If you’re keen on a trip and are you a fun guy (get it?), then mushroom foraging is for you. It’s like going on a treasure hunt in the forest, where you get to go home and make a delectable lunch.
Of an estimated five million fungi species worldwide, around 1 000 occur in South Africa. How many of them are edible, though? My fungi fundi friend always says every mushroom is edible at least once, so heed caution when foraging.
Always search for mushrooms with someone who does it regularly, only on your own once you have enough experience, and only pick a mushroom if you are 100% certain it’s the one you are looking for. A misidentification could prove fatal.
Here’s a list of delicious, non-fatal mushrooms in South Africa.
Bay bolete (Imleria badia)
Also known as Boletus badius or Chestnut Bolete, this popular edible mushroom grows in deciduous and coniferous forests and mainly occurs under pine trees in South Africa.
One of the simplest ways to enjoy bay bolete is to sauté them in butter or olive oil with garlic and herbs such as thyme or rosemary. You can serve them as a side dish or add them to pasta, risotto or omelettes. They also pair well with meats, such as beef or pork, and can be used in stews or soups for added depth of flavour.
This sought-after mushroom, also known as a penny bun, has a rich, earthy flavour with a consistent and firm texture, meaning you can add it to various dishes.
Its a great idea to sauté them in olive oil and butter (as with most mushrooms), and they are fantastic in risotto or pasta. They even stand out on their own, so feel free to add them to a salad after you’ve sautéed them.
- Cap: The cap of a porcini mushroom is typically 5-25 cm in diameter and is convex when young before becoming flat or slightly concave with age. It is typically brown or reddish-brown in colour and may have a slightly velvety texture.
- Pores: The underside of the cap features tiny, closely spaced pores that are white or yellowish in colour and turn brown with age.
- Stem: The stem of a porcini mushroom is usually 5-20 cm long and 2-10 cm thick, and it is usually white or light brown in colour. It is often slightly bulbous at the base and may have a net-like pattern on the upper part of the stem.
- Spore print: The spores of a porcini mushroom are olive-brown in colour.
Saffron milk cap (Lactarius deliciosus)
Also known as a pine ring and as its other name suggests, it often occurs under pine trees, among pine needles. It has a bright orange or yellow cap and a milky white stem that exudes a yellowish liquid when cut, making it an easy mushroom for beginners to identify.
They are great in pasta and, thanks to their strong taste, they also complement meat dishes with pork and cheeses such as Brie.
This variety is also great for pickling, where they can be served as a condiment or to add a tangy flavour to salads
Common characteristics of a Saffron Milk Cap are:
- Cap: The cap of a saffron milk cap mushroom is usually between 5-15 cm in diameter and is convex when young before becoming flat or slightly depressed with age. It is typically bright orange or yellow in colour and may have a slightly sticky or slimy texture when wet.
- Gills: The underside of the cap features thin, widely spaced gills that are a bright orange colour and exude a milky white or yellowish liquid when cut.
- Stem: The stem of a saffron milk cap mushroom is usually between 3-10 cm long and 1-2.5 cm thick, and it is usually a similar colour to the cap. It is often slightly tapered towards the base and may have a slightly velvety or hairy texture.
- Spore print: The spores of a saffron milk cap mushroom are light cream or yellowish in colour.
This mushroom may not be the most appealing with its distinctive slimy cap, ranging from brown to reddish brown, and a stem covered in scales.
It is important to remove the slimy cap before cooking it, as this is not digestible. Slippery Jacks can be sauteed in olive oil or butter but are also great in a cabbage soup or creamy sauce.
- Cap: The cap of a Slippery Jack mushroom is usually between 5-15 cm in diameter and is slimy or sticky to the touch. It can be yellow-brown to reddish-brown in colour and has a slightly convex shape that becomes more flattened with age.
- Gills: Slippery Jack mushrooms do not have true gills. Instead, they have pores underneath the cap that are initially covered with a thin white membrane. The pores are small and yellow, and when the membrane breaks, they exude a yellowish liquid.
- Stem: The stem of a Slippery Jack mushroom is usually between 5-12 cm long and 1-2.5 cm thick. It is covered with a network of small scales and is usually a similar colour to the cap.
- Spore print: The spores of a slippery jack mushroom are yellow-brown in colour.
If you don’t know anyone with experience in identifying mushrooms, experienced foragers offer guided tours through forests, as well as advice on how to cook them.
Get foraging, and remember to be cautious.
ALSO SEE: How to grow mushrooms at home
By David Henning for Getaway Magazine