Posts tagged bush tucker

Calvatia fragilis – another edible puffball

While driving around in April, I noticed for the first time this year some rather large puffballs growing around the place.  Here is what they looked like.

puffball

Calvatia fragilis

When cut open, these revealed a firm white flesh with a pleasant mushroom smell.  They lacked a ‘sterile base’ which is the bit at the bottom close to the attachment point to the ground.  The lizard skin pattern was also distinctive.  On standing, they developed a purple spore mass.  All of these factors together led me to identify them as Calvatia fragilis, which was subsequently confirmed by DNA analysis (97% AJ684871).

The picture below shows the specimen torn open.  There is a slight yellowing when it is bruised. It has a distinct skin.

Calvatia fragilis torn open

Calvatia fragilis torn open

The next picture shows another view of the surface of the puffball.

Surface of Calvatia fragilis

Surface of Calvatia fragilis

Some people say that all white puffballs in Australia are edible.   This is not true as many years ago I found a massive white puffball growing next to a mulga tree in Hopetoun that had an extremely unpleasant smell.  When I heated some up it caused us to evacuate the kitchen!

Calvatia fragilis is edible though and I sliced this one and fried it in butter.  The taste reminded me a little of eggs.

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Laetiporus portentosus -White punk, poor tucker indeed

There have been many reports from the times of early European settlement, all from Tasmania, of the Aboriginal people eating a white’ punk’ growing on trees.  It has been widely assumed that this is Laetiporus portentosus, formerly known as Piptoporus portentosus.

This June I chanced upon a specimen of this lying on the ground in Bridgetown.  It was quite a massive thing, weighing several kilos and it was saturated with water.  That is why I assume was on the ground, having fallen from its position because of its weight.  Here it is sitting on my dining room table.

Laetiporus portentosus desk

Fallen Laetiporus portentosus on table

 

Here is another shot of it, this time showing the inside after I had cut it open with great difficulty.  I don’t think this would have been possible with primitive tools.

Laetiporus portentosus cut

Laetiporus portentosus cut open

You can see that the inside looks sort of cottony.  In fact it more closely resembles polystyrene in texture.  An attempt to eat a small piece of it revealed that it was about as edible as polystyrene too.  Not even in an emergency could anyone possibly eat and digest this fungus.  Perhaps the story is different with very small specimens but I am doubtful.

It is quite difficult to get a picture of one of these in-situ on a tree because they tend to grow quite high up.  I was lucky enough to spot one by a road cutting near Donnybrook that enabled me to scramble up and take a picture with my phone.  Here it is.

laetiporus donnybrook

Laetiporus portentosus in situ

The fact that these are relatively few and far between and so high up on the trees is further evidence against them being used as food.

It is however widely reported that they were used as tinder and to carry fire.  Some experiments revealed that a dried specimen could be ignited very readily and that it would smolder for a long time.  By judicious control of the fire front on a smoldering specimen it could easily be kept aglow for hours.  Uncontrolled burning of half a specimen lasted about 40 minutes.  I made a short video of a small piece smoldering after it had been ignited. A still from that video is shown below.

laetipurus glowing

A piece of Laetiporus portentosus smoldering

 

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Volvopluteus gloiocephala – a common roadside species

I was doing some research and maintenance today when I realised that I didn’t have a blog entry for this mushroom, though it is a very common one that I have been eating for 30 years.  Perhaps I accidentally deleted it. It used to be known as Volvariella speciosa until quite recently when some DNA studies indicated that it should be placed in a new grouping.

If you are driving around Perth in wintertime, you will see this everywhere growing on roadside woodchip mulch.  It also occurs on waste ground.  It is not generally a good idea to eat mushrooms that grow by roadsides as they can accumulate various toxins.  However, these are so widespread that it should be possible locate some that are growing in a safe spot.

One of the important things to know about this species is that it looks very similar to an Amanita.  On the east coast, people have died after picking and eating the deadly Amanita phalloides, mistaking them for Volvariella volvaceae, the paddy straw mushroom of Southeast Asia and Queensland.  It would be very easy to make a similar fatal mistake here in the West, confusing Volvopluteus with other species of Amanita.  I have seen the two growing very close together and they are nearly impossible to tell apart.  It is only when the mushroom reaches maturity and the rusty orange gills become evident that Volvopluteus becomes easy to identify.

Now for some pictures.  I had to recover these from an old computer in the shed that I first bought in 2003.  That was an interesting exercise in itself, requiring removal of the hard drive and taking it to the computer shop.

This first picture shows the mushroom just as it is emerging.  It looks just like the hard boiled egg that I have placed beside it.

eggs

Emerging mushroom beside a boiled egg

As it grows, it begins to take on some shape.  You can clearly see the sac or volva at the base.

volvariella5

Beginning to grow, showing volva

 

 

At maturity, it takes on a classic shape.

two volvariellas

Typical Volvopluteus gloiocephala at maturity

 

The gills, which are white at first, take on a rusty orange colour at maturity.  It is at this stage that identification is most accurate.

vovariella pair

Mature specimens, showing gills

 

This mushroom has an unusual and distinctive taste.  I often cook it in a sauce that I add to silverbeet and serve it with roast chicken.

All of my numerous attempts to cultivate this mushroom have failed, resulting in a slimy bacterial looking mess.  It is possible, as others have done it, so I will give it another go next time I find it, with my more recently installed laminar flow hood.

 

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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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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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Pleurotus australis – the native oyster mushroom

Pleurotus australis is not the most common of mushrooms and unfortunately it’s habitat overlaps that of the poisonous  Omphalotus nidiformis, or ghost mushroom. Thats the one that glows in the dark. I have only ever seen P. australis growing on peppermint trees. That is Agonis flexuosa. The first one I ever saw was in the Perth area. I enlisted the help of a venerable mycologist (Roger Hilton)  to identify it. There were a few fruiting bodies on the tree in question and they were huge. The texture of these was like leather and there is no way that they could be eaten. Note the wavy cap margin.

Mature Pleurotus australis

In the region down where I live now, however, the oyster mushrooms are smaller and would be edible if there were enough of them to be bothered with. They also get fly-blown very quickly.

For some further information on locally picked oyster mushrooms, see WhereFishSing.

Here is a picture of some growing at Yeagarup.

Young Pleurotus australis

 

They are quite simple to cultivate. The same procedures can be used as one would apply to any other oyster mushroom. Pasteurised straw is a the simplest medium. The rather odd thing about P. australis under cultivation is that it bears little resemblance to the wild fungus. The pinheads are a dark black/purple colour.

 

Pins of Pleurotus australis in cultivation

 

When grown on a little further, they are a rather soft mushroom, with a distinctive purple tinge to the upper surface.   I have some pictures of these somewhere and when I find them I will add them to this post.  Ah, here we go.  This is an example of a cultivated one.

Cultitvated Pleurotus australis

 

One thing that must be said about this mushroom.  Be very careful not to confuse it with Omphalotus nidiformis.  They are very similar in the wild.  O. nidiformis, however, will glow if you break off a small piece and put it in a jar by your bed.  The oyster mushroom can also be recognised by the fine network of criss-crossed gills that run right down the stem to the point where it emerges from the tree. This is a picture of Omphalotus nidiformis.   It is somewhat variable, but this is typical.

Omphalotus nidiformis from SW WA

In other places, Omphalotus nidiformis can take on a much more funnel-shaped appearance.  Here is a picture of some from the rainforest at Dorrigo, NSW.

omphalotus dorrigo

Omphalotus nidiformis from Dorrigo

 

23 June 2013

This year I visited the site of the mushroom shown in the first illustration.   There was a new crop growing and they were in the juvenile stage.   As with the local ones from down here, they had a dark purple cap with a slightly scaley texture.   They were more robust, but otherwise matched the local specimens.  So it is clear that they change as they age.   I am now more comfortable with the identification of both as P. australis.   I again tried to bring this into culture, but without sucess this time.   I do have some pieces of infected wood though, so I will try to culture those.   A friend in Perth got a culture of the Perth specimen going last year, but he found that it would not grow on straw like his normal king oyster mushrooms.

 

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