Please see the TERMS OF SERVICE.
Clear? Good. Now we’re going to repeat a part just in case it wasn’t clear:
YOU ARE SOLELY, COMPLETELY, AND ABSOLUTELY RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYTHING YOU PUT IN YOUR MOUTH,
AND TEN TIMES MORE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYTHING YOU CHOOSE TO SWALLOW.
Nevertheless, most people want to know about edibility first and foremost so I have made an effort to rate each mushroom according to what the books have said about its safety and quality. The four categories are color coded as follows:
GREEN = “Good/Edible.” This is no small thing for boletes. In Cenral Europe (my wife is Czech) this category of Boletes are often called “Grandma Mushrooms,” a/k/a Babky after the familiar word Baba, meaning Grandma. Elitists might ignore a trove of these “ordinary” boletes, but frugal old ladies with large families know better and eagerly stock up for the winter. Boletes only improve when dried, which Grandma liked, and even the most ordinary babky make fine additions to the potato soups and other plain but wholesome foods she’d mastered. A win all the way around. Here’s a good way to think about it from the culinary point of view. If Boletus edulis (a/k/a King Bolete a/k/a Porcini a/k/a Cepe a/k/a Steinpilz a/k/a the best eating mushroom in the world with the possible exception of truffles) is a 100 on the edibility scale, a “merely choice” mushroom might be something like a 50-70, and a babky anywhere from a 20 to a 50. Adjust your recipe accordingly, and enjoy.
BLUE = “Choice or Excellent.” Continuing the analogy, those which are worth more that 50% of an edulis.
AMBER = “Iffy, a/k/a You’ve Been Warned.” This will usually be because the edibility is marked as “unknown” in the field guides, or because it is known to bother only a tiny percentage of diners. I strongly urge you to look up every one of these mushrooms in more detail and in several sources before giving them a try. Responsible people also follow the ‘Best Practices” described in the Terms of Service… Perhaps I should have called them “Minimally Appropriate Practices” instead.
PINK=”Too Bitter to Eat.” Yes, I know: according to common lore (a) the bitter boletes are ‘only’ unpalatable but not actually toxic, (b) certain people cannot taste that bitter flavor, and (c) the lucky few who can’t taste bitter can supposedly eat and enjoy these mushrooms without ill effect. Once again, you have to consider if the potential cost is worth the risk. One bitter bolete can utterly ruin an entire pot roast for everyone else in the world, and you never know when a guest is going to arrive. I also have no idea whatsoever about what chemicals make these mushrooms so bitter, or whether those chemicals might be toxic even to those who can’t taste them. “Lore” is not the most reliable source of information!
RED = “Avoid.” These are the known sick-makers. Yes, I know: there are people out there who eat and enjoy many boletes that make other people sick. Are you really that curious? The “sick” we’re talking about is several days of concentrated misery highlighted by projectile vomiting and/or elimination from the other end. If you’re not a pioneer who’s facing actual hunger, why take that kind of risk?
Four Final and Important Safety Notes
- Those old Grandmas also knew – as I’m sure you do – that EVERY wild mushroom has to be thoroughly cooked before you eat it. Even some of the best edibles contain chemicals that can make you ill if you try to eat the mushroom raw, and various bugs and critters from the wild can leave behind invisible traces that have the same effect. So always cook your foraged mushrooms all the way through, including your boletes, even if you are working with the dried-and-rehydrated version. Yes, there are exceptions, but the ability to identify those exceptions is quite “advanced.” You are strongly advised against fooling around with undercooked specimens.
- According to the greatly respected and very renowned author of the Audobon Guide, Mr. Gary Lincoff, about 20% of all mushroom “poisonings” involve a bunch of damned fools who consumed an otherwise edible species that was past its prime. This article in the Wall Street Journal cites a study that puts the number at well over 80%. Please do not act like a damned fool. I don’t care if you’ve got the first King Bolete you ever found on the table – if it’s old enough to make you wonder, throw the poor thing out! (To put it another way, mushrooms are often described as the “meat of the vegetable world” because they contain so much protein. If you wouldn’t eat chicken that’s aged beyond it’s due date, why would you eat mushrooms that have done the same?)
- Start small. To put it bluntly, the human digestive sucks compared to almost every animal in the world. Your body only produces the digestive enzymes needed to break down foods it’s used to. If you eat something it isn’t used to, you will get that infamous set of symptoms variously referred to as “GI Distress,” “Food Poisoning,” and/or “Projectile Ejections In Both Directions.” The severity will depend on how much of the offending substance you ate. OTOH, the good news is that your body will quickly learn to make the required enzymes if you only give it a little time. I suspect (I don’t know, this is pure speculation) that this explains why so many people can eat and enjoy certain boletes that have a reputation for sending other people into three-day bouts of misery – one way or another, the eat-and-enjoy types gained a slow enough exposure for their guts to learn how to digest offending foods, and thus had no reaction when the volume increased to “full meal” levels. I have, for example, personally met and chatted with an immigrant couple who regularly eat and enjoy the notorious sick-maker B. subvelutipes (the Red Mouth Bolete). Does that mean that I, with my native U.S.-trained digestive tract, am going to run out and do the same thing? Hell no! But if I was a pioneer and Red Mouths could make the difference between going to bed full or hungry… Well, in that case I’d probably spend a month or so to see if I could build up my tolerance. Your mileage, as they say, may vary. Just remember: YOU ARE SOLELY, COMPLETELY, AND ABSOLUTELY RESPONSIBLE for anything you choose to put in your mouth, and ten times more responsible for anything you choose to swallow.
- Keep a sample. If you do fall ill, the single most important thing that could help is a sample of the thing that made you ill. Always set aside a sample of any new mushroom you eat just in case you need it. Heck, it may even prove to be something that didn’t make you ill, which would be useful information all on its own.
Yes, there are actual poisons out there in the mushroom world and they will kill your D-E-A-D dead. They are vanishingly rare in the world of boletes, which is one of the reasons I find this kind of mushroom so interesting. But the moral of this particular story is that “poisonous” and “nontoxic” may e the wrong terms in the first place: Even “safe” mushrooms can make you sick if you jump right in and gorge the first time you find them.