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Deliciosus! – The Saffron Milkcap

The mushroom season is well under way in the UK. Since September there have been many species popping up here and there, but there’s still more to come. October and November often produce the goods in abundance…

Saffron Milkcap MushroomOne of my latest and tastiest finds has been the Saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deliciosus) – one the most sought after Milkcaps, especially in Europe which grows exclusively with pines from summer to autumn. They aren’t overly common but relatively frequent, and to add to the fun, they are quite regular in showing up in the same place every year – but this is only in my experience, perhaps it’s not always so. I’d just thought I’d mention it (leave comments if you agree or not).

This lovely edible mushroom, like most tasty finds (it seems) does have naughty lookalikes, but fear not as they are non-poisonous threats coming in the form of the aptly named False Saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deterrimus) thought only to grow with spruce and Lactarius semisanguifluus which also occur with pine. The differences are annoyingly subtle which I will explain further. Firstly, let’s take a look at the main character itself…

The Saffron Milkcap’s cap can grow up to 12cm in diametre and is slightly funnel shaped with a margin that is noticeably curved inwards when younger. The fleshy, carrot orange cap often shows stronger concentric bands around the surface (in this case very subtle) which can be tinged here and there with olive-green patches. Caps on the lookalike mushrooms tend to develop a wider covering of green, sometimes covering the cap completely.

The milk colour is a key ID feature with this Milkcap, when compared to the others. It has bright carrot orange coloured milk (coming from the gills once damaged or handled). The lookalikes share a similar colour but are noticeably more reddish, turning deeper red/purpleish over 10 – 30 minutes minutes once exposed to the air.

Moving on to the stem you’ll see the gills are only mildy decurrent and the pale whitish/orange to salmon/orange stem often has a collection of darker, circular pits, as shown in the pictures here. The False Saffron Milkcap can have these marks but are less frequent and Lactarius semisanguiluus doesn’t have any – it’s stem can clearly be seen to turn green over time and upon handling.

With experience these finer differences will become more apparent but even now I sometimes don’t trust my own judgement. Luckily a colleague confirmed the finding. Always a good idea to get a second opinion. And if you’re unsure of the difference between Pine and Spruce (as I was) then this is a good link to help in identification.

And while we’re on the subject of good links, take a look at this great Saffron Milkcap recipe. Enjoy.

Lactarius deliciosus - edible milkcap

The Saffron Milkcap. Notice the darker pitting on the stem (top right) and the bright ‘carrot orange’ milk from the gills (bottom right).

QUICK ID TABLE: SAFFRON MILKCAP Lactarius deliciosus

CAP / FLESH

3 – 15cm diametre. Varying carrot/orange colour / sometimes greenish in places. Darker markings showing concentric bands. Convex with central depression. Initially inrolled at margin. Firm, brittle consistency.

STEM

Slightly decurrent. Narrow spacing. Pale pink/apricot to saffron. Eventually carrot coloured. Olive-green markings when bruised.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

3 – 7cm x 1.5 – 2cm. Whiteish/pale orange – salmon coloured. Often with darker circular depressions. Green in places over time.
Spore Print: Pale ochre (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In grass with pine trees. Summer/autumn. Frequent.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Very Good. Popular in Europe.

The Genus LACTARIUS (Milkcaps): Characteristics to look out for:

• Gills and flesh exude milk when broken or damaged.
• Look out for different coloured milks and any changes after a while when exposed to the air.
• Granular/fragile flesh similar to Russulas (Brittlegills), breaking easily.

ExCEPtional! – The Penny Bun, Cep or Porcini mushroom

The Bolete genus (and those closely related) are some of the largest and most exciting mushrooms to be found out there. From a culinary point of view there are several that are more than worth the their place in the kitchen, but there is one in particular that stands out as ‘best of the rest’.

Boletus edulisSo let’s get it’s name sorted out. Most people will definitely recognise common/local names, a couple of which are not English in origin. Our common tongue has described this as the ‘Penny Bun’ for obvious reasons (although probably not to todays generation), many also know it as the Cep (French) but then most cooks and chefs will often know it from it’s Italian translation as the ‘Porcini mushroom’. But at the end of the day, science has kept things in order, strictly labeling it as Boletus edulis – the latin name ‘edulis’ simply meaning ‘edible’. Very apt, as usual.

Excluding Truffles, the Cep (as I’ll call it from now on) is one of the most highly prized edible finds, especially in mainland Europe. Some foragers only have this one mushroom on their list, such is their passion for it.

It is a very distinctive looking mushroom with it’s stout, chunky stem and small ‘out of proportion’ cap (common to younger examples – shown opposite). They can sometimes pop up in abundance or smaller groups, but are often solitary near/under broad-leaved and coniferous trees.

The picking season can be as early as June or July, but often show up from August to September. With this year’s season being mostly dry, only November has been reliable in dishing out the goods – for me this year anyway!

Young specimens are usually favoured over older specimens (often maggot-ridden) and will be cooked or pickled whole, or even dried for later consumption. They freeze extremely well too.

The pores in older ‘middle-aged’ specimens change from white to a dull yellow-green colour (as the spores are olive green/brown). The tubes are usually removed and the cap is thinly sliced along with the stem (peeled first) to add to the pan. Overall, it’s good to know there are many ways to store, cook and eat this mushroom. I’m no top chef , but there’s lots of ideas out there. A great selection of recipes with the cep mushroom can be found on the BBC website here.

There are a couple of edible ‘look-a-likes’ often confused with the Cep, such as the The Dark Cep (Boletus aereus) and maybe the Bay Bolete (Boletus badius). But beware the Bitter Bolete (Tylopilus felleus) with a dark network on its stem. Although not posionous, it’s a recipe for disaster when served up at dinner time. As the name suggests it has a very bitter, unpleasant taste.

So a useful feature to note in identifying the Cep is looking for the raised ‘white’ network/pattern on the stem (reticulation) as shown in the picture below. None of those mentioned above share this feature.

Good hunting…

The Cep

What a difference! A large middle aged/mature specimen next to a younger example. Notice the ‘white’ raised network on the stem and how the pores age ‘yellow/green’ compared to the paler white colour of younger ones.

Boletus edulis Mushroom UK

A young, perfectly from Cep mushroom discovered in Leicestershire UK – open grassland near woodland.

QUICK ID TABLE: CEP Boletus edulis

CAP / FLESH

8-25cm across. Brown. White line at margin of cap. Smooth and dry becoming greasy. Viscid in wet weather. Flesh is white (flushed dingy yellow or vinaceous in the cap).

STEM

3-23cm x 3-8cm. Often swollen at base. Pale with white network covering the stem.

PORES / TUBES / SPORE PRINT

Pores are small and round, initially white; ageing yellow, then greenish-yellow. Tubes are white, becoming grey-yellow.
Spore Print: Olivaceous walnut-brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In coniferous, broadleaved or mixed woods. Summer – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Excellent.

The Genus BOLETUS (the Boletes): Characteristics to look out for:

• Have pores (open ends of tubes) on the underside instead of gills. Easily separated from the cap.
• Most have dry caps (viscid when wet – but not glutinous like Suillus genus).
• Most have reticulation on the stem; a fine network covering parts or all of the stem. Make note of the colour.
• When cut or bruised take note of any changes in colour to the flesh or pores.