Penny Bun, Porcino/Porcini, Steinpilz, Herrenpilz, cèpe de Bordeaux
Cep (Boletus edulis) is one of the most reassuring edible mushroom that you will find in the UK. It has a distinctive appearance, few things to confuse it with and very tasty. It’s a highly-prized mushroom in the kitchen and can be found across the Northern Hemisphere.
For the novice mushroom forager it’s a great species to look out for and the taste is almost out of proportion to how little effort goes into finding it – Ceps (‘Penny Bun’ in England) are quite common and come in a variety of sizes.
Where do Ceps grow?
You will probably find Ceps growing under coniferous trees (occasionally under deciduous but much less frequently in my experience) and from mid-Summer to late-Autumn. John Wright suggests that you will them “with pines in Scotland, and with birch, beech and oak further south… they seem to prefer open, park-like situations to the dark woodland depths“, but the example in the photos on this page was found under spruce deep into Clocaenog forest well out of the sunlight. So your experience may not match mine, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for them in all woodland environments where conifers are present.
Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods makes note of the association between Boletus edulis and other species:
Fly agaric (amanita mascaria), the miller (Clitopilus prunulus) and peppery boletes (Chalciporus piperatus) are often clues to good hunting -grounds, especially under spruce trees. I find the relationship between ceps, spruce trees, the miller and the peppery bolete to be so reliable that I believe (though i’ve seen no scientific research to prove this) that the relationship is more than just shared habitat, but a complex interdependency.
Ceps have been recorded as a native across the Northern Hemisphere but the use of them as a food is most often associated with European names and descriptions. In Italy they will be called Porcini (sing. Porcino) – and the gathering of them will have an almost religious status amongst locals.
Like most fungi you will notice their appearance soon after a change in the weather – for Boletus edulis in particular the rain that immediately follows a long, dry summer is a good time to head off in hunt of them
Are Ceps edible?
Incredibly so. Of all the edible mushrooms your are likely to come across this is probably the most prized – for the size (up to 25cm across), weight and density of the flesh. They also keep the flavour when dried and can be used in a variety of ways.
Younger specimens are often more sought-after for use as a fresh ingredient as the larger, more mature specimens can often harbour larvae and maggots. Young ceps can be used raw in salads (although if you are trying them raw for the first time then eat only a very small piece at first). I remove the tubes from mature/large ceps when cooking but this is more of an aesthetic decision than one of safety. Larger specimens will probably take a little more time in the pan than other mushrooms due to the density and water content of the flesh.
How to identify Ceps
The colour of the cap – chestnut brown often with a paler edge – together with an often dimpled appearance shows where the name ‘Penny Bun’ comes from. A “bread roll on a marshmallow stick” was one description I was given. The cap starts off quite round before gradually becoming flatter as the mushroom develops. The surface of the cap can sometimes have a slightly sticky or even slimey feel – but only slightly, and often after rain.
Tubes/pores rather than gills underneath, starting as white before developing a green-grey-yellow hue. The pores are small although may become wider closer to the stem.
The stem is often slightly bulbous towards the lower third with a mesh/web network on the upper third. Grey-brown to white and quite robust.
When gathering try to remove the entire fruiting body by grasping the stem and removing with a slight twist – cutting may expose the stem and kill of the mycelium beneath.
Potential dangers and misidentification
There are a few boletes that can cause problems for the mushroom forager – the Bitter Bolete (Tylopilus felleus) is not regarded as being toxic but is so bitter it is unlikely to get a favourable reaction from anyone you serve it to.
There are other similar species that are often confused with Boletus edulis – namely the Dark Cep (Boletus aereus), Summer Cep (Boletus reticulatus) or Pine Cep (Boletus pinophilus). There is no issue with toxicity of any of those species, although a mild difference in taste and occasionally consistency.
There is also the likelihood that you will com across fungus nut larvae (Mycetophilidae) with white bodies and dark heads, and sometimes the larvae of moths or beetles. There is also a fungus that consumes other fungi – Hypomyces chrysospermus. This will cover the mushroom in a white, fuzzy substance that will reduce the fruiting body to a pile of gooey slime within hours.