Bolete, king bolete, boletus
cèpe (French), Steinpilz (German), porcini (Italian), boleto comestible (Spanish)
(species of Boletus, Leccinum, Gyroporus, and Suillus – Family Boletaceae)
The Bolete is from a large family of fungi that is not a true single mushroom, but a complex of forms which can look quite different from one patch to another. There is a fundamental difference between the true mushroom (agaric) and a bolete. An agaric has gills in the form of fine, radiating ‘plates’, while a bolete is a mass of tubes that look like foam rubber. The tubes terminate in very fine to coarse pores. Another group, called polyspores, also has these tubes but is distinguished from the boletes by other features. Some are edible and delectable, while others may be edible but not quite as enjoyable. Those from Oregon are described as fat double hassocks, with chestnut caps as crisp as apples. Others from South Africa can be leggy specimens the colour of bone. Italy has huge tawny boletes. Despite the size and shape, they can be distinguished by a spongy tube-mass that replaces the gills and bulbous shape with fishnet patterned stalks. A few rare ones are poisonous, for example, Satan’s bolete (Boletus satanas), which is dangerous. Generally, they should never be eaten raw. This fleshy mushroom exhibits a deep red spongy mass instead of gills under the cap, which will stain blue when pressed. Bolettes occur naturally in a wide variety of habitats throughout China, Europe, North America, and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere; but they have been inadvertently introduced to parts of the Southern Hemisphere, notably Africa via certain trees.
The most famous member is the Boletus edulis, often called the King of Mushrooms for its impressive size and flavour. The European boletes have a deeper, sweeter flavour than many of the North American varieties, and is at its best when it is dried. As the King bolete matures, its colour darkens and the spongy flesh becomes yellow-green and slimy. Commercial Kings are often sliced in half to display their meaty flesh. Top quality mushrooms are firm and free of worm trails. Like many mushrooms, they must be thoroughly checked for any lingering critters that may have burrowed into the flesh or lie in any of the folds. Usually infested mushrooms that have worms in their flesh will appear an unappetizing spongy or soft. These worms will usually drop out as the mushroom dehydrates.
Cep or penny bun mushroom (Boletus edulis) grows on the ground near trees. They favour pine, beech, oak, and birch woodlands. The rounded, bun-like brown cap is often covered with a white bloom when young and sits on a bulbous whitish stem. Both are edible. Rather than gills, these mushrooms have tube-like pores beneath the cap that turns yellow at maturity. This is a delicious fleshy fungus that is highly prized in Continental markets and can be eaten fresh, pickled, or dried.
Other related species of Boletus are also edible including: yellow-fleshed bolete (Boltetus chrysenteron), admirable bolete (B. mirabilis), Smith’s bolete (B. smithii), Zellers bolete (B. zelleri), orange-capped bolete (Leccinum aurantiacum), scaly-stemmed bolete (L. scabrum), slippery jack (Suillus luteus), short-stemmed slippery jack (S. brevipes), blue-staining bolete (S. caerulescens), hollow-stemmed larch bolete (S. cavipes), dotted-stalk slippery jack (S. granulatus), Lake’s bolete (S. lakei), olive-capped bolete (S. subolivaceus), woolly-capped bolete (S. tomentosus)
Caution: It is advisable to be very sure of the identification of any species which has red spores under the cap. It could be Boletus luridus, which is poisonous if eaten raw, but can still cause gastric upsets when cooked; or it could be Devil’s boletus (B. satanas), which is rare but very poisonous; or it could be the perfectly edible B. erythropus, which also has red pores.