Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Edible Milky Mushrooms In Connecticut

The foray table, loaded with mushrooms for the ID session

Weekly forays with Connecticut Valley Mycological Society have us out in many locations throughout the state of Connecticut looking for fungi. We particularly like the edibles (of course!), but most of the mushrooms that come back to the identification table are not edible, some will make you sick, and a few can kill you, and those are definitely the ones you want to learn and avoid.

Lactarius volemus, close and creamy-white gills, mildly fishy smell, large volume of white milk

Lactarius hygrophoroides, wider
spaced gills and white milk
Initially, the weirder mushrooms we would find are in the genus Lactarius, and they can produce a milky latex-like substance when cut, scratched, or injured. Sometimes the milk is white, other times it is yellow, or can stain to red or blue. Kind of freaky, right? It turns out that some of those milky mushrooms are excellent edibles, and we collect them to take home. We collect three species for eating: Lactarius volemus, Lactarius hygrophoroides, and Lactarius corrugis. There are a few other edible Lactarius, but these three are species we can find in abundance in the summer in New England. When pan fried with a bit of oil or butter, they manage to retain a nice textural crunch. The L. volemus and L. corrugis have an unusual fishy odor when fresh, a key identifying characteristic, and some people think the odor carries over to the flavor; I find them to be an excellent edible, with an iron-y quality that doesn't have the fishy taste.

Gillian with an exceptionally nice specimen of Lactarius corrugis, showing its darker cap color

We love Connie!
Brined Lactarius and milkweed filling

Another benefit of being with CVMS is the collective knowledge of other
members when it comes to cooking, eating, or preserving the fungi. One club member, Connie, told Robert about salt-brining the Lactarius mushrooms for long term storage, a technique he now uses every year. We can sometimes find more than a dozen large, bug-free specimens on a foray day to bring home and begin the brining process. Robert begins by cleaning the Lactarius gently, then cutting them into quarters. He boils them about 10 minutes, lets them cool, then drains the cooking water. Sometimes we don't collect enough for a full jar, so he stores the cooked mushrooms in salted water in the fridge until we can collect enough for the brining process. Once we have enough, he layers them in a non-reactive glass jar, adding a few spices like garlic, peppercorns, or onions between layers, and salts each layer liberally before adding more cooked mushrooms. He allows the jar to sit a day or so, to see how much more liquid the mushrooms will exude under the salt, then adds enough clean water to cover the mushrooms entirely. They then can be stored in a cool place until we need them, and he has successfully stored them in this manner for about one year without mold forming. To use the preserved mushrooms, we remove them from the salt brine, rinse them, and soak them in fresh water overnight. They are then ready to be used in recipes, like Mushroom Paprikas, or I used them mixed with milkweed flower buds and ramps bulbs as a stuffing for steamed buns for a CVMS potluck picnic.

Lactarius corrugis, showing darker corrugated caps, darker tan-colored gills, and white milk

Becoming familiar with an edible mushroom that can produce a crazy and weird milk-like substance really opened our minds to the culinary possibilities of fungi in general. Previously, I was terrified of wild mushrooms, a real mycophobe, and it was my insistence that we learn mushrooms from people and not books that led us to CVMS and its wonderful members. I cannot stress enough how important it is to seek out and find wild food mentors to teach you the hands-on knowledge that can't be gained from a guide book, whether plants, fungi, or other foraging skills. While we are still not comfortable teaching in a commercial manner yet, we are always interested in learning and are willing and able to pay dues and for classes to further our education and experiences. Forage on!

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