Mushroom picking. For years I'd wanted to indulge in this foraging fantasy, my mind filled with romanticised visions of skipping in a cool dark forest with a wicker basket tucked under my arm, stopping every now and then to pluck a large waiting mushroom to add to my spoils.
The reality, of course, was markedly different. For us, it began with a 5.30am wake-up call so we could be on the road by
If you are lucky enough to have awesome friends like Veruca Salt (who packed the boot with fried eggs, crispy bacon, grilled sausages, caramelised onions, soft buns, tomato sauce and barbecue sauce for breakfast) then a rest stop at the Glenbrook Visitor Information Centre provides picnic tables and clean bathrooms before the mountainous ascent.
Mushroom picking leaflets in English, Chinese and Korean
There are only two mushrooms that visitors are recommended to pick:
- the saffron milk cap (lactarius delicosus), commonly known as the pine mushroom; and
- the slippery jack (suillus luteus or boletus luteus).
Pine mushroom samples
There are over 40,000 hectares of State-owned pine forests in the Oberon area. We elected to head to the Vulcan State Forest, one of the oldest pine forests in the area. The older the pine forest is, the more likely it is to have sufficient pine needle matter to cultivate mushrooms. Mushroom spores arrived here via the original pine seedlings imported from Europe for commercial plantations.
Vulcan State Forest
The pine forests are divided by dirt roads, and logging trucks are a common sight. All that is forgotten when you enter the cool depths of the forest, an eerily quiet sanctuary broken only by the snap and crack of twigs and branches underfoot. The forest floor is covered in a blanket of dry pine needles, and as you move further into the wilderness, you really could imagine suddenly encountering a gingerbread house, just like the fairytale.
But there's magic to be found in the form of mushrooms, and it's hard not to shriek a little when we find the first pine mushrooms. It's like a real life Easter egg hunt, except mushrooms are our gustatory treasures.
Slippery jacks (suillus luteus or boletus luteus)
We find plenty of slippery jacks, known for its distinctive sticky and slightly slimy caps.These are quite mild in flavour, heralding from the same family as the porcini mushroom.
Spongy gills underneath the slippery jack (suillus luteus or boletus luteus)
The slippery jack has spongy gills underneath. To prepare slippery jacks for eating, pull away and remove the sponge, discard the stem and peel the top skin. The slimy cap may cause stomach upsets if not peeled. You will be left with a thin white "fillet" which can then be sliced and pan-fried with butter and garlic.
Slippery jacks tend to absorb a lot of moisture so can be difficult to pick just after the rain when they become soggy and rot easily. Slippery jacks need to be cooked within a few days after picking, as they do not keep well. They can also be pickled or dried.
Cutting a pine mushroom (saffron milk cap or lactarius deliciosus)
Finding quality pine mushrooms (saffron milk caps or lactarius deliciosus) is less easy. There are plenty of large older pine mushrooms, but these tend to be dry or damaged. The best eating ones are young - smaller in size and vibrant in colour.
Distinctive orange gills of the pine mushroom (saffron milk cap or lactarius deliciosus)
The orange gills of the pine mushroom are extremely sensitive - any bruising will quickly result in a green discoloration.
Pine mushrooms and slippery jacks
To minimise damage to the mushrooms, we've brought along plenty of shallow boxes to prevent them crushing each other. We make regular trips back to the car to deposit our haul.
We heart mushrooms!
A giant heart-shaped pine mushroom warrants a photo, as do the myriad of fly agaric mushrooms we encounter.
Fly agaric mushroom (amanita muscaria)
The toad-stuhl gets its name from its use as a common household killer for flys. The toad-stuhl or fly agaric is poisonous, and can cause hallucinations, delirium, severe stomach upsets, seizures, muscle spasms, and in some cases, death.
It is recommended to avoid touching any mushrooms that are clearly not pine mushrooms (saffron milk caps) nor slippery jacks, particularly to prevent contaminating your hands, knives or edible mushrooms with potentially dangerous spores.
They are fascinating, but the closest I got to these specimens was admiring them through a lens!
Fly agaric mushroom (amanita muscaria)
Fly agaric mushroom (amanita muscaria var. guessowii)
Button fly agaric mushroom (amanita muscaria)
Mature fly agaric mushroom (amanita muscaria)
More fly agaric mushroom (amanita muscaria)
Unidentified mushroom (that looks rather ominous!)
We found wombat burrows, fox dens and even a shy local who wasn't keen on entertaining visitors...
I spy with my little eye...
Echidna hiding in a burrow (if I can't see you, you can't see me!)
It was quite amazing to see this little echidna, its quills quivering as it breathed heavily in its hidey hole. We left it alone of course, quietly retreating back out of the forest with our mushroom pillage.
Our mushroom haul
After a long day we came away with an impressive stash of mushrooms, dispensed to a network of family and friends. I cooked mine simply, pan-fried at high heat with a little butter and a sprinkle of salt. You can also add garlic, parsley and/or bacon if you prefer.
The mushroom season in Oberon usually runs from late January until late April/early May depending on the weather. The optimal time for finding mushroom is a few days after rain. If you are interested in mushrooming, here are a couple of tips that may help!
10 Tips for Mushroom Picking in Oberon
- Visit the Oberon Visitor Information Centre for maps on where to go, mushroom-picking leaflets and advice and tips on how to correctly identify and pick pine mushrooms and slippery jacks. Permits are not required for mushrooming but removing timber, firewood or bush rocks is strictly forbidden.
- Clothes: Wear bright clothing so others can see you if you get lost. Wear long pants and long sleeves to ward off mosquitos and leeches. The forests can also be quite cool, especially in the morning and late afternoon. Bring a pair of gum boots or spare shoes - this will save you trekking dirt and mud in and out of your car, particularly if it has recently rained.
- Tools: Pack a small sharp knife, baskets for collecting mushrooms and boxes for transporting them home. Shallow stackable boxes will minimise bruising.
- Keep an eye out for trucks and timber harvesting, and stay clear of any areas where logging is taking place. Logging takes place every day of the week. Park your car well clear of the road to avoid damage by passing timber trucks.
- Always pick mushrooms with a partner and make sure you consistently stay in sight of each other. Walk in a straight line into the forest from where you have parked your car and don't deviate too far from this line. It's easy to lose your sense of direction once you're deep in the forest. If you want to move into another area, head back to your car and walk back in again. Bring a compass and a whistle for extra precaution.
- Pine mushrooms are often hidden under pine needles so look carefully. When you have correctly identified a safe mushroom, cut them gently at the stem - don't pull the roots out of the soil. This will allow more mushrooms to grow, and also minimises the risk of you infecting your picked mushrooms with soil and spores. Cover the exposed stem with pine needles to encourage future growth.
- Choose young pine mushrooms that are bright in colour. Larger older ones tend to be dry and woody.
- Only pick the mushrooms you need. Leave the rest for the next person to enjoy. Respect the forests and wildlife by minimising disturbance and taking all litter with you.
- If in doubt, throw it out. Don't touch any mushrooms that are obviously not pine mushrooms or slippery jacks - their spores can be highly toxic. Even travelling with poisonous mushrooms in a car can lead to people becoming dizzy from the fumes.
- At the end of the day, get all your mushrooms checked by experts. The staff at the Oberon Visitor Information Centre will happily check your stash and confirm that the mushrooms you have picked are safe to eat.
Vulcan State Forest
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Oberon Visitor Information Centre
Corner of Ross Street and Edith Road, Oberon, New South Wales
Tel: +61 (02) 6329 8210
Monday to Saturday 10am-4pm
Mushrooming in Forests NSW pine plantations (info sheet)
Australian fungi identification site (Bill Leithhead)
Survival tips for mushroom pickers by the Oberon State Emergency Service
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4/16/2012 01:18:00 am