Take A Walk On The Wild Side

Ron’s Mushroom Musings, December 2020 – by Ron Patton

How many times have you been out hunting for a few particular mushrooms while stepping past other edibles that we just seem to thumb our nose at? You know the usual suspects; slippery Suillus, puffy Puffballs, Wooly Pine Spike, better kicked than picked Brevipes, and let’s not forget the hideous Gomphidius. Some of these, and others, are usually designated as being obscure, trivial mushrooms to be ignored by more sophisticated mushroom pickers or are quickly dismissed by culinary aficionados. Some in this fungal group have even been ridiculed by several mushroom book authors. While a few mushroomers have ventured into the domain of these mostly ignored fungal misfits, most have chosen not to take a walk on the wild side of mushrooming. I know, I once was one of those discerning foragers, only hunting for top-shelf, big-game, tried and true mushrooms. Then, Covid-19 changed everything. Actually it didn’t but it sounds more dramatic that way. The truth is, Sandy and I were out mushroom hunting, finding nothing, when we came across this lowly pair of Gomphidius mushroom.

We remembered Lee Yamada telling us he had tried and enjoyed some of these mostly overlooked toadstools, especially when other mushrooms were scarce. So why not, we had nothing to lose but our taste buds and better judgment so we picked them. While we first thought this might be the Rosy Slime Spike (Gomphidius subroseus), after extracting one of them, it did not have the yellow coloring at the base of the stem typical of this species. On closer observation we determined it was Smith’s Slime Spike (Gomphidius Smithii). In any case, the one constant with this genus is the word “Slime”, and this one lived up to its namesake. Interesting, this pair of slime guys were growing right next to an old Suillus, also well know for its slimy character. Maybe slimy mushrooms just like hanging out together.

Well, actually Gomphidius species are parasitic fungi and their host genus is Suillus. As Forrest Gump would say, “slimy is as slimy does”. Smith’s Slime Spike is known to be parasitic on the mycelium of Suillus Lakei commonly called the Western Painted Suillus, a quite attractive mushroom when fresh. Parasite or not, we decided to pick these two mushrooms and put our aristocratic pride aside and give them a try.

Being a different kind of mushroom, you don’t want to just scrub them a little under cold running water, you first want to de-slime them. This is actually an easy process as the thin slime layer will easily peel away from the cap and quickly stick to your fingers. You officially have what I like to call Gomphidius fingers and can now more fully relate to what this mushroom has to wear on its cap every day. The difference between the original and de-slimed cap is quite remarkable. In this photo, you can see the slimy cap in the foreground and the de-slimed half-cap with its duller look in the background. That squiggly stuff in the photo is part of the slime removed from your fingers, which was formerly on the cap. After de-sliming the other cap it was time to rinse them off and take them to the chopping block. It’s best to keep the slices thin as they will cook faster and more evenly. I’ve found that thicker slices brown nicely on the outside but will leave the inside with a more gummy, pork fat texture which I find far less appetizing.

The final step is to place them in the sauté pan after heating up a little oil and butter. I keep a lid on the pan to let them cook for awhile in the oil, butter, and water the slices exude. After about 10 minutes, remove the lid, let the liquid evaporate and the browning process will begin. You can cook them to any level of doneness you like but I’ve found that a little golden brown crispiness really brings out the flavor and makes for a more enjoyable texture.

Believe it or not, this once slimy mushroom was actually quite good. It had a pleasant mild mushroomy flavor without any bitterness or any other revolting traits that we could detect.

This experience has certainly opened us up to trying other neglected edible fungi despite the character assassinations and witticisms that are sometimes associated with them. Remember, flavor and enjoyability are highly subjective and open to interpretation by each of us. So, if you decide to take a walk on the wild side, please follow all of the safety rules for trying a new mushroom, which can be found on the CMS website. Do your homework, verify what you find, and above all stay safe.

Sandy and I wish you a joyful holiday season and may we all have a happy and Covid-19 free 2021. Finally, to quote Tiny Tim “God bless us, every one”

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