The boletes are among the most common, widespread groups of wild mushrooms, including some of the best-tasting.
Boletes have three features that, in combination, make them distinct:
1. They nearly all grow on the ground, near trees.
That's because these fungi form commensual relationships with trees: they provide minerals and water (and sometimes even provide growth hormones) for the trees in exchange for food (the fungus actually interconnects with the tree's microscopic root hairs).
Because of this, except for those species associated with evergreens, the mushrooms are most common in the summer, when the trees are active.
2. Virtually all boletes disseminate their spores through pores, tiny holes on the undersides of their caps. When the mushrooms are very young, you may need a magnifying lens to see the pores. Spores travel down closely-packed, vertical tubes to reach the pores.
3. Most boletes are umbrella-shaped, with a cap and stalk, not shelf-like, although there are exceptions with short, off-center stalks.
Don't confuse boletes with polypores. The latter generally grow on wood and are shelf-like, not umbrella-like. You can usually peel the layer of tubes that lead to the pores away from the cap of a bolete; you can't do this with polypores.
Some boletes are among the best-tasting, most mushrooms in the world. The two-colored bolete is one of my favorites.
Some, such as old man of the woods, are as tasteless as some of my jokes. Others are so bitter that one piece of one mushroom can ruin any dish. And some may cause very unpleasant gastrointestinal distress - vomiting, cramps, or diarrhea from which you eventually recover.
Even though there are no deadly boletes, because some are poisonous, this is not a group of mushrooms for unsupervised beginners to prepare for dinner (or for lunch or breakfast, for that matter).
Boletes are very perishable, especially in the summer. Discard any stems infested with insects, and cook or dehydrate the mushrooms the day you find them.
Boletes often appear the day after the rain, and by the following day (even if you refrigerate them!), they may be crawling with maggots.
The poisonous boletes, such as Frost's bolete, all have a red pore surface under the cap, and the flesh turns blue instantly when you bruise or tear it quite spectacular. Some boletes, such as the two-color bolete, turn blue slowly when you bruise or tear them, but the undersides aren't red, and they're nonpoisonous.
Even some edible species (in the genus Suillus) have a slimy layer on the cap surface that gives some people diarrhea if they don't peel and discard this layer.
The best boletes have a strong, rich, meaty flavor and soft texture. You can sauté the caps in olive oil with garlic or onions (or other original or traditional ethnic seasoning combinations), roast them, or brush with seasoned oil and broil.
Some people discard the stems, which aren't as tender as the caps, but if they're free of insects, I simmer these flavorful morsels in soups, sauces, and casseroles.
Some people peel off the pores, especially if it looks like they might be infested with insects, others don't:
To peel, or not to peel? That is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mouth to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous flavor,
Or to take knife against pore,
And by opposing, end them? To taste, to savor,
No more; and by tasting to say we end
The endless debate; and a thousand other questions
Form in our minds regarding it's consummation
Devoutly to be enjoyed. To savor, in a meal;
To eat, perchance for dinner- aye, there's the rub:
For in that myco-fantasy meal, what dreams may come,
When we have extra-virgined the olive oil,
Which must give us flavor- there's the respect
That makes no clamity of so fine a meal.
The judgement may be wrong,
Our eyes may deceive us,
The patient merit of sparing the blade,
When bugs may linger below the surface?
Shall we bare the flesh, cast off the pores?
But that the dread of something underneath
The undiscovered critters who may lurketh,
Absorbing quietly the fine-flavored oil,
No epicurean palate will solve the puzzle-
But the fear of that which lays concealed still
Consumed by others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is weakened by the thought of what may be hiding
To leap, unbridled into our imagination,
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard these pores do linger,
And we lose the name of action. Soft you now,
The fair bolete! Heaven in my dinner!
Be all my meals remembered.