One of the tastiest and easiest to identify mushrooms lives here in the woodlands of the Isle of Man. Recently I went with a friend to find and pick these delicious porcini mushrooms.
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. This 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 flavor. 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.
Why Porcini are so Prized
The nutty and mushroomy flavour of porcini is delicious in pasta, soups, and rice dishes and when purchased in the shop is usually found dried. It can also be quite pricey – £100 per kilogram in fact. So the combination of demand and price makes it especially attractive to wild mushroom hunters!
This year will be known as a ‘Cep Year’ (or Porcini Year) since there have been more than plenty to go around. On our walk, We found probably about two dozen that had just gone over. Recently Bill came across about thirty porcini prime for picking. He took some of them home to dry and now has several quart-sized jars filled to bursting with dried mushrooms goodness.
Finding Porcini Mushrooms on the Isle of Man
About half an hour into our walk Bill spotted a clump of porcini. Though I’ve read in my books that these mushrooms like a bit of sunlight, every place that we found them growing was in the dark. Gloomy areas under pine trees that you had to crawl through to get to the mushrooms.
Though most of the porcini we found were past their ideal sell-by date, we did find three good mature specimens. Good meaning that they weren’t riddled with insects. The image above shows me splitting one in half to make sure there weren’t any lurking beasties inside.
You could also tell that the mushrooms were very mature by how green the underside of the caps had become. In porcini 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.
Porcini can grow alongside dangerous companions
Porcini were on the menu but Bill and I also came across scores of other types of mushrooms. 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 is toxic but also hallucinogenic. It induces feelings of floating but also has some nasty side effects including cramps, tremors, and muscle spasms. It can even be deadly, so please don’t experiment.
Autumn is the Season for Mushrooms
We only found one other type of boletus (a relative of the porcini), and no others that were edible. Quite a few interesting unknown types though! 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 you very ill.
The dark, damp, woods were a perfect place for fungi to spring up. They were everywhere though, including clearings and alongside paths. They were lurking among shamrocks and bedded down in pine needles and whispy moss. The diversity of mushrooms 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 Porcini
I feel terrible for not being able to tell you where we found porcini on the Isle of Man. Maybe with the photos in this post, you’ll be able to find a similar habitat near you. Think plantations, both broadleaf and coniferous trees, and the edge of woodlands. If you look from summer to the first frost you might be lucky with finding your own! It’s raining today which is also fantastic for mushroom hunting. They like a wet spell followed by a warmer, drier few days.
In my next piece, I’ll show how I’ve dried my bounty of Manx porcini and how to use them in meals. Porcini is one of the finest eating mushrooms — right up there with 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, porcini are relatively easy to identify! Check out the video below for more tips on how to identify them