Leccinum versipelle (OBB), Leccinum scabrum (BBB)
(also very similar: orange oak bolete (Leccinum aurantiacum) and orange aspen bolete (Leccinum insigne) – distinguished by habitat.
- Edibility – 4/5 – All leccinum species should be cooked before use. There are some reports of mild toxicity (upset stomach) among some people if they aren’t thoroughly cooked. My personal interpretation of this (intuitive, not science-based) is that the stipes are hard to digest and are much more likely to cause a reaction than the caps. Orange Birch Boletes – Young firm specimens are great in any mushroom dish, while large, spongier specimens are best dried. Stems can become tough and hard to digest, especially in older specimens – in which case add to the stock pot fresh, or dry and powder to use in stock mixes. Brown Birch Bolete – 2/5 (or 3/5 if really young and firm) – usually best dried and mixed with other dried fungi and used as thickener/umami in stock pots. As with OBB, stipes can be tough and hard to digest.
- Identification – 4/5 – OBB – Its hard to mistake these impressive fungi, with their orange caps, pale stems with dark scales (squamules) , grey pores and tendency to turn blue around the stem base when cut or handled. Don’t be alarmed by this – treat it as a welcome aid to identification rather than something scary (see picture at bottom of page). BBB is more or less identical, only with drab brown caps of various hues depending on how young/wet it is, and an inclination to bruise grey rather than blue. There are a number of similar leccinum (scaber stalk) species, all of which share the more or less squamulous stipe. Identification to species is based on habitat (i.e. tree type they are found under), cap colour and colour changes (blue, red, dark bruising) on cut stems. None are known to be toxic or inedible, but some are harder do digest than others. See notes on a couple more below, and consult a field guide for the full range.
- Distribution – OBB – 3/5 – Not uncommon in their habitat, though far less common than BBB (5/5), which are often hyper abundant under birch.
- Habitat – Under birch trees and no other tree, August – November. If you find an orange capped mushroom that looks very similar growing under oak or aspen, you probably have an orange oak bolete (Leccinum aurantiacum – edible and excellent) or orange aspen bolete (Leccinum insigne – edible but with some reports of adverse reactions).
While not quite in the same class as ceps, orange birch boletes far exceed their more common brethren, the brown birch bolete (leccinum scabrum), in texture and flavour. Look for somewhat phallic younger specimens only under birch trees (especially scrub birch and birch wood edges), particularly on acidic, scrubby/heathery ground. They can grow to substantial sizes, but once they start to feel spongy its best to dry them for future use. Drying results in an improved flavour on reconstitution.
If you come across an OBB that isn’t growing beneath birch, but under oak trees, you may well have an orange oak bolete. Word is, these are even tastier, but never having found one, I can’t comment. They seem to be more common in the South of England. We don’t get many aspens in Scotland, but on a trip to NW Canada I encountered a lot and found lots of orange aspen boletes below them. Orange aspen boletes have been reported to cause adverse reactions in a few people – my advice would be to eat only the young caps, well cooked, or dry and powder older specimens then use with caution first time round. I really enjoyed them.
None of the scaber-stalk (leccinum) sub-family of boletes (pored mushrooms) will do you much harm, though many aren’t particularly rewarding eating. I get countless pictures of BBB’s sent to me by people thinking they have found ceps. They are nowhere near as good, though young, firm specimens are well worth picking, and often reward a forage in huge numbers when not much else is about.
I’m told that in some areas of Eastern Europe the OBB is esteemed above the cep. This is hard to justify purely on taste grounds, but they are certainly more rewarding picking, being much more resistant to maggots.