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Milky Caps

Lactarius deliciosus, L. rubrilacteus, L. fragilis

The group of mushrooms known as Lactarius are commonly called "milky caps." That's because the tissues of these fungi exude a variously colored milk, or latex, when bruised. With time, the color of the latex may change. How lovely it is to discover one of these mushrooms in the forest, and to find that when it is cut, vivid red, white, blue, or orange juice oozes out.

MilkyCaps -- Click for larger image

There are many kinds of Lactarius. Most are short stemmed, with centrally depressed caps. Three are commonly eaten. L. deliciosus ("delicious milky cap") and L. rubrilacteus ("bleeding milky cap") can be used interchangeably or together in recipes. These two mushrooms are stout and robust, similar in appearance, and occasionally mistaken for one another. Their flesh is somewhat granular and chalky in consistency. L. deliciosus has a cap decorated with concentrically arranged bands colored in differing shades of orange and green. It releases orange-colored latex. L. rubrilacteus is zoned with red-brown and orange pigments, and produces red latex.

L. fragilis, the "candy cap," represents a group of closely related species. They are small red-brown mushrooms with watery latex and a fragrant odor identified variously as maple syrup or curry. This becomes more intense when dried. They are found in many habitats, usually late in the mushroom season.

In the eastern United States a stunning blue form, L. indigo, is found. It has a pleasant and unusual flavor.

Cleaning

Brush or wipe clean. These mushrooms can be wormy, especially the stems, so check the interiors carefully.

Cooking

Milky caps require a long period of slow cooking. The Russian people like to grill the caps whole by brushing them with oil and seasoning them with salt and pepper. They are best used in conjunction with other foods, as in casseroles. Try making a Lactarius loaf with bread crumbs, eggs, herbs, onions, and cheese. Old-timers toss fresh or dried candy caps into soups and stews for flavor or incorporate them into a sweet sauce or pudding to use as a dessert.

Preserving

SautÚ L. deliciosus and L. rubrilacteus in butter and store in the freezer. They can be put up in a favorite pickling mixture and kept in the refrigerator for 1 week. Be sure to parboil them first.

L. fragilis is best dried whole or powdered. It has a smoother texture than the other edible Lactarius mushrooms and maintains its flavor for years.


Pickled Milky Caps

Makes 1 pint

In some European countries, milky caps are considered to be the most desirable mushrooms for pickling in vinegar. These piquant treats will keep well for 2 to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

  • One 1/8-inch-thick slice fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 4 whole peppercorns
  • 4 small dried hot red chilies
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 cup water
  • 2/3 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound milky cap mushrooms, sliced

In a cheesecloth bag, place the ginger, caraway seeds, allspice, mustard seeds, peppercorns, chilies, garlic, and cloves. Tie securely.

In a large pot, simmer the water, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and the cheesecloth bag for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the cheesecloth bag. Place the mushrooms in a hot sterilized pint jar and seal.

--Esther Whited

ALTERNATE MUSHROOMS: Common Store Mushrooms, Hedgehog Mushrooms


Spicy Candy Caps

Makes about 4 cups

Serve these mushrooms as a relish for meat dishes or as an appetizer. They will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 cups candy cap mushrooms, stems removed
  • 2 shallots or green onions, minced
  • 1 cup dry sherry
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • Dash of Tabasco sauce
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar

Heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy pot. Add the mushrooms and sautÚ briskly for a few minutes. Reduce the heat and add the shallots, sherry, and chicken broth. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the salt, parsley, and vinegar. Uncover and simmer for 10 minutes. Cool before serving.

--Kitchen Magic with Mushrooms

ALTERNATE MUSHROOM: Fairy Ring Mushroom


Carmel Candy Cap Custard

Serves 6 as a dessert

Powdered candy caps add a unique flavor to this smooth dessert.

  • 1/4 cup dried candy cap mushrooms
  • 7 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 4 dashes cayenne
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Break the mushrooms into small pieces and grind to a fine powder in a blender or food processor.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks for 1 minute. Add 1/4 cup of the honey, cayenne, powdered mushrooms, and milk. Beat again for 1 minute.

In a cast-iron skillet, caramelize the remaining 1/4 cup honey with the sugar until it tests hard in cold water. Quickly pour it into the bottom of a 6-cup ring mold.

In a large bowl beat the egg whites until stiff, then blend in the yolk mixture and pour into the mold.

Bake in a preheated 300║ oven for 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and refrigerate for at least 5 hours before unmolding. To unmold the custard, loosen the edges of the custard with a knife. Place in hot water up to the rim of the mold for a few seconds, and quickly turn upside down on a serving plate. Slice and serve.

--John Schaaf


Persimmon and Candy Cap Pudding

Serves 6 to 8 as a dessert

A creamy lemon sauce balances the sweetness of this dessert.

  • 1-1/2 ounces dried candy cap mushrooms, stems removed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup sliced peeled ripe persimmons
  • 1/4 cup milk or more
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

In a medium saucepan, simmer the mushrooms in the water, lemon juice, and butter for 10 minutes. Drain and cool. Place the mushrooms in a blender or food processor along with the persimmons, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and eggs. Blend until smooth.

Mix the sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. Add the previously blended mixture in small amounts. The mixture should not be thick. If too thick, add more milk. Add the walnuts.

Pour the batter into a buttered 8-by-12-inch baking dish. Bake in a preheated 300║ oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. To test for doneness, insert a knife in the center of the pudding. If it comes out clean, it is done.

When cool, slice in squares and serve with lemon sauce.


Lemon Sauce

Makes about 1-1/2 cups

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 3 tablespoons boiling water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped

Melt the butter in a double boiler. In a small bowl make a paste of the flour and water and add it to the butter. Stir in the sugar and salt. Let it cool somewhat. Then add the egg, lemon juice, and lemon zest. When cool, fold in the whipped cream and spoon over the pudding squares.

--Kitchen Magic with Mushrooms