August 28, 2011

Hurricane under delivers.... Boletus Mania Ensues.

A collection of 'gold from the woodland', our gift from Hurricane Irene's rains. Wild late summer mushrooms, often called the king of the forest. Here,  Boletus bicolor, Boletus edulus, some early Boletus variipes. yellow-fleshed Xanthoconium separans ( Boletus separans) and more are filling our foraging baskets.

Around the world this weekend, a select group of people are out in the woodlands and meadows where oaks, Beech, Chestnut and Ash trees grow, and they are all doing the same thing - Picking mushrooms.
High in the alpine areas of Switzerland and Austria, in the meadows of northern Italy, In Croatia, Serbia, Poland, Latvia, Finland, Lithuania, Russia, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and in New England - especially New England, mushroom pickers are foraging the woodland after nearly ten inches of warm rain has fallen over the past 24 hours. The collective microrhyza are calling all mushrooms to emerge, and that, they are.

One of the greatest gifts that my parents left us were their skills in mushroom picking. There is hardly a holiday together where my brothers and sisters don't reminisce about the romance of picking mushrooms, but I remember it differently, maybe because I was the youngest. Mushroom picking in the summer meant stopping on the way home from a day at the beach in Rhode Island, at a state park or rest area, and meant the my mom and dad would be gone for an hour or two, know, knives in hand, gathering mushrooms. I can still hear my moms voice saying " Ahh, this is mushroom picking weather", especially after a thunderstorm  in late summer.

I still pick and eat wild mushrooms, along with my sister ( my brothers are too chicken, or they never paid attention!), but I only knew the varieties by how they looked, and by their Lithuanian names. Today, as  plant geek/Botanist, I know that they are mostly Boletus edulis complex, but in my head, I keep hearing the name my family called them 'baravykas', or "Butter-Veekies" as we kids would call them ( and still do). My sister could never roll her 'r's.

Since both my parents are 100% Lithuanian ( all four of my grandparents came to the US from Vilnius in 1889), I feel a strong affinity for mushrooms, the picking of mushrooms and of course, cooking and eating them. These Boletus species are some of the most flavorful mushrooms, and are my favorite, especially when cooked with salt pork, onion and a little fresh dill. These are the scents of mu childhood, and ones that I cherish and try to repeat whenever I can.

NOTE" Mushroom picking is serious business, DO NOT PICK WILD MUSHROOMS unless you know exactly what you are picking. Many are deadly, or at the very least, make you very ill or cause liver failure.

 Many Boletus turn blue when their flesh is cut, and this happens almost instantly.
 Freshly picked mushrooms must be cleaned and cooked almost immediately, and you will want to, for a late night treat. These are bug-free, and ready to be boiled for a 5 minutes before fully cooking in the pork fat and onion. Be certain to fully cook Boletus, even if you are certain of the genus, for there are many subspecies within the Boletus edulis group, and some are toxic unless par-boiled and fully cooked. ( toxic in a way that can give you an upset stomach).

Yummy, Crunchy, Salty Goodness. 
If you are interested in learning more about mushrooms and mushroom picking, look for a mushroom collecting group in your area ( Boletus edulis are found worldwide).


  1. Anonymous5:54 PM

    It is wonderful Matt that you have the true Lithuanian knowledge of mushrooms and continue to pick. I am goung to search for a mushroom guide to teach me what my Lithuanian Grandfather did not have time to. Thanks for your blog I find it to excite the small but enthusiastic gardner in me!

  2. Around here, the Boston Mycological Club has gathering, identification, and cooking parties frequently.


  3. Mike, thanks for mentioning the Boston Mycological Club. My sister and I were just talking about joining one last night, and she had mentioned that she thought that there was one in Boston. Thanks for reminding us!

  4. Matt, this is so AWESOME! We too noticed that there were a ton of wild mushrooms out and about after the hurricane. I wish I had your eye and knowledge.

    I've been thinking about joining the Boston Mycological Club as well. Maybe one of these days I can convince you to take me along on one of your mushroom hunts!


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