Now that’s a spicy mushroom

Spicy. Though like most mushrooms it could use some salt.

This is the white-headed stepsister of Lactarius deliciosus, and it is described in Wikipedia as “semi-edible”: Lactarius piperatus. A big meaty mushroom that oozes drops of spicy milk when cut and tastes a lot like horseradish. A big flock of it was browsing the mixed woods west of Madison yesterday. And just as I was reading the phrase “an irritant reaction on the lips and tongue, which takes about an hour to subside,” I rubbed my right eye, thus ensuring that I would have a chance to test this out. The sink suddenly doubles as an eyewash station. The heat does indeed linger.

I find it often necessary to consult more than one mycologist on whether a mushroom is edible. People just don’t agree. It’s often unclear whether by “inedible” they mean “poisonous” or “not as good as porcini.” Some of them keep only spotty notes on edibility, as if they are more interested in mycology than gastronomy. And I do sometimes get the sense that some of them are picky eaters — either they don’t like many mushrooms, or they know where so many choice patches are that they turn up their noses at humbler shrooms. Arora’s edibility notes are an always entertaining exception in their descriptiveness and adventurousness… “Boil 62 hours and serve forth,” he says about one leathery old polypore.

So it went with Lactarius piperatus. Wikipedia turns out to be a useful resource, maybe because it’s like asking a group of people whether something is tasty rather than just one. (Ask me about celery. I will tell you it is inedible.) Wik. says it “used to be highly regarded in Russia,” where it was eaten “when other edible species were less available,” thus contradicting the first statement. Says, fry it in butter with bacon and onion (surefire, but sure to drown the actual flavor); pickle it; bake in pie. But in Finland, is it really boiled repeatedly, with the water dumped each time, and then stored in salt water in the fridge? It is hard to imagine boiling any mushroom repeatedly would have a positive effect on it.

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4 responses to “Now that’s a spicy mushroom

  1. Hmmm. If it really tastes like horseradish, I’d make sure to save a little of the cooking liquid for bloody mary mix.

  2. Hi,

    I just found your blog. I live on a farm near Mt Horeb. I was looking for others with interests in wild foods. You can see some of our adventures on my wife’s blog – horsefarmdiaries.com.

    As for mushrooms, I have been gathering wild mushrooms in this area for several years. I strongly recommend joining the Wisconsin Mycological Society. They have several outings during the mushroom season. Those outings are often attended by mycological experts from the UW.

    As for mushroom edibility, I asked one of the experts how they determine if a mushroom is edible. Of coarse, there are the mushrooms that will kill you (they r common around here). And there are the mushrooms that are clearly edible, like morels. Most mushrooms are somewhere in between. Many of those are considered unedible because someone ate them, got sick and a medical report was filed on the incidence. The problem w that approach is that some people get sick because they are having an allergic reaction. Thus a mushroom that would be edible to most, but make a few people sick is considered inedible. By that standard, many of the foods in the grocery store would be inedible.

    I have read that only mushrooms with gills contain the poisons that will kill you. The worst that mushrooms without gills will do is cause severe nausea.

    For mushrooms in our area, I recommend:

    Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois and Surrounding States – by McFarland

    http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/94awe4yz9780252076435.html

    They identify all species that are edible, delicious and without poisonous look-alikes.

    Best,
    Chuck

  3. Hi Kate, wondering if we can get together to forage? I’m with the Wisconsin Mycological Society and know a bit about edibles shrooms…you know about other wild edibles so possibly we can help each other out! There’s a mighty tasty mushroom out-n-about right now not to mention some medicinals that make great tea! Shoot me an mail if you want to meet!

  4. I’m late to the party, but thought I should point out that there are indeed non-gilled mushrooms that can kill you. False morels contain https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyromitrin and have killed people when prepared improperly. (The toxin can be removed by a process that involves cutting the mushroom in small pieces, boiling it for some amount of time, and discarding the water, but toxin concentrations are variable so an amount of boiling that’s fine 99 times can still get you the hundredth. Which is why they’re no longer recommended as food even though they’re supposed to be pretty tasty.)

    I’d be surprised if this were the only potentially deadly non-gilled mushroom but I’m too lazy to dig up more info.

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