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Lactarius deliciosus

The appearance of this gill-fungus of the pinewoods is against it, although it is a good edible one and very common. Its general colouring when young is vivid carrot to orange or orange-brick, and to this it often adds in aging a rather daunting verdigris green. Old plants may even become entirely green. When handled or bruised it turns the same green colour, but these green stains need not put you off if the plant seems reasonably young and fresh. Green-bruised gills can be rubbed off before cooking, as they are brittle and easily removed.

The below points are shown in the picture. The two upper fugi show bruising of the stem and gills respectively. They also show the orange spots which are often present on the stem. The two at the bottom were picked in drier weather than is normal for the Cape winter, and show how this may reduce the size and also how the aging cap loses its bright colouring and may turn green. You will will see sections of the whole plant and of the stem , both of which show the characteristic orange layer next to the skin of the stem.

The central plant shows the concentric zones of darker rather tan-coloured markings which are frequently seen on the cap.
Another distinguishing feature is the orange or reddish saffron juice which exudes if you break and then squeeze any part of the fungus. This is the milk which characterizes the genus Lactarius (Latin lac = milk). It really is milk-coloured in most of the species, but in this one its unusual colour has given the plant its common name in England of Saffron Milk Cap. Common name at the Cape are “Pine Rings” is the better name as it refers to the rings on the cap and inside the stem and also to its habitat under pines But usually in South Africa its pleasant Latin generic name of Lactarius (pronounce Lac-TAR-reus) seems to be preferred; it need not lead to confusion as this is by far the commonest of the very few species of Lactarius occurring in South Africa.

The Caps shown are average in size but they may be much larger, up to 120mm across. When young they are flattish with curled back edges but soon become depressed centrally, like a shallow funnel. The only funnel-shaped fungus which has a colouring at all resembling this is the copper trumpet (Clitocybe olearia). But it has not got the saffron milk, or the orange ring under the skin of the stem, or the zoning of the cap. These characters distinguish our Lactarius from any other gill-fungus.

Sometimes one finds specimens in which the gills have not developed normally. These have been attacked by a parasitic fungus (Hypomyces Lateritius) which covers the gills with a fine layer of its own threads; this sometimes looks cottony, sometimes like this splashes of whitewash. It may stop their development so that the cap seems to be almost without gills. The whole plant toughens almost to hardness when so attacked.

Such specimens should not be eaten. It is pleasing to note the Lactarius in South Africa is singularly free from any infestation other than Hypomyses, having apparently left behind the grubs which so often spoil it for eating in Europe and America.

In selecting specimens of this fungus for cooking, no smell is a good guide. Fresh ones do not smell at all; others are best not used. Firm fresh young ones keep well in a refrigerator; I have eaten them after five days. But it is not worth while trying to dry them for storage as they become hard, like cheap dried apricots, and do not soften and plump up again when soaked.
In dry weather, too, they tend to be rather hard, and should be boiled or steamed for five to ten minutes before cooking. Some cooks always boil or steam them first, especially before frying. NB - Take Note deliciosus will cause your urine to be red so dont panic :)

Article posted by: Bossiedokter (5 July 2010) [Send private message]
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