up the pH, they are growing exceptionally well here, with some of the biggest specimens in the world coming from a farm about 20 kilometers away from me.  I have a small plantation of innoculated oaks and hazelnuts that are years away from providing a harvest, but I live in hope.  This is an example of a truffle that I purchased locally.  It cost around $100.

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Tricholomopsis rutilans – plums and (dis)custard –

Some mushrooms that are listed as edible might be better listed as non-poisonous.   I did try a little bit of one of these plums and custard mushrooms which are considered edible in Europe, but it was truly disgusting, with a taste like mud – yuk!

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Morchella – The morel, a worldwide favourite

This mushroom is a favourite right around the world.   Most people in Western Australia are completely unaware of it, however.  I have found it in quite a few situations, but nothing quite compared with the crops that emerged from pine bark mulch next to a limestone wall at Golden Bay, to the south of Perth over a period of 3 years.  There were thousands of them. They are always quoted as a spring mushroom, but I found these large crops in mid-winter (June/July).

I didn’t get photographs of the outcropping, unfortunately as it was before digital cameras were an everyday item.  But I did get this one picture of a single specimen.  There is a better image of one on this site.

And, just in case you don’t believe the  numbers of morels that I picked, here is a jar full of dried ones.   BTW, if drying morels, do it as fast as possible to prevent any other organisms taking hold.

I have found a single morel growing in the karri forest right next to my place, and they are reported as being common in Spring through the jarrah forests of the SW.  They are not uncommon in suburban Perth, and friends have shown me examples cropping up in their back yards.

It is quite easy to culture these from a piece of the inside of the hollow stem, using standard techniques.   The ones I have cultures like this have been very vigorous growers.  However, moving  from culture to fruiting body is not a simple task and has defeated many highly skilled mycologists, as well as me.

I have eaten a lot of these, my favourite recipe being morels stuffed with crab meat cooked in a cream sauce.  The only problem I found was that it was almost impossible to wash the sand out of the crenulations.  WA is a sandy place.  To be perfectly honest, though I find them to be pleasant to eat, I can’t understand the frenzy that they induce in places like the US, in May.

When I had a lot of them, I tried to sell some to restaurants around Perth.  Most of them had never seen a morel!

Note: June 2011. The morels in the picture above have been identified as Morchella rufobrunnea, by DNA matching through the assistance of morel expert Philippe Clowez. This appears to be the first record of this species in Australia. Previous specimens have come from Mexico, Israel, The Canary Isands. The habitat where these were found is remarkably similar to that described for the other specimens, even down to the presence of olive trees in one case. The unusual timing of the fruiting appears to be another feature in common with the overseas versions. Thank you Philippe.

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