The Spongy Majesty of Boletes
Species: Bolete mushrooms
It is always hard to accept the end of mushroom season in the fall, and (Family Boletaceae)
boletes are one of a few families of mushrooms that help to ease its way
out, with some varieties sticking around stick around until the air is chilly Distribution: Throughout Canada
and the ground is touched by the occasional frost. and beyond
Production: Some species in
The bolete family, which comprises hundreds of species, is easily
spring and summer; most in the
recognizable because the underside has a spongy pore layer rather
than gills. And there are many boletes out there worth getting to know. fall
The estimable 'Mushroom Jim' distills his considerable bolete wisdom thus: "Timing is everything. It may
well be that there is only a part of one day that any bolete or bolete patch is truly at its peak". Indeed.
Though it varies by region and by species, wiley harvesters have come up with a variety of climatic cues
to tip them off to this peak- three weeks after the first rain; or two weeks after an inch of rain has
accumulated. Many boletes are prone to parasites and may quickly rot once they are past their prime,
prompting some harvesters to collect early in the morning ("before the insects wake up").
Fat jacks (Suillus caerulescens / ponderosus, not to be confused with matte jacks, slim jacks, or tamarack
jacks) can be found, young and firm, popping up amongst the fir trees on Vancouver Island in the late
fall. If the slippery (when wet) top doesn't deter you, they can make fine eating, though they don't quite
attract the rave reviews of some of their relatives. Fat jacks have golden-tan caps and a yellow sponge
layer. Some boletes will stain a blue or green colour when you scratch their spongy surface; this
species does not, though if you cut the base of the stalk it may gradually develop a green hue.
The king bolete (Boletus edulis) is one of the most sought after mushrooms worldwide- "delectable... no
mushroom is more substantial or satisfying!" states David Arora, fungal authority extraordinaire. The
king has a yellow-to red-to brown cap atop a thick white or brown stalk, and grows individually or in
small clumps on the ground in coniferous forests. This species is also known as porcini, because it is
'plump as a little pig'. As one of the official weighers at the Bamfield Mushroom Festival's biggest-bolete
competition, I got to admire and handle many of these (all-too-often rotting) kings, and the prize-winner
was just shy of three pounds! Not just a hearty meal, king boletes are immuno-stimulating and contain
lots of vitamin B, and thereby help to maintain a balanced nervous system. There is also, by the way, a
Queen bolete (B. aereus) which has a darker cap when young and grows more commonly among
hardwoods in states to the south. Its flavour is preferred over the king by some, but dismissed as bland
Admirable boletes (B. mirabilis) are another gem- they are a maroon mushroom of respectable size with
a yellow pore layer, an affinity for hemlock trees, and a lemony flavour. Then there are the birch and
aspen boletes, Leccinium scabrum & L. insigne, described as tasty and as excellent respectively. There
are also the 'wonderfully dense' butter boletes (B.appendiculatus), and we're just getting started.
It must be explicitly stated though, that not all boletes are edible. Satan's bolete (B. satanas) is a species
best enjoyed from a distance; it has a red sponge layer that stains blue when scratched (if that's not the
work of the devil...) and causes severe gastro-intestinal distress. It has never been recorded to cause
death however; the same cannot be claimed by the red-pored bolete (B. pulcherrimus), a reddish brown
specimen which also grows amongst conifers in British Columbia.
Back to the ones we like to eat though- all of them have high moisture content, so dry-sautéing them
(cooking them without any grease at high heat until they give off water) is a good way to concentrate
their flavour. The sponge layer is particularly damp, and some people do away with it altogether (leaving
this part it in the forest can both increase the mushroom's reproductive potential and reduce the
sliminess of your harvest). Some connoisseurs find this to be the most flavourful part though, and dry it
for use in soup stocks.
This recipe is from "Wildman" Steve Brill, who claims that you'll find it difficult to conceive that food can
taste so good:
Recipe: Broiled boletes (fit for a king!)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbsp. chili paste or 3/4 tsp. cayenne hot pepper
4 cloves garlic
2 tsp. mellow miso
1 tsp. rosemary, ground
1/2 tsp. thyme, ground
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. juniper berries, ground (optional)
1/4 tsp. black pepper
10 cups king bolete, other choice bolete caps, or other mushrooms
Puree all ingredients except the mushroom caps in a blender and toss with the mushroom caps. Broil on
a rack in a broiler 4-8 minutes or until lightly browned. Broilers differ greatly, so check often to make
sure the boletes don’t begin to burn. Turn with a spatula, tongs, or fork and broil 4-8 minutes, or until
you’ve lightly browned the other side.
Caution: Never, ever, harvest, serve, or eat any mushroom without being certain of the species and its
edibility. King boletes can accumulate cadmium, copper, lead, and mercury, so make sure to choose
clean harvesting sites.
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