Saffron milkcaps, a crunchy, tasty mushroom that have been enjoyed for millenia. Supposedly milkcaps were one of the first mushrooms to be used in cooking that we have evidence of, featured in a fresco from the Roman ruins of Herculaneum.
In modern-day, the saffron milkcap is pretty much the national mushroom of Spain, where it’s known as the “rovellon”, or in other regions as the “niscalo”. Doing an internet search for rovellons will turn up lot of fun information and recipes.
At first I thought they probably don’t grow in the areas I hunt in the Midwest, and It took me a long time to finally find a nice patch. I searched every year and could only come up with one or two, here and there. Finally in the fall of 2013 I hit a great spot in a white pine forest at just the right time. They are great mushrooms, and have a nice crunchy texture, if you can get to them before the bugs do that is.
I find them fruiting under Eastern White Pine at the same time as the chicken fat bolete in Minnesota around August through October. The key to finding them is waiting for the rain during their season. It seems like Saffron milkcaps, more than some other mushrooms I’ve hunted need lots of rain to come out in force.
Keep an eye on a rain gauge or a precipitation website, half an inch to an inch in a day or two should be good, from my experience. Also, these often grow completely buried deep under pine needles, you will need an eye to find them, just remember where you see one, more are close by.
These make great pickles and retain a bit of their crunch. They can also be stewed and frozen, but pickling is my favorite method of preservation. You can dry these too to make stock or broth, it will taste a bit like chicken stock, it’s very good.
I can sometimes just brush the leaves and needles from these and saute, if they are dirty I will wash each one quickly by swishing in some water, then allow then to drain on paper towels until needed in the fridge.
Saffron milkcaps cook up similarly to most mushrooms I know of, but there are a few interesting things I know about them. Some species of Lactarius give off a sort of mucilage when pickled or stewed, it can function as a sort of natural thickener in sauces and gravies. If the mushrooms are pickled, they can be a bit slimy when removed. To reduce the mucilage they give off in a pickle, you can blanch the mushrooms in salted water before you pack them in jars with the pickling liquid.
To me there’s pretty much only one, and it won’t hurt you from my experience, it’s known as Lactarius deterrimus. I suspected it growing in my patches and singled a few out out a while back, it seems to have a more grey colored cap and gills that are a less bright orange. They finished with a slightly bitter note when I ate them.
Recipes I’ve created specifically for Saffron Milkcaps, or where they can easily be substituted