Disclaimer: This is an amateur hobbyist guide only, and the uninitiated should never go mushroom picking without a trained professional. Mushrooms can be deadly, and poisonous varieties can look similar to edible kinds. Never eat mushrooms you are unsure about, always err on the side of caution.
One perk of a wet summer on the east coast is the damp fertile ground it brings, ideal for fungi to bloom. Pine mushrooms are one of the most common edible mushrooms found in the forests near our cities, and once you know what you’re looking for, your eagle eye will easily spot their terracotta caps rising under the carpet of fallen pine needles.
The prime time to hit the forest varies each year, depending on rainfall, but the most common time to find them is early autumn, around Easter in Australia, though I've found healthy hauls as early as Valentine's Day in NSW, cute. So, it pays to keep checking your state’s pine forests, especially after periods of rain.
What to look for
Pine mushrooms are dry (as opposed to slippery jacks, which are also edible, but slightly slimy on top), with terracotta coloured flesh that is slightly irregular in colour, with soft plentiful gills in the same colour underneath the cap. Depending on how heavily pillaged the forest has been before your arrival, it’s possible to find some that are pretty huge, though bigger doesn’t necessarily mean more flavour. They can look a bit ratty and mouldy if they’ve been growing too long.
Where to look
Pine mushrooms are found in… you guessed it… pine forests. State forests in NSW and Victoria are usually filled with pine trees. In NSW, check Belanglo State Forest near Bowral, and Hampton, Jenolan and Vulcan State Forests near Oberon. In Vic, look around the Macedon and Dandenong Ranges, or near Daylesford.
What to avoid
Avoid mushrooms where you’re *not sure* if they’re the right kind. Always err on the side of caution. Never eat wild mushrooms unless they have been vetted by an expert. Consuming poisonous mushrooms can result in severe illness and death. Eep.
How to pick
You’ll spot pine mushrooms hiding under carpets of fallen pine needles, so look for small rises on the forest floor. Looking near fallen logs is usually a good start. Once you have found one, gently sweep away the needles with your fingers, and cut the mushroom at the base of the stem using a small knife like this one. Do not pull the mushroom directly from the soil. Brush off any dirt, and place into a shallow, wide basket or box, stem down so any dirt does not fall into the gills. Be mindful to treat them gently, they do bruise.
How to eat
Pine mushrooms are meaty against the tooth, with a firm shape that holds well during cooking. Pair them with gamey flavours, woody herbs like rosemary and bay, heaps of garlic and good vinegars. Saute them with all of the above and shove them into a crusty baguette with some comte or taleggio, thinly slice them on a mandolin and shower them onto pizza with gorgonzola, or pickle them with mustard and fennel seeds to see your charcuterie boards through winter.
How to store
Pine mushrooms will last a good week in the fridge if stored properly. Try to lay flat, with space between each mushroom, and cover with a damp tea towel.
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