Foraging for Wild Mushrooms: Ceps

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I am sworn to secrecy as to where these pictures of last week’s mushroom foray took place. Like most wild mushroom enthusiasts, photographer and media pal Bill Dale keeps his fungi hunting grounds locations a closely guarded secret. Which is why it was a privilege to be taken with him in search of one of the most highly prized mushrooms of all – the Cep, which is also known as Porcini, or the Penny Bun.

Ceps are woodland mushrooms that can be found growing all across the Northern Hemisphere from the Isle of Man, to Europe, right across Russia and even in North America where the variety looks a little different but apparently has the same flavour. It’s a large mushroom that forms symbiotic relationships with tree roots and can be found in both coniferous and deciduous forests – that is, it grows happily alongside both Pine trees and broadleaf trees such as Oak and Beech.

Foraging for Ceps, also called Porcini, on the Isle of Man #mushrooms

The nutty and mushroomy flavour of Ceps is delicious in pasta, soups, and rice dishes and when purchased in the shop is usually found dried. It can also be quite pricey – £48 per kilogram in fact (for fans of the Imperial system that’s about $39/lb). So the combination of demand and price make it especially attractive to wild mushroom hunters!

This year might very well be known as a ‘Cep Year’ though since there have been more than plenty to go around. While on our walk, we found probably about two dozen Ceps that has just gone over and just recently Bill came across about thirty ceps prime for picking. He took some of them home to dry and now has several quart sized jars filled to bursting with dried Porcini.

Foraging for Ceps, also called Porcini, on the Isle of Man #mushrooms
Foraging for Ceps, also called Porcini, on the Isle of Man #mushrooms
So it was just about half an hour into our walk that Bill spotted a clump of Ceps lit by a patch of sunlight. Though I’ve read in my books that these mushrooms like a bit of sunlight, every place that we found them growing was in dark plantings of Pine trees that were dense with gloom. So much for adhering to the rules, right? My kind of mushroom!

Though most of the Ceps we found were past their ideal sell-by date, we did find three mature specimens that weren’t riddled with insects. The image above shows me splitting one in half to make sure there weren’t any lurking beasties inside. Aside from their size, you can also tell that the mushrooms were getting pretty ancient by how green the underside of the caps had become. In Ceps the ‘tubes’ are originally white, then yellow, then turn green and sponge-like towards the end of their cycle. They’re still fabulously tasty at this stage though so I had no issue with taking them home.

Foraging for Ceps, also called Porcini, on the Isle of Man #mushrooms
Ceps were on the menu but Bill and I also came across scores of other types of mushrooms on our walk. Probably the most prolific was Fly Agaric – a familiar red ‘Toadstool’ that is often found in illustrations of faeries, gnomes, and other mythical beings. Interesting that it’s found in such magical company since this mushroom isn’t dangerously poisonous as most people think, but instead hallucinogenic. It induces feelings of floating but also has some nasty side effects including cramps, tremors, and muscle spasms.* It doesn’t sound like my kind of fun.
Foraging for Ceps, also called Porcini, on the Isle of Man #mushrooms
Aside from a single Boletus (a relative of the Cep), we weren’t able to identify with 100% accuracy any other edible species. Instead of plucking these unknowns for our baskets we contented ourselves with taking pictures of our photogenic subjects. Though there are only a few mushrooms in the UK that are truly dangerous, there are plenty that will make your stomach upset. I believe that would include the one above which I suspect is Sulphur Tuft.
Foraging for Ceps, also called Porcini, on the Isle of Man #mushrooms

The dark, damp, woods were a perfect place for fungi to spring up but we also found them in clearings and alongside paths. They were lurking among shamrocks and bedded down in pine needles and whispy moss. The area we were walking in was rich in both numbers and diversity of mushrooms and really has inspired me to learn more about spotting edible species. I have two very good books on mushrooms that I’ve been thumbing through today.

Foraging for Ceps, also called Porcini, on the Isle of Man #mushrooms

I feel terrible in not being able to tell you where we found Ceps on the Isle of Man but maybe with the photos in this post you’ll be able to find a similar habitat near you. Think plantations, pine trees, and dark spaces and if you look from summer to the first frost you might be lucky with finding your own! It’s starting to rain a bit today which is also fantastic for mushroom hunting – they like a wet spell followed by a warmer, drier few days.

Foraging for Ceps, also called Porcini, on the Isle of Man #mushrooms

In my next post I’ll show how I’ve dried my bounty of Manx Ceps and how to reconstitute and use them in meals. Ceps are heralded as one of the finest eating mushrooms and they’re held in as much esteem as Chantrelles and Truffles in the culinary world. If you’re lucky enough to have found some yourself you’ll be in for a real treat. And if foraging for mushrooms is new to you, Ceps are relatively easy to identify so jump on the Mycological bandwagon!

Foraging for Ceps, also called Porcini, on the Isle of Man #mushrooms
PS…I suspect that the mushrooms I’m having a look at in the above photo are a poisonous species called Sulphur Tuft. If you come across similar ones then look and take pictures but don’t eat.

 

* Information on Fly Agaric is taken from John Wright’s book ‘Mushrooms’
Mushrooms: River Cottage Handbook No.1
Foraging for Ceps, also called Porcini, on the Isle of Man #mushrooms

 

6 Discussion to this post

  1. ~~Melissa says:

    Love the toadstools. What a lovely piece of the world you live in.

  2. We just went to a lecture on foraging mushrooms and promptly went out and found some. We found many questionable varieties and one we talked ourselves out of picking to eat. When we got home we found out that we had passed up russala 🙁 oh well there is always next year!

  3. ~mel says:

    I always amazes me by the different names of mushrooms according to the region they are in. Now the ones you have here and are calling Ceps we just refer to them as Boletes. I wish I knew for sure though which ones to eat. A friend had picked some and they turned bluish in color and looked bruised. I told him not to eat them; but he did and became quite ill. Lesson learned. I guess I'll stick with my shiitakes, wine caps and oysters. Thanks for sharing 🙂 and have a wonderful day.

    • Blue mushrooms sound a bit dodgy…I'd have steered clear of them too! Sometimes it's better to just stick with the mushrooms you know but then again, there are so many tasty wild mushrooms. Always better to educate yourself on what you're picking first though.

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