What is important in the ‘taste’ of mushrooms is the means by which they are gathered, and the symbolic value of that collection, rather than taste per se. –Gary Alan Fine1
Hypholoma sublateritium, commonly known as the “Brick Cap” or “Brick Top,” was a fascinating mushroom find for me. It was located during our second class field trip at Shindagin Hollow, near Ithaca, NY. A few days before our foraging, there was heavy rainfall, and the class was expecting mushrooms. I was able to locate a King Bolete (supposedly), or “Porcini,” which is a choice edible mushroom. However, it tasted quite bitter and I condemned it as inedible, probably due to an identification mistake. Through further unofficial investigation, the mushroom I ate was Tylopilus felleus (Boletaceae), the “bitter bolete.” Just the common name is enough. According to one of my identification handbooks2, “when young, this is easily mistaken for the king bolete, except that it is very bitter.” The word “bitter” keeps reappearing. Fortunately, it is not poisonous, and I am still alive to write this blog entry.
Moving back to the brick cap mushrooms, I was able to spot them from a distance, roughly 30 yards. These mushrooms grow in clusters on decaying hardwoods stumps and logs. I found mine on decayed stump that was soft enough to break with my hands. I broke off the entire cluster, about 4 by 5 inches, along with a piece of wood. Here is its description from the same identification book:2
This large species [of Hypholoma] is best identified by its size, the lack of green in the gills, and the distinct brick-rep cap color. The cap is convex and the stem fibrous and pale yellow at the top, reddish brown at the base. The yellow to reddish brown flesh has a pleasant odor and a nutty flavor when cooked.
On deciduous stumps or roots, in woodland or parks. Widespread in eastern North America and other northern temperate zones.
Cap 5-10 cm, Stem 5-10 cm, Spores: Purplish brown, Edibility: Yes
Note that according to this book, the fungus is considered edible and has a “nutty flavor.” However, a few other sources condemn the brick cap as inedible. My other identification book, Mushrooms of Northeastern North America3, categorized the brick cap as an edible mushroom. According to Wikipedia.org4, “In Europe this mushroom is usually considered as inedible or even poisonous, but in the USA and Japan it is apparently a popular edible fungus.” Mushroomexpert.com5 stated the mushroom to have a “mild or bitter” taste. North American Mushrooms6 said “it is bitter and not edible.” Mushrooms of Ontario and Eastern Canada7 said it is “edible, but very similar to poisonous Sulphur Tuft.” And finally, according to Lincoff’s Field Guide to North American Mushrooms8, the brick cap is edible and “good.”
Old authors give it as bitter and very poisonous. I tested it in 1881 and have been eating it, in common with all Hypholomas I have found, ever since. At times it is bitter. I believe this to be due to the passage of larvae through the flesh. Unattacked specimens are slightly saponaceous to the taste while others in the same bunch are bitter. –Charles McIlvaine9
So where does this leave me? I am not exactly sure, but from my personal experience, it is edible, at least when young. One hypothesis is maybe the mushroom becomes inedible as it matures, possibly due to bugs according to Charles McIlvaine. The ones that I ate were all young mushrooms.
I pan-fried the brick cap mushrooms in a hot pan with oil (vegetable oil, for higher smoking point), then finished the cooking with butter, garlic, thyme, and of course, salt and pepper. The mushroom was delicious and had exactly a nutty flavor. I did not feel any distress and look forward to finding more of them, but only the young ones.
- Morel Tales: The Culture of Mushrooming by Gary Alan Fine. 1998. Harvard Univ. Press.
- Mushrooms by Thomas Laessoe and Gary Lincoff. 1998. Eyewitness Handbooks.
- Mushrooms of Northeastern North America by Alan E. Bessette, Arleen R. Bessette, David W. Fischer. 1997. Syracuse Univ. Press.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypholoma_sublateritium(vers. 8 Oct 2006)
- Kuo, M. (2003, January). Hypholoma sublateritium. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site.
- North American Mushrooms by Dr. Orson K. Miller and Hope H. Miller. 2006. Falcon.
- Mushrooms of Ontario and Eastern Canada by George Barron. 1999. Lone Pine Publishing.
- Field Guide to North American Mushrooms by Gary H. Lincoff. 1981. Knopf.
- One Thousand American Fungi by Charles McIlvaine. 1900. The Bowen-Merrill Company.
Photos: Kathie Hodge (mushrooms); Fudy Chen (frying pan).