Monday, August 22, 2011

Mushroom Monday

This weekend we made our third trip to the local mountains to hunt for mushrooms. Yep, "hunt" instead of "forage" because we have no idea where they are, let alone whether there will be enough to collect. Since these mountains are so new to us, and the weather this year so very odd, we've picked a few areas to try to visit with some regularity. Our first two trips yielded...
not a mushroom

not a mushroom

...some spectacular views, glimpses of elk, wildflowers, mule and white-tailed deer, fingerling trout, turkeys and geese; nary a mushroom. Wrong place? Right place, wrong time? Who's to know! We're after the wily and capricious boletes of the southwest so there's just no telling.

Well, actually, there's some fairly educated guessing about habitat and timing going on but still, it feels like we're stalking wild prey. So imagine the adrenaline rush when we saw this on our third outing:

a little orange dome among the young aspen trees, what could it be?

hum... orange-brown cap, cap dry, whitish pore layer, dark scabers on the stalk, stains purple-gray to black when cut

That's right! An Aspen Bolete (Leccinum insigne). The first time we found these a few years ago we knew they were boletes (pores, not gills or teeth) but had only seen the Boletus edulis in hand so we consulted our handy Arora pocket guide to find this notation, "Edibility: excellent, it darkens when cooked." They were the only boletes around at the time so we bagged a few to try and off we went.

When we got home M hit the internet to find out more from our other best & trustworthy regional resource, Colorado Mushrooms, "Edibility: edible by some." Uh oh. Reading further:
"The Rocky Mountain Poison Center received occasional reports of serious gastric problems, some requiring hospitalization, from eating moderate amounts of so-called orange caps, usually well cooked, found under aspen in various part of Colorado."
Let's just say those specimens sat a little too long and by the time we got around to them they were bug-eaten and way past their prime. Yeah, that's the story... We ain't afraid of no 'shroom! I do, however, have a strong aversion to the idea of self-induced 'severe gastric distress.'  Which brings us to our specimen above...

Since our first experience with Aspen Boletes we've read up on the issues and we felt like we could make an informed decision: we would go ahead an try this one...just a small piece to see if either of us reacted to it. At least that was the gist of the conversation in the field. We got home and M prepped the mushroom for a simple fry up-- it was a beautiful, not a bug or blemish on it. As he peeled away the scabers from the stalk, "Why don't you see what Vera  has to say."  "Edibility: edible (but see caution). Looks like she wrote the above note in CM." He throws the mushroom into the skillet for a quick dry saute...

dry saute of aspen boletes

"How 'about Kuo? He's kind of conservative when it comes to eating fungus, see what he has to say."

aspen boletes turn to an inky black

Yikes! He has them in Group Three of this poisonous bolete look-alikes!
"Though it is a fact only recently finding its way into the mainstream of mushroom publications, it is a certainty that at least one or two of the orange-capped Leccinum species in North America is mildly poisonous. It is still unclear precisely which species is the culprit (and more than one species may be responsible), but all of them should be avoided."

That was that.

aspen boletes on their way to the local landfill

Maybe we'll revisit Leccinum insigne in a few more years when the experts have worked out the details.


  1. It looks like the hunt was worth it, though with the elk, and other wildlife that that seen. That is one pretty mushroom.

    Your story reminds me of the time my husband and I picked a whole bunch of beefsteak morels during a camping trip. We ate several meals of them, and I brought a cooler full of them home. When I got home, I looked them up on the internet, only to find that in general they are safe to eat, but every so often there is one that has a concentrated amount of a deadly toxin. I promptly pitched all the ones we brought home and never picked another other one! (The ones we ate tasted absolutely delicious though and nobody died, but not worth taking the chance again!)

    kateri @

  2. whoops! you weren't talking about verpas but Gyromitra esculenta! Glad you two were okay but I'm with you: it's just not worth the risk, no matter how delicious.

  3. Yikes! I'm glad you didn't end up eating them.

  4. I think we found some of those on our Wisconsin property last year. I'm so uncertain in identifying boletes, though, they usually sit around until they've dried up or rotted away--thus absolving me of having to make a decision about whether to eat them.

    Could be ours were birch boletes. I'll be keeping an eye out for more in the coming weeks.


  5. Thanks Meg! We live to forage another day! And avoided a potentially painful, expensive and embarrassing trip to the hospital.

  6. We were lucky, Brett, the learned and delightful Bodios initiated us into the wonderful world of boletes. You know how it is when someone knowledgeable says, "Look here, you can eat that!' You key out the plant/mushroom/fruit and the next time you are still cautious but more confident. We can id a few to eat and now, two _not_ to eat (the young Satan's look like barrowsii). We've certainly gathered our share of unknowns and let them go in much the same manner.

    I joined the local mycological society to get some guided experience with gilled mushrooms...and then moved 200 miles away before I could attend a foray. Some day; until then I'm happy to eat out of my limited knowledge base. Good luck with the Birch Boletes!

  7. I applaud you for the "when in doubt, throw it out" approach. Foraging is becoming all the rage, but it's worth repeating, over and over again, that "There are old mushroom hunters, and bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters!"


  8. You were smart to check so many sources BEFORE consuming them. I fed some to my entire family yesterday and only then wondered about the scabrous stalk and did my review. Had I known then what I know now I would not have suffered the mental anguish of thinking I might have poisoned my family. Luckily, they were delicious and we are all fine, but... I won't be eating them again.

  9. Anon, Happy to hear everyone is fine! Where I live, the nearest mycological group is 200 miles away; if I attended their meetings and forays and talked to those who forage in the same general areas my risk calculation might change. Until then, they're off the menu, delicious as they might be. Sigh... Hope your next basketful includes lots of Kings and Barrowsii!