One of my favourite activities in Autumn is taking a trip to Mt Crawford Forest and indulging in the sport of wild mushroom foraging. Mt. Crawford, located at the north-eastern side of the Adelaide Hills, is a pine plantation forest with several areas open to the public for camping, hiking, weekend bonfires and mushrooming. Autumn is an especially popular time to go there, particularly within the Polish community in Adelaide, I have been going here with friends and family since I was very young. As Poland is abundant with majestic pine forests, such an annual pilgrimage offers an opportunity to reconnect with the familiar natural landscape and revisit the nostalgia for the motherland many have etched within their hearts. In fact, I do not recall a time I have ever visited this forest without bumping into at least one Polish family, especially in the Rocky Paddock area. I often see someone I know, or easily identify other Poles by sighting a group cooking their Kransky’s pierced through a stick over a bonfire, or a little crowd wandering in the forest with cane baskets filled to the brim with pine mushrooms. The stereotype holds quite true!
For us Poles and many other Slavic communities, mushroom foraging is one of the most enjoyable cultural pastimes. I love the opportunity for the younger and older generations in a family to spend time together, where the elder’s can pass on their very valuable foraging wisdom to the next generation. In my family, my grandmother is the mushroom guru who had the respected role in carefully checking that our collected mushrooms are safe to consume.
Our most recent trip this Autumn was quite special as it was the first time I began passing down some of my mushroom knowledge to my young children. It was such a beautiful sunny Autumn’s day. Golden light filtered through the pine trees as I breathed in the calming fresh scent of pine needles scattered across the slightly damp forest floor. I will forever cherish the memories made with them by my side, running through the forest finding and collecting mushrooms. There was a sense of bitter-sweetness though. I spent many years foraging in the same places with my late grandfather by my side, and felt slightly overwhelmed with a sense of longing for him yet a comforting closeness to his memory.
The common varieties of pine mushroom quite easily found and safe to pick at Mt. Crawford are Saffron Milk Cap and Slippery Jack/Weeping Bolete mushroom.
Saffron Milk Cap ~ Lactarius Deliciosus
The Saffron Milk Cap mushroom has a distinguishable saffron-orange cap that can range approximately 4-15 cm in width depending on its maturity. They are also commonly referred to as pine forest mushrooms. The cap is sticky when wet but otherwise dry and some of the larger ones can concave into the centre. Underneath they have light reddish-orange crowded fanned gills and green stains can occur due to bruising when handled or naturally at maturation. The stem can range approximately between 3-8 cm and is hollow inside. Found beneath conifers in well drained moist soil, usually surrounded by pine needles. They often grow in clusters so if you find one it is likely you will find more nearby. When sliced, the milk is deep orange in colour. Saffron Milk Caps have a mild taste and strong woody scent when cooked. Discard the stem before cooking.
Weeping Bolete (commonly known as Slippery Jack) ~ Suillus Granulatus
The Slippery Jack is distinguishable by its brown cap and yellow porous sponge beneath and when young, its underside is covered by a thin veil. As it matures the veil thins out and forms a ring around the stem. Similar looking mushrooms that fit this description without a veil can be often confused as ‘Slippery Jacks’ are from the same Bolete family, but are in fact technically Weeping Bolete as pictured above. Both are safe to eat and will be referred to collectively as Slippery Jacks by many. In fact, I previously distinguished both as Slippery Jacks prior to undertaking more research!
When young, the Weeping Bolete/ Slippery Jack cap has a conical chestnut brown to darker brown cap that later flattens out and may even concave slightly at the centre upon maturity. The cap ranges approximately 4-10 cm in width. The cap is quite slimy to touch and can be easily peeled off before cooking to avoid gastric upsets, but some do keep it on. I prefer to peel it off. Like the Saffron Milk Cap, these too are found near the base of conifers and often in clusters, the stem should also be discarded before cooking.
When you have identified a mushroom confidentially as either the Saffron Milk Cap or Slippery Jack or Weeping Bolete, take your small knife and cut through the stem, leaving the roots and partial stem behind. This ensures the mushroom will regenerate and leave opportunity for others to forage for many years to come. It is considered very disrespectful and poor sustainable practice to pick mushrooms with their roots attached. It is also very important to note that always check with credible sources that a mushroom is safe to pick. I’m not a mushroom expert and my advice is based on my family knowledge and personal research, so please take your own precautions and remember “When in doubt go without” as some mushrooms can be very poisonous. It is also wise to become familiar with mushroom varieties that are commonly confused with the ones you want to pick and find out if the confusions are safe or poisonous.
Where to find useful resources:
- Inquire at the Mt. Crawford Information centre for specific guides on local mushroom varieties.
- There are several useful apps with detailed taxonomies of many varieties, use with caution.
- Search for credible online sources, particularly from local governing and educational bodies.
- It is very useful to find someone with experience and knowledge to accompany you on your initial mushroom foraging adventure. Extra points of confidence if you can take a Polish grandmother or grandfather with you! (That’s a potential business idea! Hire a Polish Babcia hehe).
While great caution needs to be taken, foraging for your own wild mushrooms is such a wonderful experience and a great way to get back in touch with nature and enjoy how food was once commonly acquired. I hope you have found some inspiration to give it a go and take a trip to Mt. Crawford* for a great weekend of adventure. Stay tuned for my next post which will include ideas and recipes on how to prepare your foraged wild mushrooms.
Stay warm and have a lovely day,
* Or alternatively the more southern Kuipto Forest in South Australia.