Friday, December 5, 2014

I quit. No, really, I quit.

California has many different mushrooms. In particular, it has many different bolete mushrooms. Boletous edulis, the King Bolete, or Porcini, being one of the most famous and sought after. I am still to find one of these. However, I believe I have found pretty much every possible version of bitter bolete species, including a ridiculously rare, not even named one.

Some back story first.

In Russia, where I grew up and learned to identify mushrooms, things were easy. All boletes were good. If it had a sponge on the bottom, it was edible and good. If it was big and had a sponge on the bottom, it was very good. Boletes were some of the first mushrooms you learned to identify because it was easy: sponge=good. There were rumors of such things as a B. satanis, or Satan's Bolete, but we never saw one around Moscow, and in fact it was treated as something from a horror movie: a bolete that wasn't good!!!

Then we moved to the US. In addition to many other traumatic events (new country, new language, new school, new food, new everything) I also had to learn that there is such a thing as a bitter bolete mushroom. I remember my first or second fall here, bringing home a bunch of mushrooms that looked very much like something from back home. My mother lovingly made soup, which was a beautiful clear color -- the measure of any bolete is whether the broth made from it is clear or dark colored; the porcini makes a clear broth, and other, lesser boletes, produce cloudy and dark soup. We proudly served it for dinner, with sour cream and herbs, tasted the first spoonfull and gagged.

It was unbearably bitter.

We threw the whole thing out. A whole pot of beautiful mushroom soup, brimming with nostalgia.

Seriously? A bolete that you cannot eat? How screwed up is this place anyway?


This experience scared me into not picking anything with a sponge on the bottom ever again. Yes, I probably can tell apart a porcini (although I don't know, maybe this place has bitter porcinis too!), but since I still haven't found a porcini, I've stayed away from the whole bolete family. 

Until today.

While walking the dog in one of the preserves in the Santa Cruz mountains, we stumbled on a big, fat, firm mushroom, with a brown cap, wide bulbous stalk and faintly yellow pores. I had the list of edible local boletes burned into the back of my eyeballs at this point: king bolete, queen bolete, white bolete, and butter bolete. They are distinctive. The first three do not stain blue, and the last one barely stains. They have a distinctive shape and unique coloring. You. Cannot. Confuse. Them. With. Anything.

The thing I found looked like this:

It's a butter bolete. It has to be!
Butter bolete. It has to be. The description reads (I have it memorized, remember): 
  1. cap yellow brown -- check
  2. surface of cup bald, not sticky or slimy -- check, had the pleasant velvety texture of the "good boletes"
  3. underside with a sponge layer, pore surface yellow but bruising blue -- check
  4. stalk thick, upper part might be finely netted -- check, very fine netting, but it was there
  5. flesh thick and dense, pale yellow except at base of stalk, blueing erratically -- yup
  6. flesh at base of stalk tan -- totally
I got one! I got an edible bolete, and a good one at that! 

I proudly brought it home. I sautéed it in butter. It looked and smelled amazing. I tasted it. You know what happens next, right?

It was unbearably bitter. 

You're kidding, right?

I took out my books. The first one had a picture of my mushroom and said B. appendiculatus, butter bolete. The second one too. As did the third one. Finally, I went and got out The Tome. You know things are bad when you start consulting The Tome, or Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora, 1000 pages of dense mushrooms classification.

I read the butter bolete description. Yup. Still fits. Then, on the next page, there it was: Boletus "marshii" also known as "Shucks Bolete", a rare, unclassified and unnamed mushroom.

A what now?

"This bolete appears to be unnamed ...  in the vicinity os Santa Cruz, CA ... Distinguished from B. appendiculatus (butter bolete) by a paler cap". 

So I found some as-of-yet not even named and classified mushroom, that only grows around Santa Cruz, and is only described in one of my mushrooms books. And of course, it's bitter. 

I quit. Seriously. I am done. I am going to get my boletes at the farmer's market. Hopefully I won't get the bitter ones from there. Although given my luck, I don't know...

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