Gathering Boletes

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King Bolete, Porcini, Cep, Steinpilz … no matter what language you speak, Boletus edulis is one of the world’s most prized mushrooms.

It’s usually hard to get boletes before Thanksgiving around here but, thanks to the heavy rain in mid-October, we’ve had a nice crop working for several weeks now. The average size is definitely smaller than in a good, let alone a “bonanza” year, but there are plenty of them and we’ve been having no trouble getting all we can handle.

We went out again this morning and took the camera along …

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It takes a practiced eye to see that something beneath the duff is pushing upward here … but we bet we know what it is.

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Sure enough! A fresh, young Boletus edulis. It’s good now, but it will be much bigger and better given another day or two to grow and mature.

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We craftily cover our find, building up the depth of the duff for several feet around to give it room to grow without becoming too obvious. After all, there’re plenty of other people searching these woods for boletes.

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The day’s first keepers. They may not be large, but you don’t complain about Grade A, 100% worm-free boletes. Now it’s time to go check on some bolete buttons we found, and concealed, a couple of days ago.

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We’re liking what we’re seeing. We found a bolete button no bigger than a marble here and buried it under these handy green pine boughs. Now the mushroom appears to be pushing them aside.

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Yes!!! We were happy here, but when we went to check on our next button, we found that someone had discovered and harvested it. You win some, you lose some.

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Now here’s something interesting. An large fairy circle of Amanita calyptroderma – a mushroom highly prized by Italians, who know it as Coccora. You can get an idea of the size of this circle by the gentle arc visible here. This circle was nearly complete and contained many dozens of Coccoras. A real bonanza for a Coccora aficionado.

Caution: Coccora’s are closely related to a number of deadly poisonous species. Do not eat them. In fact, do not eat any wild mushroom unless you not only know what it is, but also know what dangerous mushrooms most closely resemble it, and know how to tell them apart. In fact, do not eat any wild plants, berries or mushrooms, ever, under any circumstances. What do you think the store is for?

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Well how do you like that? Two minutes after finding that someone had discovered and picked a mushroom we’d carefully hidden out in the brush, we stumble across a large, mature bolete growing only a foot from a trail heavily used by mushroom hunters. It was big enough and mature enough that it must have been in plain sight for days – yet it was still worm-free and in perfect condition. Go figure.

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The flavor of Boletus edulis is the concentrated essence of the pine forest. Here’s a sight to warm the heart of any bolete hunter.

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Most boletes are short and fat, but here’s a pair that are tall and thin.

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Now we’re talking!

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Pure, Grade A goodness!

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Yet, in spite of all the mushroom mania, the majority of boletes, like this one, are over the hill before anyone notices them.

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Another one too far gone to eat.

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Eventually, an unpicked bolete becomes a “bolete puddle.” As the season wears on, these become a common sight in the woods.

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What the?? We may not be taking them home to eat but, to a confirmed fungophile,  these bolete-shaped purple mushrooms are definitely the find of the day. They appear to be the rare Cortinarius violaceus – a mushroom we’ve never even seen before. How cool is that?

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Under an immense stand of old growth manzanita, we find boletes scattered like easter eggs. Some disparage long unburned chaparral like this as “decadent” and “unnatural.” The boletes, which always prefer the deepest and least disturbed parts of the forest, disagree.

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The one in the middle reveals why the Italians call these mushrooms Porcini – the “Little Pig.”

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Excellent! A couple more…

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But no … in spite of their nice brown caps – which are usually redder in this species – these are Russula rosacea. That’s OK, we’ve already got all the boletes we can use.

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Back home, the boletes await processing.

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A dandy …

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Some, we’ll eat right away.

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Some we’ll package up for friends …

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And the rest go into the dehydrator so we can eat boletes year round.

For more, see our newer post, Boletus Rising.

Please Note: This post is intended for entertainment purposes only. Only a suicidal maniac would ever consider eating wild mushrooms – which are uniformly deadly poisonous. The ones growing in our favorite patches are especially lethal. You have been warned!

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7 Responses to Gathering Boletes

  1. Mushroom Hunters are all the same. The excitement, the effort, the antici……………pation of the find, the magic- it’s the same here in the MidWest with morel season in the Spring. Enjoy. Heading your way in a couple weeks for a few days. To an untrained eye amanita muscarina looks very similar- very dangerous. In Europe most pharmacists are mushroom experts, and routinely identify mushrooms for the community; sadly missing in America.

  2. Simon Eagar says:

    Of course I wouldn’t dream of picking such a dangerous nay lethal fungii but where oh where would I go looking for chanterelles in Carmel Valley?

    You’d look on high ridges under oak and madrone. But if you wanted to do more finding than looking, you’d check places closer to the coast -XT

  3. bigsurkate says:

    Great article, XT. I always know when the Canterelle hunters are out. Frankly, I don’t like mushrooms (I know, I know, but that’s just the way it is) so I am never in the habit of hunting them. so never have to worry about which are deadly, and which are not. I am glad you know them, but somehow, that does not surprise me.

  4. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/11/12/BARH1AJ8EA.DTL&tsp=1

    Sadly,
    Speaking of which…..
    Be careful out there.

    Yes, it is a sad fact that the non-native death cap (Amanita phalloides) is responsible for nearly all mushroom poisoning deaths in California. It is especially sad because there are no edible mushrooms here that resemble it. The line in the article about it fooling even experienced mushroom hunters would be more accurate if it referred to experienced mushroom hunters from other continents, as the death cap does apparently resemble an edible Southeast Asian mushroom – we’ve had friends who were unable to eat the soup they were served in Thailand because of what looked like death caps floating in it. Sadly, though not surprisingly, many of those who have died over the years have been Southeast Asian immigrants. The others have mainly been people who just thought it looked like something good and ate it without ever having any idea what they were eating. Although we doubt anyone has ever mistaken a death cap for a bolete, chanterelle or morel, if you don’t know what a death cap looks like, do yourself a favor and leave the wild mushrooms alone. – XT.

  5. earl says:

    looks like you may have had some shrimp russulas (Russula xerampelina) in the bunch there. you identified them as Russula rosacea which is also known as the rosy russula i think. i noticed the pinkish hue on the stem. did you taste a portion to see if they were peppery? that’s the only distinguishable characteristic separating deliciousness from sickness. once you are able to discern shrimp russulas from rosy russulas, your harvest basket will be huge. only ol’skool all-stars pick the shrimp russula and i sure am thankful it continues to be that way! if the chantrelle hunters knew what they were missing, i’d be out of one of my favorites!

    We didn’t taste these, but we’re pretty confident they were rosacea. Xerampelina’s generally grow in association with Douglas Fir around here … but now that you’ve brought the subject up, I guess we’ll have to taste next time to be sure. – XT

  6. earl says:

    arora’s book, “all the rain promises” is a good helper for identifying the often confused shrimp mushroom. i then to find lots of shrimp mushrooms under the bulging pine duff near boletes and pine spikes.

  7. Boon says:

    Gathered a peck of perfect porcini from a pine forest near the coast of Cayucos yesterday, my first mindful encounter with this impressive species. Plans are set to fold them into today’s Thanksgiving dinner, with appreciation for nature’s bounty.

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