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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Mushrooms: River Cottage Handbook No.1