2018: A year for ceps!
Depending on where you are from, some of you may know this mushroom as the penny bun (England), cep (France), porcini (little pig – Italy), steinpilze (stone mushroom – Germany), or even Karl-Johans-svamp (Sweden)… in fact there are dozens and dozens of recognised names for this species around Europe, which attests to its universal popularity throughout history. Between 20,000 and 100,000 tonnes are harvested globally for the commercial market per year, commanding high prices, yet this is not an uncommon mushroom.
In England, the cep or penny-bun can fruit in two waves if weather conditions are correct. This year in our local south-west woods we saw a heavy fruiting of ceps in the vicinity of oak trees during late August and into the first week of September. Things then went very quiet with regards to ceps for a while… in fact things paused for a whole month until the second week of October when we are now seeing the second wave of cep sightings, some in huge quantities, this time predominantly in the beech woods of our region. This is the typical pattern it seems with the cooler conditions triggering this second ‘wave of ceps’ off a week or so earlier further to the north. A combination of acid soils, underneath oak or beech with birch and holly both present, seems to produce the best results, although spruce plantation woodland and underneath pines can also be very good.
Each year we pray for that vital autumn rain that will produce this magnificent second harvest across the region!
CAP: Yellowish brown to reddish brown… but predominantly brown, looking just like a bread bun on a short, swollen fat stick – hence the name ‘penny bun’. Often there is a paler margin around the edge.
SIZE: typically 10 to 30 cm across – that’s over a foot in old money! Underneath there are no gills but instead (like all of the mushrooms in the bolete group) a sponge like layer, comprised of the tubes, which are only visible when you cut the mushroom in half, and the visible surface of ‘pores’. The pores of this mushroom are very small, round, very pale yellow when young – almost an ‘off-white’ colour, ageing later to a dingy olive brown.
FLESH: All parts of the cep’s flesh smell a little sweet. The flesh tastes sweet and nutty, young specimens can even be sliced and eaten raw, something that is very unusual for most wild mushrooms. Eaten in this way they are delicious with a restrained drizzle of lemon juice and a little salt. The cep’s white flesh does not change colour when cut or bruised. many other similar boletes do go through distinct colour changes, particularly to blue, but not this one!
STEM: The stem of the cep can be very very fat indeed, often with more usable flesh in it than the cap itself! The upper stem surface is covered in a very fine, pale/white, raised fishing-net pattern or ‘reticulum’. This white fishing reticulum is a distinctive feature…
if it doesn’t have it then it’s not a cep. If it isn’t at least white-ish then it’s not a cep. No reticulum, darker brown reticulum or reddish-brown reticulum all indicate other species, not all of them are edible, so beware!
FACT: The tasty cep contains lovastatin, so can help to lower cholesterol. It also contains mood stabilising compounds such as serotonin, melatonin and tryptamine that are found in the human body and could possibly help to alleviate depression.
I hope you are having a wonderful autumn, I wish you the joyful crunch of autumn leaves beneath your feet!
Fred the Forager!