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Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America

A Complete Wild Food Guide

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King Bolete (Boletus edulis) (By: Rob Hille CC BY-SA 3.0)

Season: Late Summer to Early Fall in wild and dried in European food stores

READ THIS Before Gathering and Eating Wild Mushrooms.

Urban, Rural or Both: Rural mainly

King Bolete (Boletus edulis). Other common names for it are: Penny Bun, Porcino, Porcini, Cep, King Cep and Steinpilz.

It is considered a choice mushroom almost all around the world, and it does taste great with a nice nutty quality, can grow to a massive size, can even be sliced and barbecued, but be careful with this one. First, there are many, many mushrooms that look a LOT like it - a real head scratcher when learning to identify. Second, I find it is very often full of little insects or tiny slugs. And, some people - like me - are allergic to this one. I find it is a relatively common wild mushroom in the right conditions, but have read it is considered fairly rare, which makes me think the mixed forests of Southern Ontario are a good area for it.

For identifying, I will give some basic pointers, but this is one you have to really do your research, and/or have an expert show you in the field. The best way to start with this one is find a European grocery store, and buy some dried and packaged. They will be expensive, not cheap like Shiitake. You need to soak a dried one in warm to hot (not boiling) water until fully rehydrated - 20-30 minutes, then slice and cook. As you are slicing it up, look over each aspect carefully.

They form what is known as a Mycorrhizal or symbiotic ectomycorrhizal relationships with tree roots. Each helps the other. To put it simply, the fungus gets sugars from the plant, and the plant gets extra moisture and minerals from the fungus. A common underground partnership that makes forests work. So, when looking for a Boletus edulis, look in woods or around a tree, in the late summer to early fall.

Although I've read they can be in hardwood and softwood forests (Deciduous and Coniferous), my personal experience in Southern Ontario is they seem more likely to be found where there is at least some coniferous trees, and even more common where conifers predominate in mixed forest areas. The color of the top of the cap is often the same as the color of the dried, fallen needles from the trees above - baked bread brown to reddish light brown.

It is a mushroom with a stem coming from the center of the cap. It does not have gills (gills look like the edges of sheets of paper), but has pores (look like the ends of a bundle of straws). On this one, the pores are very small, giving the impression of almost a solid surface. If you look closely, you will see hundreds of tiny holes. If at the right stage for gathering, the under side of the cap where the pores are, should be a dull white color. If it is getting old, it will develop a yellow/green hue. If you find what you think is a Bolete, and the pore surface is red or orange, consider it not edible.

It can be a huge mushroom (30 cm or one foot across) to as small as a button mushroom from a store. The stem is often very large compared to the cap, and is fatter near the bottom, especially in less mature specimens. It has a cartoonish look to it in my opinion. Scratch the pore surface under the cap - it should NOT turn blue. If it does turn blue, the cap is chestnut brown, and the spore print is an olive brown, you most likely have the Bay Bolete (Boletus badius). It is edible as well, and considered a second prize to finding a Boletus edulis. That said, I'd stick with just the ones that don't turn blue, as the different Boletes can be hard to distinguish, and some that do turn blue should not be eaten.

You can fry or cook these almost any way. Big ones sliced thick and barbecued are good. Some people remove the pore layer from the top of the cap before cooking, some don't. I think you should, as in my experience, there is a sponginess to the pore layer - especially when the mushroom is mature. If the specimen in immature the pore layer is OK to leave on. The pore layer separates very easily anyway (another feature of this mushroom), so it is not a big effort. They can turn watery when cooked, so leave the top off the pan if frying to let the excess moisture steam off.



King Bolete (Boletus edulis). (By: Michael Wood CC BY-SA 3.0)


King Bolete (Boletus edulis). Note the area under the cap. Pores, not gills, and the color. (By: Vincenzo Gianferrari Pini GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


King Bolete (Boletus edulis). This is how the flesh should look when cut in half - and not turning color like blue or green or yellow where cut. By the way, if you look closely, you can see where little worms and bugs have been tunneling into and eating the flesh of this mushroom. You must wear your glasses if you use them and look carefully when preparing these for eating. It is very common to find them this way. Many are so full of little critters, they are just no good for using. (By: Alinja GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)

Before Gathering and Eating any Wild Mushroom READ THE FOLLOWING:

This is a difficult subject to approach. I've been studying mushrooms in the wild for about 30 years and they often still surprise and confuse me when identifying.

The problem for a site like this, is that 100% correct identification is absolutely necessary, but hard to do for many mushrooms - even with years of experience, let alone a newcomer to the subject. Best to have someone with genuine expertise show you. If that is not possible, please do much research on the web or with books, preferably both. Do not trust a single source of information - EVER. I have found mistakes on the web, and have even corrected errors on Wikipedia myself. You need confirmation from multiple sources. If you are serious about the subject, one book I highly recommend is "Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi by David Arora". I bought the 1986 edition in 1987 and that is what got me started seriously learning about mushrooms. David Arora is from the west coast, but what he says about east coast mushrooms matches with my experience. There are pictures, and very well thought out step by step identification sequences.

Another book which is very good, and a great guide to carry with you on gathering expeditions is "The Audubon Society Field Guild to North American Mushrooms".

Before you gather anything, you must know the most dangerous mushroom of Eastern North America - it can mean your life if you don't. It is the Destroying Angel (Amanita bisporigera). There is another Destroying Angel on the west coast, the Amanita ocreata. Please take me seriously with this, the Destroying Angels not only kill, but they kill you slowly & painfully. Don't rely on taste, people who have eaten them said, before they died, they were very good tasting. I don't think there is anything, other than maybe the Water Hemlock plant, that kills with such pain and suffering. Look them up, read about them here - KNOW THEM.

Another very dangerous mushroom with the same toxin as the Destroying Angel is the Galerina marginata. Please read the entry for Galerina marginata on the Poisonous Plants page.

I suggest only five mushrooms for the wild food gatherer & mushroom novice to start off with. The Chanterelle, Morel, Hericium, and the Sulphur Shelf and Giant Puffball. The Morel, and Giant Puffball can often be found in urban environments. The Chanterelle, Hericium, Morel and Sulphur Shelf in the woods. The Giant Puffball can be often found in grassy areas in the country. I have seen the Sulphur Shelf in the city on rare occasions on the side of dying trees. These five are relatively straight forward to identify correctly, and do not have deadly poisonous close look-alikes - although there may be similar looking mushrooms that could make you sick - very sick, so always take identification very seriously. Also, these are not mushrooms you can usually buy in the local grocery store. Until fairly recently, Morels could not be grown in artificial environments.

The Morel is a spring season mushroom, Chanterelle, Sulphur Shelf and Giant Puffball is a summer to fall mushroom, and the Hericium is a late summer to fall mushroom, so this gives a fairly large window of time to enjoy them. PLEASE take it very slowly, do a lot of research, look at many pictures, and learn how to identify the edible ones from mushrooms that look like them - STEP by STEP with each aspect of the mushroom. Remember, though I do my best to help you identify them, this is not a dedicated identification guide, you do need to learn more than I provide.

And by the way, be careful of what other people pick. Some people go by simple rules of identification that they have learned from others that don't hold up. They may have been lucky so far, but if you eat what others have picked, you had better hope they know what they are doing. Know what you are picking, don't use simple rules except for one: If you are not absolutely, 100% sure, with each and every aspect of the mushroom, do not eat it.

Spore Prints:

Learn to take a spore print. Put a mushroom cap on white and black paper, and cover with a cup or bowl and after a couple of hours take off the cup, carefully lift up the cap and you should see a spore print. The color of the spores is an important aspect of identification. Go to the spore print link, where you will see the black and white spore print paper image. Click on it, click again and print it. Here is a link directly to it. You can print the same image below:


Print this image to take your spore print on. (William Rafti of the William Rafti Institute CC BY-SA 3.0). Click here to download a printable version.

The next six images are the steps in taking a spore print:

spore print 01

This is an Agaricus bisporus that I'm using to demonstrate taking a spore print. This one still has a bit of the partial veil left on. It is the partial veil that makes the ring on the stem.

spore print 02

Next, you have to take off the stem so that the cap will sit flat on the paper. If the gills are "free" - don't touch the stem, you can usually break off the stem. If the gills touch the stem, (adnate, decurrent, etc.), you are best to cut the stem off carefully with a sharp, clean knife.

spore print 03

Set the cap, gills down, on a piece of paper. Put a drop or two of room temperature water on the cap, but not so much that it runs down to the paper. This helps the mushroom hydrate which helps it in the process of releasing the spores.

spore print 04

Cover with a glass or plastic container to keep it humid inside for the mushroom.

Agaricus bisporus spore print 01

It can take as little as a couple of hours, to 12 hours in my experience to get a good print. If you have 12 hours, leave it. If you want to eat the mushroom sooner, take a look after a couple of hours. You may not get a nice looking print, but even a few spores should reveal their color.

Agaricus bisporus spore print close up

This is a close up of the spore print. You can see the white lines where the gills were, and the spores on either side that dropped off. This is the brown for a spore print you would expect for an Agaricus bisporus.

Remember the mushroomer's motto: When in Doubt - Throw it Out. Even experts aren't sure sometimes, and will pass on eating a mushroom unless they are sure.

One more thing I will repeat over and over. When eating anything for the first time, only have a tiny amount to make sure you are not allergic to it. This is especially true for mushrooms. Every edible mushroom creates a reaction with some people. There are two choice edible mushrooms that I am allergic too. The Oyster mushroom makes me feel like I have the flu coming on, and the Boletus edulis makes me feel hot, I break into a sweat, and feel sick to my stomach.

If you think I'm being overly cautious, think about what I read years ago (I regrettably forget the source). There are two kinds of wild mushroom eaters: Brave ones and living ones.

Identification: When reading the description for the mushrooms, refer to the chart below for what those descriptions mean.

Creator of this chart: debivort. Used under GNU Free Documentation License. Full size and source of this image here.

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Important Notes when Identifying
Rules & Cautions
Dangerous Plants to Avoid Touching

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