ForageCast: Chanterelles, Boletes and their Brethren

Chanterelles - Hands

It rains as I write, a good slow and steady soak that is sure to summon great flushes of gourmet and medicinal fungi. After a dry start to the summer season, golden chanterelles and boletes – from painted to porcini – are poking their familiar faces up from the warm July soil.

Boletes and chanterelles can be divine, but these charismatic fungi should not be mistaken for beginner species.

The jack-o’-lantern is a common, highly poisonous mushroom that is all-too-easily confused for the supremely edible (once cooked) chanterelle. Though not deadly for healthy adults, a jack-o’-lantern dinner is likely to leave you clinging to the toilet bowl for well over 24 hours. The differences between jacks and chanterelles are obvious to experienced foragers, but can be indiscernible to beginners. Once you can have mastered recognition of the golden chanterelle’s attached, forking gills and scattered fruiting habit, you can enjoy a handful of equally delicious, vibrantly colored chanterelle relations as well.

Boletes, pored fungi that grow in mycorrhizal association with plants, are generally safer than gilled mushrooms. No North American boletes are recognized as deadly, but this can lend beginners a false sense of security. Boletes are fairly simple to ID to genus, but identifying to species can vary from straightforward to extremely difficult without microscope and spore print. There are myriad North American boletes known to be edible, a handful of which rank among the most exquisite and savory of all wild mushrooms (such as the Boletus edulis group). There also are “edible” (ie non-poisonous) boletes that are repulsively bitter, and mild-flavored boletes that are highly toxic. Be weary of any blanket rules – you have to know each mushroom, in all its nuance and wild glory.

I had an inspiring morel season, but the June mushrooming dry spell has left me craving the persistence, passion, and abundance of the peak season mushroom hunt. We have not seen peak yet, but I anticipate promising conditions and invigorating surprises for our guided forays this coming weekend!

ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast: Brimming with Boletes



Despite a prolonged dry spell, the woods are brimming with boletes. September mornings have found the forest heavy with river valley fog, and host trees are generously sharing groundwater with my favorite mycorrhizal fungi.

The result is a delicious convergence of dry ground and breathtaking flushes, especially in areas with a high water table. I took the pooch for a labor day stroll in our local woodland, expecting to find nothing but mosquitoes in the parched woods. As I descended to the shores of a mucky pond, I saw hundred-strong legions of slippery jacks (Suillus luteus) and long veins of painted boletes (Suillus pictus). Soon, I found myself in a bolete stronghold, flanked by poised and poisonous lilac-browns (Sutorius eximius). The flushes were staggering, but the slippery Suillus and sickening Sutorius did little to whet my appetite.

I let the boletes lead me to a second pond, where I was greeted by a trio of plump, brick-red beauties. I knelt down to take a closer look, and realized I was face-to-face with firm, bug-free bicolors (Boletus bicolor). The yellow pores bruised dark blue upon handling, while the fragrant yellow flesh very slowly bruised a pale blue. The stipe was the deep red hue of the cap, yielding to yellow towards the top. The aroma was, for lack of a better word, boletealicious.

I left the bicolors in the ground and began walking away from the pond, under a mixed canopy dominated by oak and hemlock. I didn’t have to look hard to find the next bicolor, an overripe and pungent behemoth. This specimen, what I call a “flag,” led me to another bicolor hotspot, where I found everything from pristine new growth to larvae-littered giants.

I always love finding bicolor boletes. Though their ID can be slightly tricky, their vivid primary colors, chunky stature, and divine flavor make them a standout species in any forest. If they didn’t taste so good, bicolors could get by on their good looks alone. In fact, there is only one bolete I would rather find – the king, or porcini.

And that is exactly what I found next – a pair of chubby and pristine piglets – underneath hemlock and spruce. Do not be discouraged by the dry conditions – the boletes are having a memorable flush!

ForageCast - September 2015

ForageCast: Fall Flush

The painted bolete’s cobweb-like veil protects its yellow pores in young specimens.

Yesterday was the first day of fall, and it seems we have hit a turning point in the foraging season. After a mediocre summer harvest, fall has announced its arrival with a formidable flush.

Today we went on a hike to check on a massive oak we knew hosted hen-of-the-woods (maitake) last fall. The tree was barren, but we took a detour on the hike that brought us to a beech-dominated forest devastated by beech bark disease. A fungus of the genus Nectria causes this ubiquitous disease, which plagues beech bark with scaly craters. The battered bark is in turn infested with insects, leading to a beech population’s premature demise.

A lovely lion’s mane specimen found on today’s foray.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, beech forests infected with the fungus go through three stages: the advancing front, the killing front, and the aftermath. This forest was firmly in the aftermath zone. The downed, scarred silver trunks, punctuated by the occasional standing oak or maple, made the glade feel like an elephant graveyard.

Right in the middle of such widespread carnage lay new life. Lion’s mane mycelium was feasting on the downed beech, yielding succulent, toothy growths that taste not unlike crab. As I write, brisket is braising in the oven, and the lion’s mane is soon to be sautéed until the tips become crispy.

As the meandering trail took us out of the beech cemetery, we found ourselves in a healthy white and red pine grove. Lion’s mane disappeared, and in its place a colorful assortment of edible Suillus boletes and hallucinogenic yellow fly agarics (Amanita muscara var guessowii) dotted the forest floor.

The painted bolete’s speckled cap stands out with its autumnal hues.

The Suillus boletes, from the slippery jacks to the slippery Jill, have a well-deserved reputation for mediocrity. I typically rate them in the “survival food” category, but today we were lucky enough to find my favorite denizen of the genus – Suillus pictus, commonly known as the painted bolete. With its brick-red cap mottled with yellow specks and bright yellow pore surface protected by a cob-webby partial veil, Suilllus pictus is a striking bolete. Its flavor is neither nasty nor notable, but thankfully it is much less slimy than most Suillus species and its looks alone make it a joy to find.

I have not been lucky enough to discover any maitake this September, so I’m not doing my victory dance yet. Regardless, I am feeling like a satisfied forager. The mycelium is hard at work, and mushrooms are popping up throughout the land. The wait was worth it. 

Northeastern ForageCast for the next two weeks!

ForageCast: Week of July 18, 2011

Parched soil means few, if any, mushrooms.

After an abundant beginning to the chanterelle and black trumpet season, the recent bout of spectacular weather has sent the mushrooms back into hiding. I am still finding chanterelles and black trumpets, but, as local master forager Carl Whittaker recently remarked, there is nothing more “depressing” than sorting through vast swaths of dried up chanterelles, hoping to find a few decent specimens.

Regardless, it is hard to complain about 80-degree, sun-soaked days. And while many of the best edibles are shriveling up, there are still plenty of Russulas and Boletes painting the forest floor with their boldly colored caps.

Backpacking in the Adirondacks this weekend, I pointed out a frisbee-sized bitter bolete (Tylopilus felleus) to two of my friends. I told them it was innocuous but tongue-numbingly bitter, and apparently this was all they needed to know to dig in. They didn’t make it past the first bite, but they seemed to take some masochistic pleasure in the tingling on their tongues that lingered long after they had spit the morsel out! Needless to say, never taste a mushroom unless you are confident of its ID, and never taste a bitter bolete even if you are confident of its ID – unless you are the type of person who enjoys sucking on Sichuan peppercorns!

Northeastern ForageCast for the week of July 18, 2011


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