Wet and horrible today but I am hoping this weather will bring out the mushrooms and I’ll be able to visit a favourite spot for collecting saffron milk caps (Lactarius deliciosus).
I love showing people these mushrooms and then declaring that they are not only edible but delicious. The way that they bleed bright orange is quite offputting for some and most people would instinctively think that this indicates that they are poisonous.
When foraging for mushrooms I would insist on this general advice:
- Preferably go out with someone who knows what they are looking for who can show you the mushrooms in the field and talk you through or show you the inedible or poisonous look-alikes.
- Invest in at least two books. Get one photographic field guide to carry with you and keep at home a large and thorough mycology book that will go into much greater detail. It is not likely that a field guide will show you everything you can find and you will need another book to double check identification. A photographic guide is very useful but you cannot depend only on outward appearances.
- If in doubt about a specimen, take a few home and analyse them. Get a spore print at least and look it over very carefully before comitting to an identification, or show it to a friend who is more experienced.
Thankfully saffron milk caps are very distinctive and you can be pretty sure of them. The features to check for are the carroty orange colour and the concentric ring-like effect on the top of the cap. The cap margins are slightly rolled in. When fresh and cut they will bleed an orange milk and when bruised, the flesh and gills will turn blue. The gills are decurrent, which means they extend down the stem. Many people can also detect a slightly fruity, apricot smell to these mushrooms.
Look for them in pine woods where they will return frequently and you will be able to find them consistently from September onwards until late November. When picking mushrooms, use a knife to pare them off at the bottom of the stem, leaving the root in the ground as pulling them up will destroy the mushroom and spoil its chances of fruiting again. Remember most of a mushroom consists of tiny threads under the ground and what you are picking to eat is just the fruiting body.
With saffron milk caps you need to be out early before the critters get to them because they are loved by grubs, too. It is worth cutting the body in half when picking so you can see if there is any infestation that will show up as dark blue speckles and tunnels in the flesh. As the fruit bodies mature they will go pale and can get quite large but older specimens are certain to be full of grubs and virtually tasteless. You need young and firm specimens.
Not all milk caps are edible and be sure that you are not picking brown roll rims (Paxillus involutus) which look similar and also bleed although tending to be brown, or woolly milk caps (Lactarius torminosus) that are pink or red and have a woolly margin. Use identification guides and be sure.
These mushrooms keep their texture well when cooked and I just like to fry them with a bit of garlic infused olive oil, add them to a risotto or a mushroom salad.
Disclaimer: the author will not be held liable for any ill effects resulting from misidentification of mushrooms based on this post. Please take responsibility to get a positive and accurate identification before eating any wild picked mushrooms.