Monday, June 21, 2010
Summer Mushrooms - Boletus Atkinsonii
Every summer I try to focus on finding and identifying at least 1 or 2 new edibles and giving them a try. This year I decided that I would focus on boletes. Generally the boletes in our area are fairly safe. There are no known deadly boletes but there are still a few that can get you quite sick, so it is still good to be cautious. Now I have found and eaten a few boletes in the past. Everyone must try the Old Man of the Woods at least once (though if you do, I highly suggest trying them dry and NOT fresh), and I have had my share of easy to ID shrooms, like the easy to ID gilled-bolete.
The main reason I have waited this long is that when you get into some of the better edible boletes it can be very hard and challenging to identify them. Take for example, the bolete photographed above. Micheal Rogers found these early on in the week. He sent photos around to several experts including Tom Volk who thought it matched pretty well with Boletus Nobilissimus. Missouri Mycological Society member Jay Justice, probably the leading expert on Bolete ID, for our area suggested that they were either Boletus variipes or B. atkinsonii. So which is it?
Tom Volk has probably the most experience, having seen mushrooms across the country and around the world, and based on the cap color and description it really does align well with the noble bolete. However, there is something said for local knowledge and the noble bolete has only been found in New York . Jay who knows mushrooms of the MIdwest and Missouri knows what has been found and so his suggestion is probably a more reasonable educated guess. Lucky in this case all of these are edible, so you don't necessarily have to have a exact ID to be comfortable enjoying these. And let me tell you they are well worth it. Not bad at all fresh, but rivals the King Bolete himself, the porcini, in nutty flavor and richness when dried.
This only highlights the difficulty of merely trying to ID a bolete by only using macroscopic features, or only those features that are visible to the naked eye. Often times, you must look at the spores to be truly sure. Luckily there is a short cut that can often help you avoid purchasing and dusting off your microscope skills. Luckily, many boletes can be ID'ed by judging there chemical reactions to certain substance. There are actually three chemicals that professional and amateur mycologists use to ID boletes, however, two of them, iron salts & potassium hydroxide can be rather hard to come by for the average person. Luckily the last one is ammonia which is readily available in any grocery or household store (though get the pure form and not some lemon-scented version). Using just a few drops can often tell you what bolete you have in front of you.
So let's return back to the suspect bolete in question. I had the two options above and in my own research, I found reference to another bolete common to the Midwest (mainly Illinois) that fit the bill, boletus reticulatus .
In fact, after going out with Michael on Friday to see some of them myself,
I was pretty convinced that what he had found was indeed reticulatus because it was a perfect match. However, when I finally tested a cap with ammonia here is what I saw. The drop flashed and then turned a nice shade of magenta, which meant it was most likely boletus atkinsonii. B nobillisimus turns purple as well, but since it hasn't been found outside of NY, I am ruling it out. B reticulatus was the other one, but ammonia will either not react with the cap, or it will turn it a dull orange, which was not the case.
So do not be afraid of boletes, generally anything that doesn't bruise blue or have red or orange pores is fair game in our neck of the woods. But if you add and carry around a small dropper of ammonia in your bag, you can be more certain of which boletes you have as you experiment with tastes and flavors, so you know which ones are the best to seek out in the future.
Here are a few other pictures that Michael took of these fellows:
This one had a cap color that was more of an almost greenish tan, or a light brown with a green hue. Most of the ones I picked were this color. If you click on the photo and zoom in you can see the net-like reticulation on the stem. This is important to know because most of the choice edible boletes have this characteristic.
Going back to cap color, several of them, mainly the younger ones, like this prime button had a more yellowish tan color. I also picked a couple that had a dark brown cap, but all reacted the same with the ammonia. Also as you can clearly see the stem was white. The flesh and pores were as white as the stem and it did not bruise any color nor were there any signs of bruising around worm holes and damaged areas of flesh.