Mushrooms, getting to know them and cooking them

This article is not intended to be a treatise on mycology but to show, with extremely synthesized notes, the mushrooms that we can find during our walks in the woods and their main characteristics.

How is a fungus born?

What is commonly called a fungus is nothing more than a fruit, called carpophore, of the plant called thallo-mycelium.

The plant that produces the carpophore consists of a network of filaments called hyphae originated from the spore. The union of these two elements (hyphae and spore) constitutes the mycelium which lives infiltrated in the wood or in the soil where it grows and nourishes of decomposing organic substances (saprophytic fungi) or living organic substances (parasite fungi) or surviving in a regime of exchange of nutritive substances with green plants (fungi with mycorrhizal symbiosis). 

Mushrooms belong to the vegetable kingdom but have a particular characteristic, they are the only plants without chlorophyll so they can not produce photosynthesis chlorophyll obtaining nutrients (carbon) from decomposing organisms, plant or animal.

Before going in search of mushrooms I would like to give you a warning: unless you are an expert in mushrooms, avoid eating those picked by you directly and prefer those that are on the market and have undergone a thorough examination that ensures the perfect and safe edibility.

Among the many varieties I will limit myself to listing only the most common, safe and important ones:

Boleti or Porcini

It is difficult to describe the characteristics of all the fungi belonging to this numerous family of “moulds”, usually the somatic traits of the Porcini are: roundish and fleshy chapel, firm stem, short in the youngest specimens then cylindrical with colour varying from the white to the hazelnut. The colour of the chapel varies from a dirty white colour, to the hazelnut, to the dark brown with edges of a lighter colour. In the larger specimens, the lower part of the chapel is covered by a sponge/dark green moss. Intense and sweet taste.

Some examples of quality porcino with Latin name and dialectal names:

Boletus edulis, boletus reticulatus (albarello, estatino), boletus pinicola (red porcine, blackberry stump), boletus aereus (bronzino, moreccio), boletus impolitus, boletus regius (yellow porcine), boletus corsicus (leccino)

Cantharellus or Catteries

They take their name from the shape of the wavy chapel at the edges that resembles the crest of a rooster. The cap of these mushrooms ranges from faded yellow to yellow-orange, brown to grey-black. The stem is the same colour as the cap, with a plum-like scent and a slightly sweet taste.

Armillaria Mellea or Chiodino

From the Latin “armilla = bracelet” and “melleus = honey colour”.

Mushrooms that are always found in groups, have long, thin stems and chapels ranging in colour from honey yellow to greenish-grey to reddish. Mushrooms are rather leathery, often indigestible, excellent trifolati, in oil or vinegar, many chefs prefer to cook them after boiling.

Other common names: Famigliola, chiodino, ciudin, agarico color honey, fung mouron, fong de la zoca.

Amanita caesarea or good egg

From the Latin “caesarea = from Caesar” because it is considered the emperor of taste. The eggs are distinguished from all other mushrooms by the characteristic white membrane that surrounds them in the early stages of maturation, making them look like an egg. At an advanced stage of maturation, an orange-coloured chapel appears, with the lower layer covered with white foils.

A thin yellow stem wrapped in a ring of the same colour, it grows in summer and autumn, especially under chestnut and oak trees. Excellent eaten raw, cut into thin salads is one of the most sought after mushrooms for its delicious taste, frequently used in haute cuisine preparations.

Other common names: good egg, capela rusa, fong ovo, fung cocc, caredan de bosc, coccolo.

Clavaria or Ditole

From the Latin ” Clava = club ” for the form also called the Hammer of Hercules. The fingers are grouped in bunches, resembling the fingers of a hand. They have a big stem divided into many ramifications, white or pale yellow colour, firm and white flesh with delicate taste, particularly suitable for the preparation of the risottos.

Other common names: fingers, coral reefs, turkey oaks, fingers, little hands, mantises.

Agaricus Campestris or Prataiolo

From the Latin “Campester” for its habitat. Excellent quality of mushroom, less fragrant and valuable than the porcini but widely used in cooking. In spring and autumn it can be easily found in uncultivated areas, gardens or fertilised soils in the form of stumps/groups, it has a thin stem and a wide and thin chapel with white gills. This fungus is known and appreciated, has a pleasant taste and smell, white internal flesh that becomes reddish when cut.

Other common names: Prataiolo, tuvara, gentile, senseriol, pradireu, puinon, castagneur, fongo pradariol, bianchetti.

Cleaning and storage

Mushrooms (from the moment of purchase or harvesting) can be stored for a maximum of two days not in the refrigerator but in a cool and well ventilated place. When choosing mushrooms make sure that the chapel is intact, firm and free of small animals (worms) With the exception of cultivated mushrooms should never be washed but scraped off the ground on the stem and rubbed with a damp cloth. On the market you will find cultivated mushrooms, less fragrant and tasty than porcini mushrooms but available all year round and dried mushrooms that require a “special” preparation before being cooked, in fact, must be soaked to make them soft and ready to cook. The porcini family is one of the few, if not the only one, that lends itself to drying, keeping all their original aroma and taste during this phase (drying).

How is edibility determined?

A Mycologist would immediately recognize the quality of poisonous fungus, below I will list only the false beliefs about mushrooms. There is no basis for considering the blackening of the teaspoon of silver or the clove of garlic placed near the mushroom just harvested as an indication of poisonousness. No indication of edibility of a mushroom from the chapel of the same eaten by a snail or ingestion of a piece of mushroom by a pet.

Beware… some mushrooms begin to give visible effects of poisoning or poisoning only after 8 or 12 hours the ingestion. The species responsible for serious poisoning are: amanita verna, amanita virosa, amanita phalloides whose symptoms begin only after many hours of ingestion with difficulty breathing, dizziness etc.

It is to be remembered that the lethal fungi do not lose their toxic properties after the drying, cooking or after years of conservation. So be careful when picking mushrooms… if you are not an expert before consuming them take them to the nearest mycological control center.

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