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[An Archaeologist’s Guide to British Species] #54: Boletus

June 6, 2022

In 2022, I am continuing to blog an A-Z compendium of human interactions with species in the British landscape. A list of references for information used in this series can be found here.

Boletus edulis -three light brown toadstools in a forest
Boletus edulis – photo by Tocekas (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Boletus

There are some 50 species of Boletus, most of which grow in woodland, sending up fruiting bodies (the toadstools) in late summer. They are recognisable by having a spongy mass of pores in place of the gills on the underside of the cap. Many are edible, most notably the cep (Boletus edulis), but others are poisonous.  The poisonous species are distinguished by having red or purple stems or pores.The late archaeological scientist Don Brothwell notes edible Boletus species as a favourite in his autobiography, describing them as ‘fleshy, tasty, and sometimes growing to enormous size’. Ceps are common in woodland, especially beechwoods, from August to November, and have a smooth, dry brown cap with yellow to brown pores. They have a mild, nutty flavour. Richard Mabey warns that they are popular with insects, so the cap is best sliced open before cooking to check for infestation. They are a source of vitamin D and fibre, and can be dried, or powdered and preserved in oil. Ceps are also known as porcini (singular porcino), penny buns, and steinpilz, and were known to the Romans as suillus (confusingly, they referred to the southern European and north African species Caesar’s mushroom (Amanita caesarea) as boletus).

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