About ten years ago I joined my sister Liz on a Fungus Field Course at Preston Montfort Field Centre. I had a wonderful week learning to seek out and attempt to identify the toadstools and other fungi we found. Each day we would go to a different woodland, or piece of land with more open habitat, and simply walk around searching. We took a knife, a wooden trug and our cameras and after a couple of hours we would meet up with the rest of the group and be transported back to spend the rest of the day in the lab sorting our hauls. We found loads of specimens and I took hundreds of colour slides in the field. My favourites were the Russula toadstools and the very beautiful Stropharia aeruginosa. I also had several photo opportunities with the Fly Agaric, the star of many a fairy story.
With so many species to get to grips with, that week in which I dabbled and rubbed shoulders with the likes of the late Derek Reid, who tutored the course, was a unique event. My sister has gone from strength to strength in her adventures with fungi; I have remained single-mindedly loyal to the Mollusca.
But I have retained a thing or two and I do know that Boletes, or Cepes as the French call them, are good eating. There are many species, including Boletus edulis, known as the Penny Bun, because that is what it looks like, and only a handful of poisonous ones. They are utterly recognisable by the porous nature of the mostly yellow-coloured undersides of the toadstool cap.
On our way to the ferry last week we called at the petrol station at Liss to buy an Independent. Nick spotted toadstools on an area of short turf planted with young trees nearby. There were many, in groups of 2, 3 or 10, 12….. As I peered down at them I could see that they were Boletes and in reasonable condition. I hastily extracted a plastic carrier from the car, not an ideal receptacle but I did not have a nice wooden trug to hand at the time, and picked 15 or so. We then trundled off, I’m not sure why I felt we had to steal away, I am sure no-one else was going to bother harvesting them.
We crossed the Channel and, once landed at Ouistreham, I phoned Anne and Francois, who are enthusiastic amateur mycologists, to see if they would be up when we got to St Vaast, about 11 p.m., so we could get my haul identified. They would be.
Francois leafed back and forth through his Fungi Guide and deliberated over the possible options. With Boletes, as with many other fungi, they are often host-specific. Nick thought the trees under which the toadstools were growing were birch but the leaves attached to some of the caps were too broad. They looked more like beech it was thought.
I suddenly noticed some pine-needles sticking to other specimens, and this eventually led me to a tentative identification. By this stage I was in my kitchen having been shown which parts of the fungus to use, and which to discard, the viscous skin on the cap being a definite discard. In fact the viscosity of the cap and the suspect host eventually led me to conclude that I had gathered either Suillus grevillei (formerly Boletus elegans) which is Larch-specific or Boletus granulatus commonly called Slippery Jack, which grows beneath conifers. Both are edible species.
I peeled away the skin and also the spongey porous underside to the cap. The flesh which remains is smooth and in my specimens was a bit waterlogged owing to the heavy rain of previous days. The following day I called up my Rose Eliot recipe for Mushroom Pate (given below) on my laptop. It contains nuts as well as mushrooms, along with breadcrumbs, herbs, and egg, milk powder…… and a teaspoon of marmite. I chopped the Cepes and also some Shaggy Inkcaps I had picked in our garden. These latter have come up each year since we have lived at 104. I had to boil off quite a lot of the liquid but I made the loaf and we ate some with saute potatoes and mushy peas for lunch. It was good. I took a slice over the road for the doctor and his wife.
1lb/500g mushroom stalks, washed (this is the economy option or you can buy cheap mushrooms or harvest your own!); 1 onion peeled; 2oz/50g butter; 1 egg; 8oz/250g wholemeal breadcrumbs; 2 tbs skimmed milk powder or soya flour; 40oz/100g milled brazil nuts, or hazelnuts or walnuts; 1 tsp Marmite; 1 tsp mixed herbs; Sea salt
Chop mushrooms and onion and sauté together in butter until tender – about 10 minutes. (This is when I boiled off excess liquid). Liquidise, then add the rest of the ingredients and sea salt to taste. Turn into a well buttered and crumbed 2lb/1kg loaf tin and bake in a moderate oven, mark 4 or 350F/180C for 1 hour. It should come out of its tin without too much fuss and can then be served in slices with gravy, roast potatoes and vegetables. It also slices well when cold.
This recipe makes use of the complementary protein in the nuts and mushrooms, and in wholewheat bread and skimmed milk powder (or soya flour), with an egg thrown in as well, to make a nutritious, tasty and fairly economical main dish.