Posts tagged edible Australian fungi

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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Leucoagaricus leucothites -with caution

Leucoagaricus

Leucoagaricus leucothites

 

 

Leucoagaricus leucothites was formerly called Leucoagaricus naucinus and with the state of flux in taxonomy at present, it might have another name next year.  It is a mushroom of worldwide distribution, widely known as an edible species but often recommended as a species to be avoided because it shares so many features with a couple of deadly Amanitas. For this reason nobody should attempt to eat these unless they are completely confident in being able to distinguish an Amanita.

I spotted the specimens above by the side of the road, which is a common place to find them.  The caps are bright white with a satin texture.  The shape of the large specimen in the picture is characteristic of this species.   The underside features a hollow stem that widens a little at the base, but does not have a sac or volva like Amanita or Volvopluteus.  The gills are at first white but darken a little at maturity. The spore print is bright white.

It is always a little scary eating something new but even more so when it is something with white gills and a white spore print.   Nevertheless, after much checking and re-checking I fried some up and did a taste test.  From descriptions elsewhere I had expected something more; it tasted just like Volvopluteus gloiocephalus.  The mature specimen even looks a little like Volvopluteus.

One can only wonder how species like this manage to spread so far and wide.   Apparently the spores of this one germinate very readily in a wide range of media so perhaps that has something to do with it.  Anyway, another of our introduced species that is edible for what it is worth.

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Volvopluteus gloiocephalus – 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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Fistulina hepatica – Beefsteak in name only

Fistulina hepatica is a cosmopolitan fungus that is known in Europe as growing on oak trees.   In Western Australia it favours Jarrah, though I have one next to my house that grows on a Blackbutt.  Though it could not be classed as common, it is widespread.   I have seen it growing in Kings Park in Perth.  It probably grows right throughout the range of the Jarrah tree.  As a young fungus, it is quite soft and dense, but as it ages it can become quite tough, like many other bracket fungi.   Here is a small specimen that is around 120 mm across.

Fistulina hepatica

Fistulina hepatica

Note the ribbed upper surface.  The underside is yellow pores.  There really isn’t anything else that you could confuse this with unless you really tried. Though the specimens I have seen do show signs of insect attack, they  do seem to be quite resistant to that attack and the fungus makes it through to old age without being reduced to a mush, if I may use that term

When cut into slices, it displays quite a pleasant pattern:

Fistulina slices

Fistulina slices

With some exposure to the air, the cut surfaces can take on a liver red colour, which is where the ‘hepatica’ part of the name comes from.  This colour may be due to the phenolic compounds that are reported to occur in it.  It is also reported to contain vitamin C, which is unusual for a fungus in my experience.

Fistulina_red

The name ‘Beefsteak fungus’ is perhaps unfortunate as it tends to make one think that it should be treated like a piece of meat.  The taste, however is nothing like meat, or any of the mushrooms that you might normally serve with meat.  Raw, it is rather bland, but with a light frying it takes on a slightly acidic taste that most closely resembles some sort of fruit.  So much so that I think it might reasonably be incorporated into a sweet dish.  I have given a sample to a friend who is a cooking guru to see what she comes up with.  In the meantime, I have left some in the fridge while I wait for a response.

This fungus has been brought into culture and I will see if I can persuade any of my friends with expertise in that field to attempt the same.

I will add to this post when I have investigated further.

19 June 2013

I cut the mushroom into thin slices and poached them in a sugar solution.   The resultant pieces were similar to apple which has undergone the same treatment.  With enough of these, one could perhaps make a sweet mushroom pie.

23 June 2013

Thus fungus is responsible for an effect known as black fleck in jarrah timber.  I have been told by a local tree faller that timber with black fleck  does not bend and warp in the same way that normal timber does.

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Dictyophora indusiata – an edible stinkhorn

There are quite a few mushrooms that are classified as stinkhorns.  Many of these are said to be edible in the  egg stage.  Dictyophora indusiata is however edible as the mature mushroom and it is cultivated in significant quantities in China.  It is an attractive looking mushroom as shown below.

Dictyophora_indusiata

Dictyophora indusiata, Cairns, Queensland, by Steve Fitzgerald

The name refers to the net-like skirt or indusium which is a transient feature, soon falling away to reveal the stem.  The mushroom is also known as Phallus indusiatus, for obvious reasons but for the purposes of this post I have retained the earlier name.  This is a mushroom of tropical areas.  I have not encountered it in the wild personally, though I have seen the very similar Dictyophora multicolor in Cairns.  I have however encountered it in canned form in an Asian food shop in Perth.

 

When opened up, the contents of the can were almost pure white, odourless and contained the entire mushroom, including the cap, cut into pieces, in brine.

 

Like other stinkhorns, when encountered in the wild,  it has a disgusting smell.  Rather remarkably, this repulsive smell has been claimed to cause spontaneous female orgasms in the case of a Hawaian species!  Whether that is the case or not (and I have my doubts) the canned product does not have any hint of this smell.  From what I have been able to determine, the fungus is washed to remove the spore material that contains the odour components.

I cooked up some of the pieces, which contained quite a lot of water, in a frying pan with a little olive oil and then added them to an omlette.   I found that the taste was best in the pieces that had been slightly browned.  This may be due to the considerable amount of glucose contained in the structure of the cell walls.

I should note that one Chinese site (that is a translation) indicates that species that have a yellow veil (indusium) are toxic.  That would include Dictyophora multicolor.

I report this mushroom because it does occur in Australia and it is edible.  However, it might be an adventurous person who attempts to eat it.   I would be interested if anyone finds this or any of the other stinkhorns, and can let me know if the smell can be removed by washing.  Meanwhile, it is readily available in canned form.  And if you want a genuine Chinese recipe, you might like to try this one from the site above:

“Casserole in disposable full of water and put it into the old hen, add ginger fluff block a, a teaspoon of cooking wine first and bring to a boil over high heat, low heat slowly stew. 炖鸡时,为了防止汤水溢出,可以在砂锅上架两根竹筷,再盖上锅盖。 Stewed chicken, in order to prevent the soup overflow in the casserole shelves two bamboo chopsticks, then cover the pot. 大约三小时后,鸡汤已经呈现金黄色。 After about three hours, the chicken soup has a golden yellow. 这时可以将已经用水发过的竹荪切段,投入鸡汤中,再炖,等竹荪充分浸润了鸡汤的味道后,根据个人口味加盐,关火,撒一点点葱花增香,就可上桌了。 Then you can the segment of the water has hair Dictyophora cut, put into chicken soup, then boiled, etc. Dictyophora fully infiltrating the taste of chicken soup, according to personal taste with salt, and turn off the heat, sprinkle a little chopped green onion flavoring, can be serve.

【要点】给鸡焯水时不要弄破鸡皮;水发竹荪要多浸泡一会儿,才会去除那股怪味儿,竹荪不要放多,否则会夺鸡汤的鲜味;如果老母鸡肚子里油很多,要挖出来扔掉一点,尤其是在夏天对于喜欢清淡的人来讲。 [Points to the chicken boiled water not to break the chicken skin; The the water hair Dictyophora to soak for a while, before removal of the sense of smell children Dictyophora Do not put too much, otherwise it will seize the flavor of the chicken soup; old hen stomach where oil is a lot to be dug up and threw it away a bit, especially in the summer for people like light.].
(I think that was written by the person who did the instructions for my portable router table   🙂

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Ramaria ochraceosalmonicolor – angst and confusion

I first became interested in Ramaria ochraceosalmonicolor after the eminent Naturalist J. H. Willis mentioned that he had eaten it in his 1957 publication ‘Victorian Toadstools and Mushrooms’.  Ramaria are not easy to identify and any perusal of the internet will find various illustrations with this name but looking nothing like the picture below.  There is even a paper in the Australian Journal of Mycology (2007)  which goes into much detail about the naming of the species.

For my purposes, however, the important thing was to establish what Willis had eaten.   The paper linked above mentions that Willis as well as Bougher and Syme show illustrations of a coralloid structure for this fungus.   Though the Bougher and Syme illustration is clear and matches the photograph, I was puzzled by the reference to Willis until I noticed that he had an illustration of three species of Ramaria as a fronticepiece in his book.   I had previously overlooked these illustrations.   Comparison with his images left me in little doubt that this is the form of Ramaria that he was referring to.

This being the case, I set some aside for a sampling.   Ramaria can be risky, with a tendency to cause diahorrea according to Arora, so I decided to set them aside in the fridge and try them in the morning, rather than risk and uncomfortable night.

To be continued….

Ramaria ochraceosalmonicolor

So, I fried up the sample that I had collected and consumed about 2 tablespoons full at 10:30 in the morning.  It is now 6:45 in the evening and I have had no reaction.  But what an anxious time it has been.    After consuming the fungus, I began googling and came up with Ramaria flavo-brunnescens.  It grows exclusively under Eucalyptus in Brazil and other places in South America, and has been responsible for the death of cattle.   There is a report with gruesome histological details.  I am at a loss however to understand why there are not similar reports from Australia, given that there must be many cattle grazed on Eucalypt forest.

There is, futhermore, a report of human poisoning and death from this fungus (the same one as in Brazil), although admittedly in combination with an Amanita, from China.

The images from the Brazilian report are disturbingly similar to my image above.  Certainly enough to be within the general area, and the reference to Eucalyptus is especially unsettling. The poison is unidentified. It is reported to affect the incorporation of sulphur-containing amino acids such as cysteine.  It is also most likely volatile, as toxicity is not present in dried samples.

The books in my library vary in their assessment of this fungus.  Willis says he has eaten it.  Kevn Griffiths says it upsets some people, Bougher and Syme declare it poisonous.

In the balance, I suggest that this fungus is far too difficult to identify to consider it edible and there is some potential for it to be lethal.  Despite my experience of consuming a small portion of a cooked specimen and surviving, I suggest that it be considered an inedible species.

While there is a tantalising morcel about the toxin in google books, the key information is an orphan on an invisible page and I am loathe to spend the $137 necessary to purchase the entire book online.  It simply is not worth the bother.  The reward is not worth the cost.  I post this report so that there is at least some documentation on the internet regarding this genera.  I cannot find a single report of the progress of poisoning by this genus in humans on its own available on the internet.   Neither do my books on poisonous fungi describe the progression of the syndrome.

30 April 2015

There are more Ramaria out at the moment with a wide variety of colours and forms.   It prompted me to have another look for references and I found this one with some images that clearly show the ‘cauliflower’ form that is supposed to be a characteristic of this species.  Note however the slight difference in nomenclature.

I haven’t seen any specimens this compact, but I have consumed one of the local species with a local man of Italian descent.  I have made a video of him with it that I will process and upload when I have time.

If anyone has a link or relevant experience, I would appreciate hearing about it.

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Laccaria proxima – an abundant species

Laccaria proxima is known from both Europe and North America.   In my area it is strictly associated with pine plantations.   I believe that the pine species is the Maritime Pine, Pinus pinaster.  The occurence of L. proxima is variable, but it appears to be extremely common in well established plantations with trees of a diameter of around 300 mm.

In June in these forests there is a wide variety of fungi, including several small mushrooms with brown caps.   Laccaria proxima is distinctive in that it has pale salmon pink gills that are not crowded.  This distinguishes it from another abundant species with yellow gills that are crowded as shown below.  Laccaria proxima has a white spore print.  This should be checked.

Laccaria proxima, with pink gills on the right.

L. proxima varies in size from about 20 mm to 80mm in diameter.  The stems can be up to 100mm long and they emerge from the pine needle mat. Underneath the mat, one can see the white mycelium in a layer on the top of the soil.  As the mushrooms grow, they move from having slightly inrolled margins to curling up so that the gills are exposed.   Below are pictures of the different stages.

A young specimen

Mature specimens

A distinctive feature is the striations on the stem.  These stems are quite tough.  A small white mite was present on the specimens  that I picked in late June.   They are a long lasting mushroom that does not otherwise get attacked by insects.

I prepared some of these by washing them and then frying in a pan with oil.   I had to decant some of the water during cooking as it had caught up in the gills.  I added some ham to the mixture in the pan and ate them on toast.   The taste resembled Volvariella slightly, though it was not as intense.   I found that it left a pleasant after taste when I had finished the meal and this lingered for some time.

There is a smaller abundant  native species, Laccaria lateritia.  It is very similar in general appearance, but it is smaller and the stems do not display the same striations as in L. proxima.  It is probably edible as well but I have not tried it at this stage.

This is an interesting mushroom because of its abundance and well established edibility from overseas experience.  Though it is not considered to be a choice edible, it is quite palatable and the pleasant after taste makes it interesting.  I suspect that it has a flavour enhancing quality to it.

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