Archive for March, 2010

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. (see edit below) 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.

Edit 1 Sept 2015:  With thanks to correspondent Oscar, I was able to collect more specimens of Morchella rufobrunnea from pinebark mulch in Joondalup a Perth suburb last weekend.  This was exactly the same sort of substrate that I found them in before.   I am very grateful to Oscar for alerting me to these as I have been on the lookout for them for 14 years since my first find.   Here is a picture of a cluster of them together with the lump of and bark and soil that they were growing from.

IMG_0157morelsmall

The lump of bark and soil appears to be stuck together with mycelium in much the same way as the stonemaker fungus, Polyporus tuberaster.  The association with pine bark mulch is interesting as this species is reported to be associated with pine forests.  Just how they come to be associated with the mulch is a mystery though.  They appear to be saprobic rather than mycorrhizal in this case.  Since the advent of Facebook mushroom interest groups it has been possible to establish that these are also widespread in SA, VIC and NSW too. They occur over a very wide time range, from June right through to October.

Here is a picture of some as they occurred on the mulch.

morchellaruffoonbark

Another type of morel that occurs in Western Australia comes up in forests after fire.   I have encountered these in burnt karri forest in large numbers though they are also reported to occur in burnt jarrah forest.  These are reported to be Morchella elata by the local mycologists. Here are a couple of images of them.

Morchella elata lantern1

Morchella3

From these two images, it can be seen that the morphology changes widely. The second one looks very much like M. importuna, a mulch-growing species from the US.

More recent work has suggested that there are two fire morels in WA, one of which is identified as Morchella septimelata and the other is yet to be named.  A recent revision by Richard et al. renames M. septimelata as the earlier described M. eximia. This is of worldwide distribution and genetically identical specimens have been reported from Wyoming.  A specimen collected in 2016 by the author has been confirmed as M. eximia by DNA analysis. Fire morels occur in August and September.

There is another morel that occurs in NSW and Victoria in forests that have not been subjected to fire.  It was recently (2014) identified as Morchella australiana.  I don’t believe that this has been recorded from Western Australia at this stage (though it would perhaps be nice if they did).  It appears that this is the only morel that can be described as native to Australia.

People have been collecting morels that are not associated with fire  from the forests in Victoria for a long time.  Perhaps these are the Morchella australiana referred to above.   Below is a picture of a basket of them kindly provided by a friend.   You can see the black edges on them which seem to be a feature of these ones.

Victorian forest morels

Victorian forest morels

In Tasmania, Karen Stott & Caroline Mohammed have investigated native morels as part of a RIRDC project, “Specialty Mushroom Production Systems: Maitake and Morels”, available online.  They have identified a number of species that are shown below in a picture from their publication. They also address the cultivation of these fungi.  It would not be surprising to find similar species in WA, or perhaps a re-classification of some of the M. elata that are currently reported here.

 

tasmanian morels

In South Australia, people are reporting a morel with black edges.  One report says that these can be found on remnant sand dunes with sclerophyll forest.  Here is a picture of one from South Australia with kind permission from Yannick Foubert.

yannick-morel

There are many more morels in the US than we have here.  Debbie Viess who has been kind enough to comment in this blog has a rather nice summary together with some information on some of the different species.

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Suillus granulatus – a Slippery Jack

This fungus is always associated with pine trees and emerges in huge numbers in pine forests all over the country.   There are two common species, S. granulatus, the normal one where I am and S. luteus, which is more common up near Perth.  The main difference is that the former has no ring on the stem.

Although this mushroom is much collected by people of European background, and turned into pickles,  it is not something that I am fond of.   I find that it leaves a rather unpleasant after-taste.   It is usually peeled and it benefits from drying out before use in cooking to prevent it turning into a slimy mess.

Footnote:  I tried some S. luteus last night (25 April, 2010) in a kind 0f stroganoff.  The dish was pleasant enough, but the after-taste was there again, lingering for a couple of hours.  It is a pity, as these are so plentiful.

Footnote 2: 20 June 2015.  The practice of peeling slippery jacks appears to have a sound basis.  This report indicates that the slimy cap contains a rather strong toxin that is heat stable and not extracted by boiling water.

Footnote 3: 28 April 2016

There has been some suggestion that smaller specimens are firmer than larger specimens.  To investigate this, I picked some fresh S. granulatus and dried them on a wire rack over the wood stove, without peeling them.  The results are shown in the graph below.   It can be seen that there is a clear linear relationship between the wet and dry weights and that the dry material is about 6.5% of the wet weight.  In other words, they are 93.5% water.  In other words, there is no evidence that the smaller specimens are more solid than the large ones.

None of the specimens appeared overtly wet.  Perhaps if there had been more rain, they might have had a higher moisture content.   By comparison, oyster mushrooms are reported to have between 70 and 95% moisture content.  Agaricus bisporus is reported to have a moisture content of between 88.6 and 91.3 percent.  That means that the Agaricus mushrooms are about 60 percent more substantial than the Suillus.

moisture content

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Pluteus cervinus – edible but bland

There is a lot of timber milling around this district and hence a lot of sawdust is generated.  One of the mushrooms that comes up on such piles of sawdust is Pluteus cervinus.   This is a rather gelatinous mushroom with the distinctive pink spore print of the genus.  I have cooked and eaten this mushroom, but I wouldn’t class it as the most desirable fungus I have ever consumed.   I think that it would benefit from an initial dewatering in the pan before cooking.

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Agaricus arvensis – almond mushroom

At various times of year, including mid summer, the parks around Perth erupt in large amounts of mushrooms.  These grow in circles that can be 10 or more metres in diameter.

Viewed up close, the mushrooms have a distinctive appearance.

These mushrooms have a smell of almonds that varies in intensity, depending on the location.   Some smell so stongly of almonds that they can only be used as a flavouring.  The almond smell is due to the presence of benzaldehyde.  This has been shown by gas chromatography.

These mushrooms are white gilled initially and then the gills turn to dark brown with age.   They also bruise yellow, which is often taken as a sign of inedibility.   In fact, however, the yellow staining mushrooms that must be avoided are Agaricus xanthodermus and other species  which contain phenol.    To be able to eat these mushrooms with confidence, one needs to be able to distinguish between the smell of phenol and the smell of benzaldehyde.   That is the smell of phenyl disinfectant and the smell of almond essence.

I find that the small mushrooms are the best to eat.   I have seen other people collecting these.   Some elderly Italian gentlemen.   I have also grown this mushroom.  Well, just one small one!

Here is a picture of a small one, taken in Dagleish, Perth, on 29 March 2010.

In fact, these were the first mushrooms to be put into cultivation, before the normal Agaricus bisporus, and if the early attempts at cultivation had turned out differently, we might be used to the taste of almond mushrooms.

Since these mushrooms grow in the open sunlight, it is interesting to speculate whether they contain significant quantities of vitamin D, since the development of this vitamin has been demonstrated in other members of the genus when exposed to ultraviolet light, as described in this slide presentation.

Here is a few that I picked one lunchtime that are sitting on my keyboard in my former office in Perth.

Agaricus xanthodermus, the one that has the phenolic smell, is not something that I have encountered often.   I did come across this bunch of them growing in sand at Yeagarup though on 5 May 2007.  The smell was very distinctive as was the yellow colour of the base of the stem.  The yellow colour is due to a the oxidation of the phenolic group of leucoagaricone to form agaricone, by atmospheric oxygen.

One last comment.  These mushrooms only have white gills at the immature stage.  One should be very careful to ensure that the gills turn brown with age.  Never eat a mushroom with white gills in the belief that it is a field mushroom unless you have established that you are looking at the immature stage of an Agaricus.   That will take some experience.  Failure to heed this advise could be fatal!

Mature specimens of Agaricus never have white gills.  The deadly Amanitas do.

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Agaricus bitorquis – a classic field mushroom

When the first autumn rains come it is time to head down to the secret mushroom site where Agaricus bitorquis can be found year after year.

For some reason, they seem to favour growing under she-oak trees. Quite often they are found fully grown but still buried, with just the top of the cap visible in the middle of a lump in the ground.

These mushrooms can grow very big. 150mm across is not uncommon and they are thick and fleshy with it. When cut, the surfaces bruise slightly red. This picture shows one I am holding in my hand to give some idea of size and shape.

When cut through, they show a reddish staining, as shown on this picture.

mushrooms_stain_20_seconds[1]

 

At my favourite site for bitorquis, there are several other edible mushrooms. In this picture can be seen some Coprinus comatus and an Agaricus arvensis, all picked at the same site and ready for the pan!

As a postscript, I have read that these are sold as supermarket mushrooms, though I have never seen the red staining so distinct as on the ones in the wild.

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