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Monday, April 16, 2012

Mushroom picking in Oberon

pine mushrooms saffron milk caps and slippery jacks

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 6.00am 6.30am last weekend - early enough to beat the Easter Sunday traffic for a clear run through the Blue Mountains.

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.

oberon visitor information centre
Oberon Visitor Information Centre

We were headed to Oberon today, a 180km trip from Sydney that takes about 2 hours and 45min in good traffic.Our first port of call was the Oberon Visitor Information Centre - essential for anyone looking to pick mushrooms. Here you can watch an informational video (a recent Sydney Weekender episode with Mike Whitney picking mushrooms in the forest), pick up information leaflets and get free maps showing you all the pine forests in the region (there are several).

mushroom picking leaflets from oberon visitor information centre
Mushroom picking leaflets in English, Chinese and Korean

There are only two mushrooms that visitors are recommended to pick:
  1. the saffron milk cap (lactarius delicosus), commonly known as the pine mushroom; and
  2. the slippery jack (suillus luteus or boletus luteus).
pine mushroom samples at oberon visitor information centre
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 for mushroom picking
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.

wild mushroom picking near oberon
Hello mushrooms!

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 jack mushroom picking near oberon
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
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 in the forest
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.

orange gills of the pine mushroom saffron milk cap
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 mushroom saffron milk caps and slippery jacks
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.

giant heart-shaped pine mushroom saffron milk cap
We heart mushrooms!

A giant heart-shaped pine mushroom warrants a photo, as do the myriad of fly agaric mushrooms we encounter.

poisonous fly agaric mushrooms or toadstools
Fly agaric mushroom (amanita muscaria)

The fly agaric mushroom is the exact replica of every toadstool mushroom you've ever seen illustrated in children's story books. In fact this *is* the original toadstool mushroom, except toadstool is the anglicisation of its Germanic origin - toad-stuhl or seat of death! 

The toad-stuhl gets its name from its use as a common household killer for flies. 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!

poisonous fly agaric mushrooms or toadstools
Fly agaric mushroom (amanita muscaria)

poisonous fly agaric mushrooms or toadstools
Fly agaric mushroom (amanita muscaria var. guessowii)

poisonous fly agaric mushrooms or toadstools
Button fly agaric mushroom (amanita muscaria)

poisonous fly agaric mushrooms or toadstools
Mature fly agaric mushroom (amanita muscaria)

poisonous fly agaric mushrooms or toadstools
More fly agaric mushroom (amanita muscaria)

poisonous mushroom
Unidentified mushroom (that looks rather ominous!)

We found wombat burrows, fox dens and even a shy local who wasn't keen on entertaining visitors...

Hiding echidna
I spy with my little eye...

Echidna quills
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.

Pine mushroom saffron milk caps and slippery jacks from oberon
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

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. Tools: Pack a small sharp knife, baskets for collecting mushrooms and boxes for transporting them home. Shallow stackable boxes will minimise bruising. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Choose young pine mushrooms that are bright in colour. Larger older ones tend to be dry and woody.
  8. 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. 
  9. 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.
  10. 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. 
Happy hunting!

vulcan state forest for mushroom picking near oberon
Vulcan State Forest

Oberon Visitor Information Centre
Corner of Ross Street and Edith Road, Oberon, New South Wales
Tel: +61 (02) 6329 8210

Opening hours:
Monday to Saturday 10am-4pm
Sunday 10am-3pm

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Mushroom picking in Belanglo State Forest

More info:
Mushrooming in Forests NSW pine plantations (info sheet)
33 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 4/16/2012 01:18:00 am


  • At 4/16/2012 1:35 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    oooh the button fly mushroom looks like a lollipop! and naw lil echidna

  • At 4/16/2012 2:47 am, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    looks like an awesome thing to do. pine mushrooms are expensive so great to know about.

  • At 4/16/2012 10:33 am, Blogger Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    A mushroom lover's dream! Sounds like a lot of fun foraging the forest looking for mushrooms. Not sure if I missed it, but do they charge you for the amount of mushrooms you collect?

    Ngawww... cute scared echidna

  • At 4/16/2012 10:37 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Mushrooms are one of my favorites!! Soo many different varieties!

  • At 4/16/2012 10:43 am, Anonymous Sadie said…

    What a fantastic post, thank you! About to go on a mushroom walk next weekend in Wellington, NZ.

  • At 4/16/2012 10:51 am, Anonymous Oni said…

    wow, what a wonderful thing to do - thanks for the informative post!

  • At 4/16/2012 12:53 pm, Anonymous Eha said…

    What a fabulous and informative post: now I 'wanna go bad'! remember such fabulous mushroom picking sessions from my childhood in N Europe. We'd mostly pick slightly smaller ones and put up dozens of jars after pickling: oh yum!! But fried with heaps of onions and dill, and stuffed, and atop a steak . . .:D !

  • At 4/16/2012 2:30 pm, Blogger Jacq said…

    Awesome post Helen! I've always wanted to go mushroom picking but I'm paranoid about not knowing which ones are safe to eat. Good to know that the info centre will check them out for you before you head home and cook them up!

  • At 4/16/2012 3:55 pm, Blogger Milktea Eats said…

    this is totally dream come true for me! mushrooms wheeee! ive organised my own trip in 3 weeks time after reading your post!

  • At 4/16/2012 5:48 pm, Anonymous Chopinand @ ChopinandMysaucepan said…

    Dear Helen,

    Looks like we've been foraging around this autumn! I'm a little nervous about picking the wrong mushrooms though.


  • At 4/16/2012 6:17 pm, Anonymous Dee@foodinhand said…

    Oh wow I met a little old czech lady who gifted me a few pine mushrooms at a market. They were so good and I'm super keen to pick them! I might go tomorrow :D

  • At 4/16/2012 7:51 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    After those Chinese chefs died in Canberra recently after eating what they were sure were safe mushrooms, I'm even more nervous about the whole shebang! I would love to trust myself to go foraging.

    I'd definitely sing and dance like the mushrooms in Fantasia, though. Doo do doo doo....

  • At 4/16/2012 9:37 pm, Anonymous FoodieCath said…

    Wow you're brave Helen!! :) Hey - why cook them in a little butter? Why not LOTS? hehehe ;) yuummmm

  • At 4/16/2012 9:50 pm, Blogger muppy said…

    mmmmm i love pine mushrooms! you can buy them at castle hill farmers market.
    This looks like loads of fun :) except oberon is so cold....

  • At 4/16/2012 11:37 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    @Phuoc - It's all free! It's part of the State forest so tax payers do get some benefits. lol.

    @Sadie - Sounds amazing. Love Wellington and would love to see what kinds of mushrooms you find :)

    @Eha - What a lovely childhood. We did see some pickled mushrooms for sale and a roadside stall. And yum, mushrooms are a great pairing with steak!

    @Jacq - It was a lot of fun, and the Visitor Centre is so great about checking your mushrooms. A fun and productive day out!

    @milkteaxx - Awesome. I'm excited for you! Hope you find lots of mushrooms!

    @Chopin - Picking chestnuts looks like lots of fun. And the staff at the Oberon Visitor Information Centre will help you ID mushrooms before you go hunting, and then double-check them when you get back. Lovely people!

    @Dee - Ooh have fun. Very envious. I wish we had picked even more!

    @Hannah - The recent incident in Canberra involved people eating mushrooms that they thought were similar to ones in China that are safe to eat. It's best to only stick to pines and slippery jacks, and get them checked by experts before heading home with your haul. After a while it becomes very easy to identify the correct ones. I could definitely envisage you skipping and singing in the forest :)

    @FoodieCath - lol. I think you know me too well! haha

    @muppy - It was freezing cold in the morning but not too bad by lunchtime. And picking mushrooms is surprisingly exerting. lol

  • At 4/17/2012 9:01 am, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    It's great that the visitors' centre is so helpful that they'll even check your mushrooms for you! Sounds like a great day out, with a yummy mushroom dinner to look forward to.

  • At 4/17/2012 9:12 am, Anonymous Dumpling Girl said…

    Some truly stunning photos there Helen. Now I really want to pick some mushrooms too, but seems like I left it a bit late this year.

  • At 4/17/2012 9:48 am, Blogger Epicurious de Furious said…


    I once went on a mushroom picking safari very similar to the one you describe 15 years ago at a state forest near Oberon. Back then we just hit a forest (no visitor center or handout pamphlets). I was impressed at the time with the shear amount of pine mushroom available for the picking. It was so crazy that we were rejecting mushrooms would you believe and picking only the best looking ones. We quickly filled the boot of a large Ford Falcon I owned at the time. We also found Slippery Jack mushrooms, but I've never been too fond of them. Mushroom picking is more fun than fishing because you can spend all day at the water and catch nothing. On the other hand when mushroom picking in a pine forest near Oberon during their season you will fill your car with them. The fun starts when you bring them home. You don't know what to do with all the "food". I often compared eating butter fried pine mushrooms with garlic very similar to eating steak. The pine mushrooms are huge when cooked whole. We gave out mushrooms to friends who later told me they threw them out can you imagine, because they were concerned about mushroom poisoning. I can highly recommend mushroom picking in a pine forest near Oberon. You are guaranteed to be very well rewarded with a bounty of tasty mushrooms. Perhaps you might consider organizing a food bloggers day out with cooking equipment on site to provide instant gratification buy cooking mushrooms on the spot as they are collected. Thank you for an excellent blog. This one touched a soft spot as I once did exactly the same.

    Cheers, Jack

  • At 4/17/2012 10:08 am, Blogger Mel said…

    Looks wonderful Helen, something I'd love to do, but feel a bit nervous about incase I pick a dodgy killer 'shroom. I think that the Visitor's Center checks the mushrooms for people is WONDERFL - what a great thing to do.

    The toadstools do look SO pretty though don't they.

  • At 4/17/2012 11:46 am, Blogger Potato Princess said…

    Hi Helen! Looks like a lot of fun! I want to try it too, but am a bit scared of picking the wrong one :P I just went chestnut picking last weekend, love the feeling of harvesting your own food :)

  • At 4/17/2012 1:10 pm, Anonymous Adrian (What the Heck is Filipino Food) said…

    haha! Mushroom fantasy indeed! Though when thinking of a cool dark forest, for some reason I think of the scene from Twilight where they're holding hands lookin all cheesey! p.s. *I'm not a fan*

  • At 4/17/2012 1:33 pm, Anonymous Anna @ the shady pine said…

    What a fantastic day you had picking mushrooms! And great advice about getting your stash of mushrooms checked by experts....just in case.

  • At 4/17/2012 5:34 pm, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Wow - the non-edible ones are so pretty! Like out of a fairytale!

  • At 4/17/2012 7:14 pm, Anonymous Sara - Belly Rumbles said…

    This is on my list of 'to dos', just still haven't got around to it. I think Oberon is the ideal place to forage, nice to have back up.

  • At 4/18/2012 3:44 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    Fabulous post! So lucky that you got such a big haul. When I was in Germany last year and went mushroom picking, all we got were 2 little chanterelles. We saw loads of those "fly agaric" mushrooms though - in German they're called fliegenpilz ("flying mushrooms") because they're hallucinogenic and will make you fly, lol!

  • At 4/18/2012 10:50 pm, Anonymous The Food Sage said…

    You have stoked my mushroom foraging fantasies. Great post. Loved reading about your adventure. Especially loved your explanation of the toad-stuhl. Well researched.

  • At 4/19/2012 10:45 am, Blogger Octie_Appetie said…

    Mushroom picking.. That sounds really interesting. I better try it next time

  • At 4/19/2012 4:46 pm, Blogger Rainieee said…

    This looks so fun!!!!
    I've never heard of mushroom picking in NSW, is this a new thing? I am definitely going to check this out soon. Such a great post!

  • At 4/19/2012 8:22 pm, Anonymous Eat drink and be Kerry said…

    Wow! What a fantastic day. I would love to go mushroom hunting.

  • At 4/23/2012 11:49 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    @Arwen - I agree. It's such a great service by the Visitors Centre!

    @Dumpling Girl - Not too late. There's still a bit of rain about so hopefully the season should last until early May.

    @Epicurious de Furious - We did actually spot some industrious folk who had brought along camping stoves and were cooking their freshly picked mushrooms for lunch. I think there's quite a lot of joy in picking mushrooms in a small, rather than large group. It does give you a chance to appreciate the serenity of the forest, and really, the lovely folk at the Visitor Centre are all you need to get you set on your mushroom adventure!

    @MissPiggy - I agree. The toadstools were fascinating. Could not stop taking photos of them. lol

    @Potato Princess - Much fun picking your own food, and it does make you appreciate how much effort goes into harvesting. Chestnut picking sounds lovely!

    @Adrian - I'm so not a fan I don't even know what scene you're referring to. lol

    @Sarah - I regret not trying more local mushrooms when I was backpacking through Europe. Wow flying mushrooms - sounds like quite a trip. lol

    @Rainieee - It's not a new thing at all - many Polish immigrants have long organised treks into the pine forests to get a hold of these elusive treasures. Hope you make it along to your mushroom adventure soon :)

  • At 4/26/2012 2:50 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What a great post! Mushroom picking looks like a really interesting way to spend a weekend!

    Was picking mushrooms free and how do you know that what you pick is not poisonous?

  • At 1/30/2013 12:51 pm, Anonymous Belinda said…

    Love this post, you've inspired me to try mushrooming :)

  • At 7/21/2014 5:43 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I've always wanted to go mushrooming! Reckon it will have to wait til next year - am fast running out of weekends at the mo.


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