The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 2, 2010


Hygrophorus Milky

Photo by Kay Fairweather)

If you like to eat mushrooms, this is a good one to learn. Not only is it tasty, but it is easy to identify, can be quite prolific, has a long season and it is here now. If you don’t like to eat mushrooms, this one is a thing of beauty and can be enjoyed for its good looks.

Name: The Hygrophorus Milky is Lactarius hygrophoroides. The genus name comes from the Latin “lact” meaning milk and the suffix “-arius” meaning furnished with or possessing. The name refers to the liquid which these mushrooms release when cut or broken. While mushrooms in this genus are occasionally referred to as Milk Caps or just Milkies, even the most amateur of mycologists tend to use the binomial or just the species epithet which is pronounced “high-groff-uh-roy-deez”. There are over 200 species of Lactarius in North America with more diversity in the east than the west. L. hygrophoroides is one of the eastern species.

When and where found: Last Saturday, June 26, Susan Lehotsky of West Street found about a pound of these mushrooms growing in a patch of moss in her yard. She brought them over on Sunday for me to look at and to confirm her identification of them. They were excellent specimens and I was inspired to go out and find some myself. I had seen three isolated individuals along Two Rod Road on Saturday (not enough to collect) but on Sunday afternoon I found ten in the Towle Woods. You will find them near hardwood trees. The underground part of the fungus lives in close association with the tree roots. The mushrooms, which are the fruiting bodies of the fungus, will come up somewhere within the area reached by the roots.

Distinguishing characteristics: The mushroom cap is orangey-brown with a suggestion of a velvety finish. They are usually less than three inches in diameter and very firm. The stem is smooth, the same color as the cap and uniform in width from top to bottom. The spore print is white. The flesh and gills are white. The gills are very widely spaced and attached to the stem. All parts of the mushroom exude “milk” when cut. The “milk” is white and holds its color. The combination of characteristics makes this an easy mushroom to learn. Young caps are convex, but as they mature the center sinks a little and edges hold their form resulting in a very pleasing kind of donut shape. In old specimens the edges often curve up exposing the gills.

Latex: The milky fluid, more commonly called “latex,” is one of the diagnostics for differentiating species of Lactarius. The color, the volume and the taste of the latex are all used. The latex can be blue, orange, white, red, purple, brown or colorless and it may change color on exposure to air – sometimes in less than a minute. The amount of latex produced can vary from none (in old or dry specimens) to a torrent that would challenge BP. The taste also varies from mild (as in L. hygrophoroides) to sweet to acrid or peppery.

Edibility: L. hygrophoroides is a very good edible. The few I found at Towle (about a quarter pound) were enough to make an onion-mushroom quiche which I took to a potluck on Sunday night. This is the only context where I can think of luck together with eating wild mushrooms. You must identify the mushroom first, then look up its edibility. The rule is “if in doubt, throw it out.” Otherwise you will need a lot more than luck, perhaps even a liver transplant supposing you live long enough to make it onto the recipient list.

Field trip: If you would like to try and find some of these (no guarantee), meet me in the Towle parking lot at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 3.

References: Audubon Field Guide to Mushrooms, Gary H. Lincoff; Mushrooms of Northeast North America – Midwest to New England, George Barron; Mushrooms of Northeastern North America, Bessette, Bessette & Fischer.

Onion-mushroom quiche

This is a made-up recipe and is very tolerant of experimentation and variations.

• Line an 11-inch tart pan with short crust pastry. (I use the Pillsbury ready-made pastry and roll it just a little bit to get it to fit the 11-inch pan.)

• Sauté a large sweet onion in clarified butter until it is soft.

• Add the chopped mushrooms (quarter to half a pound) and sauté an additional 5 minutes.

• Add chopped herbs of your choosing. This time I used about 2 tablespoons of chives and a tablespoon of tarragon.

• Add a quarter cup of white wine or sherry.

• Stir in 2 large eggs (or 3 small ones) beaten up with 3 quarters cup of light cream or half-and-half.

• Season with salt and pepper.

• Pour the egg-onion-mushroom filling into the raw pastry shell and cook at 375 degrees F for about 30 minutes or until the filling is firm and nicely browned. ∆


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