29 November 2009

The mushrooms

Here's the verdict. Yesterday morning I put those big mushrooms in a shopping bag and took them down to the Pharmacie Martineau in Saint-Aignan where we always get our prescription medications. Everybody in there —6 or 7 employees — knows us. I was hoping to see Mme Smith, the Frenchwoman pharmacist whose husband is a Scotsman, but she didn't appear to be there.

Instead, old Monsieur Martineau himself came to greet me at the counter. « Bonjour, Monsieur. On m'a donné des champignons et je voudrais savoir si vous pouvez me dire de quelle variété ou espèce il s'agit », I said to him — “Somebody gave me some mushrooms and I'm hoping you can tell me what variety or species they are.”

M. Martineau peered into the shopping bag and then reached in and picked one up. « Ce sont des cèpes, he announced, des cèpes de Bordeaux, Boletus edulis. Ils sont bons. En fait, ils sont très très bons à manger. » — “They are ceps,” he said, “the ones called Bordeaux Ceps, Boletus edulis. They are fine. In fact, they are very very good to eat.”

I thanked him and left, feeling pretty pleased. I was headed to the bank, and there just happens to be another big pharmacy right down the street from the Crédit Agricole. I could see into the shop and there didn't seem to be any customers inside, so I grabbed my bag of mushrooms and took them in for a second opinion.

This time a middle-aged woman seem to be in charge. I told her my story and showed her the mushrooms. « Ce sont des bolets, she said, et ils sont bons. » — “They are boletus mushrooms,” she said, “and they are good.”

I asked her about the yellow spongy material under the caps, where buttom mushrooms have those pinkish-gray gills. “Oh, with ceps, you remove all that before you cook them,” she said. And she proceeded to show me how the yellow stuff, which she called « le foin » — the “hay” is the same word used for the choke of an artichoke — just peels right off.

This is the spongy yellow stuff you remove.
It seems to be turning a little green now.

“Remove the yellow spongy material, trim off the bottom of the stem, slice the cap and chop the rest of the stem. Then cook them. Never cover mushrooms while they are cooking,” she said, “because the water they release needs to evaporate.”

I don't think the second pharmacist said the mushrooms were Bordeaux Ceps, but I'm not sure now. She used the term bolet, and ceps are a member of the boletus family. Some boletus mushrooms are edible, and some are quite toxic. These are safe to eat, and may be very delicious. That's what I've concluded.

After a trip to the bank, I was off to buy some wine over in the village just on the other side of Saint-Aignan. I've been buying wine from one grower-producer over there for 3 or 4 years now. It's the woman of the house who comes out when you drive into the courtyard, and she pumps the wine into your containers for you. Once in a while it's her husband who comes out, but not often.

This woman and I have for several years had an ongoing conversation about our mothers and how they are doing. Her mother lives in Brittany, alone, but with some help in the house and yard. Mine, as you know, lives in North Carolina. She sold her house a few years ago and moved into an apartment. Madame L. likes to get news of her.

Once we completed the updates about how our mothers were both doing well, I mentioned the mushrooms to her. She said an old customer of theirs had brought her and her husband a whole crate of ceps a couple of years ago. She had never eaten them before, she said, and so had never prepared them.

She asked me how I planned to cook them. She always does that. One time when I went over there we talked about eggplants. She said she had planted some in her garden for the first time ever, and I told her that Walt and I grow them. She wanted to know how to cook them.

Another shot of what the pharmacist called « le foin ».

She said the ceps she got tasted very good sautéed and served with a roasted chicken, but that the mushrooms were actually kind of gluants — slimy. I told her I had been worried about the yellow material under the caps, and she said, well yes, that's the part that seemed to produce the gluey liquid. I told her that a pharmacist had showed me how to remove that part, and then we went over to my car and I showed her how to do it.

Voilà. More later.


  1. Aah!, Mushies, I love them Ken. This Sunday morning Sue and I had breakie at a local cafe. She had eggs benedict where I had Funky Mushrooms. Sounds like something from the 60s!!!
    The mushies were laid on a bed of toasted bread and covered with a poached egg amongst cous cous and some lettuce. Washed down with coffee, it was a very relaxing morning. Is retirement like a week of Sunday mornings?

  2. Very interesting, Ken. When we stayed in a gite at Avoine, near Chinon, the gite owner gave us a huge bag of cepes that she had collected herself.
    We cooked half of them the way we would cook button mushrooms at home, ie, just slicing them and then sauteed in butter. They were horrible and slimy. We threw the rest away and felt very guilty about it.
    So now we know.

  3. Very interesting, and it certainly seems like you were fortunate to find out about removing the spongy foin. It's important not to leave out the little details, eh!?

    I remember my au pair family going mushroom gathering in the woods in Bourgogne, but I don't think that these were the kind of mushrooms they gathered. I think they gathered black ones and/or long, skinny, yellowish ones that remind me of Gingko tree leaves.


  4. Hi Ken, Now that you know that they are good to eat ... are you going to try them? I've had cepes, slowly grilled in some butter and garlic ... on toast. They were delicious. Good luck!

  5. Joelle and I found a snail-bit cepe on one of our walks around Ales. After her husband Pierre (a pharmacist) identified it, he sauteed it with scrambled eggs. It tasted wonderful, but the eggs came out grey and black.

    Joelle's sister later told me that Pierre had OK'd a mushroom a few years back that poisoned Joelle; she drove herself to the hospital to have her stomach pumped. I'm glad I didn't know that ahead of time!

  6. I wish the pharmacists here could identify mushroom toxicity. It has been very rainy here and lots of mushrooms have come up in the front lawn.

  7. Can't wait to know how you prepared them and how good they tasted. And what kind of wine you had with them.

    It seems Boletus edulis is basically a south-western kind of mushroom. May be that why it is called "Cèpe de Bordeaux."

  8. Funny--okay, I guess it's not that funny, given that mushroom season is now getting into full swing--but I too blogged about the bolete the other day (in case you want to read it: http://eatsingride.blogspot.com/2009/11/king-bolete.html).

    Mine didn't have any of that nasty foin, thank goodness, as I wouldn't have known to remove it. And it was indeed superb.

  9. Leslie, the mushroom you had appears to be Boletus edulis, as you said, and I'm more and more convinced that what we got was not the same variety. From your pictures of the sliced caps it looks to me as if the yellow gills are what our pharmacist called le foin. Maybe the gills or tubes or spores or whatever don't need to be removed from the Bordeaux ceps.

  10. Hey Ken. It was a weekend for mushrooms. We visited friends in Kentucky over Thanksgiving. On Friday we went to the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill. The dining room serves very nice meals with simple, Shaker roots. I had johnny cakes with oyster mushrooms and cushaw squash. Yum.


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