With Christopher Di Manno
We all know mushrooms go well with wild game whether it is in a stew, a sauce to go on your venison back strap or a side to your favourite meat dish.
Lactarius deliciosus, better known as the pine mushroom or saffron milk caps go well and are found under pine trees. You often find people along the roads around Mount Macedon and Bright in regional Victoria picking them when they are in season.
I stumbled across them a few years ago while out scouting a new area with lots of deer sign. There was a cluster of mature pine trees where I parked my car and I noticed that some had been nibbled on by animals and wondered if they were edible. Not wanting to take the risk of poisoning myself I took pictures and went scouting as I planned.
The following weekend I went back and saw there were more popping up and noticed that some had been eaten all the way down to the stalk and had orange milk-like sap dripping from breaks. I took more pictures.
I did some research and was pretty sure they were edible but still not wanting to poison myself I emailed a botanist and sent some pictures. She identified them as saffron milk caps and asked for a box instead of her usual fee for identifying them. The following weekend I picked a box and took them to her and she confirmed that they are good to eat.
You will find pine mushrooms under pine trees or where there are many pine trees and a small number of wattles. The main thing to look for is the orange cap with thin dark orange rings going around the top. Once cut from the stalk you will notice an orange milk-like liquid seeping from the fresh cut. The mushrooms are often buried under pine needles so you need to keep a sharp eye out to spot the hidden ones. Carry a brush to remove adhering pine needles and any dirt.
Make sure to carry a small knife and try to leave as much of the stalk in the ground – this helps ensure a following-year crop as the stem breaks down and provides nutrients.
Pine mushrooms are very meaty so you can use them as you would most other meaty mushrooms. They can also be eaten raw in the bush as, unlike some other mushrooms, they don’t need to be cooked.
Drying, by slicing them thinly, then treading the pieces onto fishing line and hanging them in a dry well-ventilated place is also a viable option. When they snap like a crisp the dried slices are ready to be stored in an air-tight container. To use just pour boiling water over them to rehydrate the chips and use them as you would fresh mushrooms.
I strongly suggest if you are not sure whether or not they are edible not to touch them. But once you know what you are dealing with, here are a couple of recipes that I have tried.
Pine Mushroom Pate
250g fresh pine mushrooms
3-4 garlic cloves
1-2 table spoons of pine nuts
250g cream cheese
Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
Clean and trim the mushrooms but don’t wash them - just clean with a brush or damp towel and cut them finely.
Heat a frying pan, melt the butter, place the sliced mushrooms, pine nuts and garlic in the pan and sauté them for 10 minutes until the liquid released by the mushrooms has evaporated. Leave to cool.
Blitz in a food processor until smooth them add the cream cheese and blitz again. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Leave to cool place in a fridge and refrigerate for at least an hour before trying.
Italian Pickled Pine Mushrooms
1.5kg pine mushrooms
1 litre white vinegar or cider vinegar
Pure sea salt
Zest of a lemon, sliced into wide strips
4 dried hot chillies
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 cup extra virgin olive oil