I was raised an Anchorage forager. From fiddleheads to blueberries, some of my fondest childhood memories are of gathering food from local parks and forests and preparing our edible treasures to be enjoyed throughout the year.
One of my favorite foods to collect is boletus mushrooms — a.k.a. wild porcini. My mouth waters just at the thought of the dense, earthy fungi sizzling in a pan with butter and garlic.
Many mushroom hunters are secretive about their skills and picking locations. I love to share my knowledge.
It’s nearly mushroom season in Alaska so I thought I’d repost my boletus mushroom guide from my old blog. With a little knowhow, you can join the foraging movement and become a mushroom hunter.
Here is my DISCLAIMER: I’ve been foraging for mushrooms my whole life and I am positive that what I’m picking is edible. I am not a mushroom expert but I can give you great advice on how to discern boletus mushrooms from inedible ones. Pick at your own risk, but honestly, boletes are easy to detect and as long as you cook them thoroughly before eating, most mushrooms in Alaska will not kill you (but they might make you have some bad stomach problems). When in doubt, throw it out!
Feel free to contact me and e-mail me photos of your finds if you ever have any questions. There are quite a few edible mushrooms in Alaska, but I’m only knowledgable about boletus.
So here we go:
Alaska Guide to Boletus Mushrooms
There are several types of boletus mushrooms and you can find many of them in the Anchorage area. Most are edible and the ones that are poisonous will let you know by their scary color.
The U.S. Forest Service has a great Alaska mushroom guide. I highly recommend taking a look at it.
The two inedible boletus you will find in the Anchorage area are the boletus satanus (note the “satan” in the title) and boletus coniferarum. The satanus has bright red flesh like a red flag saying “don’t eat me!” The confierarum has yellow flesh that when bruised or cut will rapidly turn inky blue. Keep in mind that many edible types of boletus will oxidize, but not nearly as quickly as the coniferarum turns from yellow to blue. It looks pretty cool, but tastes extremely bitter (but will not kill you if eaten).
*Note: a mushroom enthusiast commented on my old blog that the photo below is actually the Boletus luridiformis, which he claims is edible. I would just avoid it if you find it. I’ve never seen one before, but my father took the photo below so it’s definitely out there in Southcentral Alaska.*
Ok, now that we have the inedibles out of the way, let’s start becoming mushroom detectives. Before you go out and pick these mushrooms, let me prepare you…
- You will probably get dirty and wet
- You will probably encounter bugs
- You will probably encounter little maggots (baby bugs!)
- You’ve got to get over these factors if you’d like to carry on.
First, all edible boletes have sponge under the caps instead of gills. Boletes are the only mushroom in Anchorage forests that have sponge instead of gills besides the hawks wing mushroom, which has hedgehog-like spines underneath (and it’s edible if you boil it).
You can exclude any mushroom with gills because it will not be a bolete. This one fact makes bolete hunting reassuring because there is so much you can rule out. There are deceptive mushrooms that really look like bolete caps, but when you turn them over and see gills, just let them be. They tricked you!
Here are the types of boletes you’ll come across in Anchorage forests:
Admirable Bolete — these are forest boletes that have dark brown caps and their stems sometimes look dirty, even though it isn’t dirt. Their most recognizable feature is the yellow tint to the spongey gills. The flesh of this bolete will oxidize blue to black over time. That’s ok!
Aspen Scaber-stalk — these are found in birch and spruce forests, typically around moss, low-bush cranberry and crow berry bushes. They have sienna-colored caps with dirty-looking stems (almost looks like the texture of a terry-cloth towel). The flesh also tends to oxidize and turn black when cut.
*Note: a person commented on my old blog post that the scaber-stalks can cause gastric upset. I have been picking and eating this mushroom most of my life and never experienced upset stomach, but I thought I should let it known.*
Alaskan Scaber-stalk — these look a lot like the Aspen scaber-stalk but darker with a narrower stem.
King Bolete — this is the purest, most prized bolete and is the equivalent of a wild porcino mushroom. These have light brown caps and white stems with no terry-cloth look to them. The sponge will turn yellow with age.
In addition to the U.S. Forest Service, here is another great site about Alaska boletes.
All right, now let’s set out to find some mushrooms! But where, might you ask? Well, boletes like to grow near spruce roots, birches and in mossy areas. You can often find boletes growing in people’s yards. You usually won’t find them in areas with long grasses and ferns or anywhere with tall vegetation. The trail system in Anchorage is a great place to start. You could also try Thunderbird Falls, Bird Creek and Girdwood.
The best time to pick boletes is from late July to mid-September. Over the years I haven’t found a true rhyme or reason to how boletes grow. Sometimes you’ll have a summer with hundreds of pounds and others you won’t find any. Usually they grow during the rainy and damp times of Alaska summers.
Boletes can grow to be pretty huge, but it’s best to pick them when they are just a couple of days old because bugs love boletes as much as humans do. They will flock to them pretty much as soon as they surface. It’s rare to find a bolete that hasn’t been lived in by a beetle or some sort of fly eggs, but if you pick them early on it doesn’t affect the quality or taste of the mushroom. I’ll show some photos later.
The Good, bad and ugly:
Once your boletes have been processed the world is your mushroom! Boletes are great in soups and sauces, but your best bet is to do a Google search for recipes for porcini.
If you’ve decided to dry your mushrooms, they will need to be reconstituted when you’re ready to use them. Boil a couple of cups of water or chicken broth and pour over the dried mushrooms in a bowl. Let sit for 20 minutes and reserve the steeped water for your soup. It’ll deepen the flavor even more.
So, that’s my guide to Alaska boletes. Please contact me if you have any questions, comments or even corrections.
And remember, if you’re not extremely positive about a mushroom, don’t eat it. Better safe than sorry!