Saffron milkcaps had eluded me for quite some time until a few years ago when I moved to the North of Tasmania. While I was out foraging for one of my favourite mushrooms (the very versatile ‘Slippery Jack’ mushroom that usually lives under pine trees – these can be found all over the state) I accidentally stumbled across red pine mushrooms, also known as saffron milk caps. I had never come across these mushrooms, or as a matter of fact seen these before, other than what I had seen in literature. Initially I wasn’t 100% sure if these were actually milkcaps, so I took lots of pictures of them and went home to research and try to identify them. I had triple checked that these were indeed saffron milkcaps. Once confirmed, I was really excited with my find and I have now been picking them ever since! I can’t stress enough about identifying mushrooms as its better to err on the side of caution, and if you’re not more than 100% certain about the mushrooms its better to avoid them rather than risking your health or someone elses. The consequences of making a wrong guess or a misidentification about whether a mushroom is edible can be severe; worst case scenario can result in a liver transplant or even resulting in death.
Saffron milkcaps are a foraged autumn delicacy; they are very versatile – they can be eaten raw, pan-fried, sautéed, added to stews and soups, pickled and even salted. I usually like to salt the first milkcaps of the season as by that time of year I have a hankering for them. You only need one ingredient – salt! If you have had these before you will understand why this extraordinary mushroom does not lack for spices, due to its inherent flavour. It is one of the few mushrooms that is possible and even advisable, to eat raw; all it takes is placing the mushroom gills up, sprinkling with some salt and letting sit for an hour or two.
Salt (approx. 40-60 grams per kilogram of milkcaps)
Note – This is a very simple recipe and only requires two ingredients milkcaps and salt! You can also add dill seeds, caraway seeds, mustard seeds, peppercorns, bay leaves, juniper berries, garlic gloves if desired.
Firstly, using a clean cloth, make sure that the mushrooms are clean and free from any insects, debris and pine needles etc. Then remove the bulk of the stem.
Once the milkcaps are thoroughly clean get a flat non-reactive deep dish, preferably glass or ceramic.
Lightly scatter a thin layer of salt onto the dish.
Now place the first layer of milkcaps, gill side up, into the dish on top of the salt.
Sprinkle another layer of salt on top of the milkcaps. Depending on the size of the dish and amount of milkcaps you have, you can put another layer of milkcaps on top as long as you have uniformly applied salt all over the previous layer.
A close up of the layered salted milkcaps.
Once all the milkcaps have been salted, you need to apply a small weight on top to help with the salting process. I used a small chopping board inside a ziplock bag to avoid staining the board from the milkcaps.
Then I placed a jar of pasta (what I had available) on top as my weight to help even the distribution of salt. By doing this the milkcaps are pressed down and this helps the salt to draw out moisture from the milkcaps to form a brine. In the process of salting, the milkcaps undergo a process of lactic fermentation in their own juice, combined with salt. Then place in a cool dark area, like the bottom of your pantry or cupboard overnight at room temperature until they release their ‘juices’ and become submerged in their own brine.
On the next day place the milkcaps with all their brine into a sterilized jar and place into the refrigerator to ferment for around 7 to 10 days before you can eat them. I have heard of people leaving them for several weeks and others after just 3 days. While brining, the milkcaps can be kept in a cool dry area, I like to keep them in the refrigerator.
Typically, when the milkcaps starts to bleed liquid, they are ready to eat, as seen in the photo below.
The salted milkcaps are typically eaten with rye bread and accompanied with vodka. I like to cover the milkcaps with thinly sliced onion rings and lightly drizzled with sunflower oil. The milkcaps are really meaty in flavour and have a nice crisp texture with a fruity nutty after taste. If you find them too salty, they can be soaked in cold water for several minutes. They make for a really good Russian Zakouska, Hors d’oeuvre, Russian tapas.
The milkcaps can be kept for several months in their brine if stored correctly can last for several years.