Description: Large, fleshy, robust mushroom with whitish cap and stalk. Some brownish on both and a prominent, cottony ring on stalk. It has a distinctive cinnamony/pine smell and appears first as a round unopened cap pushing through the moss.
Season: Fall, after some heavy rains and cool nights. The window of opportunity usually opens fully by the 3rd week of Oct. on Mt. Elphie and continues into Nov. and Dec. if weather stays mild.
Habitat: Under mixed conifers, in salal, moss, along creeks, on hilltops, at the bases of trees and on the sides of hills. Pine mushrooms like well drained area's of mostly south facing slopes and are found singly, in pairs or in clusters and patches.
Edibility: One of the finest edible mushrooms in the world. Also known for it's medicinal uses, anti-cancer properties and is even used as an aphrodisiac.
is an extremely important mushroom as it is picked commercially on the
Sunshine Coast and throughout BC. Many people make a part or full time
living harvesting pines in the fall. For more info, please see Nass
Matsutake has been revered by the Japanese for over 1000 years and until the 17th century, was consumed only by members of the imperial court. Nowadays, it is still more than just a seasonal delicacy. Pine mushrooms symbolize fertility, good fortune and happiness and are traditionally given as gifts, especially in the corporate world. Fresh matsutake in a good Japanese restaurant can cost over $250.
The white matsutake of Mt. Elphinstone and western north america is actually a different specie from the matsutake of Japan. The Japanese pines are much darker, have longer stalks and they are all about the same size and shape and pack nicely into a crate. Ours have the same smell and taste as genuine Japanese pines (Tricholoma matsutake) but are lighter in colour and often misshapen. Korea's variety look more like the Japanese mushroom but lack the odour. Many of Korea's exports are now injected with a pine oil to improve the smell.
In the past 100 years the 'pine
weevil' has decimated the matsutake forests of Japan. Being a mycorrhizial
mushroom growing in symbiotic relationship with certain trees, it has resisted
cultivation. Mycologists are however working on forest management plans
designed to enhance matsutake production. Most of the product is now imported
from Korea, China, Canada and the US. Canada contributes 15 - 20%
of Japans total import. Recently, countries such as Sweden and Mexico have
also begun harvesting
pines. On the world market, Canadian mushrooms are worth about half the
value of Korea's and one quarter of the Japanese.
grows in many provinces. In northern Alberta, Sask., Manitoba, Ontario
and Quebec, seasons can be cut short by killing frosts. The largest harvests
in north america are in British Columbia where the season can start early
in the north, in August. Mushroom fruiting follows the cool weather
as it moves down the coast like a wave. On Mt. Elphinstone, a popular harvest
area, and Vancouver Island, picking can begin in Sept and continue right
into December if conditions are right.
Prices paid by commercial buyers fluctuate daily and are effected by world politics, harvests from foreign countries, Japanese demand, currency rates, buyer discretion and many other factors. Prices can vary from $5 to $30 per pound or more, depending on the grade. Pine mushroom harvesting can be very lucrative but the days of $100 a lb or more are likely gone forever.
Cap: 5 - 25 cm broad Convex becoming flat then upturned. Dry and smooth, tacky when wet. Margin inrolled at first. Cap is white developing fine brownish scales or fibrils, starting in the center.
Stalk: 5 - 15 cm X 2 - 4 cm Stalk is firm, stout and sturdy. It is white above the prominent cottony ring, tapers downward and becomes brownish below ring.
Gills: The gills are notched, adnate, fine and crowded. They are white but become yellow/brown with brownish spots when older.
Veil: Membranous and evanescent, disappearing quickly and leaving a prominent cottony ring on stalk. A pine mushroom is graded by the amount of veil left intact. Great care must be taken to reduce 'veil loss' during transport. Packing the fragile #1's in small tupperware containers works well.
Flesh: The flesh is thick and firm. It is white and bruises light brownish and has a distinctive spicy, aromatic cinnamon/pine odour.
Spores: 5.5 - 7 X 4.5 - 5.5µ White, broadly elliptical and smooth.
Picking: Picking pine mushrooms is easy, it's the finding of them that is almost an art. An experienced picker utilizes hidden hunter/gatherer instincts and seemingly becomes in tune with the mushrooms and the forest. For a beginner yet to find their first pine, it is a little more difficult. Often a 'flag' will tip one off to the location of the prized fungi. A 'flag' is an older specimen easily spotted because of it's larger size. One must be careful when walking in the vicinity of a flag as there may be untold number of 'buttons' under the moss nearby. These are the young, unopened mushrooms and are the most valuable. They are found by feeling around the moss, checking out the bumps and the humps.
Gently pull back the moss and give the mushroom a tug and a twist. It might need to be loosened a bit by hoisting from underneath with a stick. Be very careful as you don't want to break the mycelial thread it is attached to. This will halt development of any mushrooms further down the line.
If one is picking for food, slicing the mushroom at the base with a knife is fine but if harvesting for commercial resale or even to give as a gift, the entire mushroom must be presented, preferably in perfect, flawless, #1 grade condition.
Storing: Drying is the best method of storage either by slicing or by drying whole. Packages of dried, whole mushrooms can often be found in asian stores. In Japan, at the end of the pine season, many are sold frozen. Frozen mushrooms still maintain their strong pine aroma, but because they lose their firm texture, it's best to use only as flavoring instead of as a main dish. Thaw the mushrooms at room temperature, remove impurities using a sharp knife and rinse quickly. To enhance stews, soups or sautéed dishes, add the mushrooms right before serving and cook only briefly.
Cooking: There are many, many ways to prepare matsutake. It can be incorporated into virtually any asian dish or simply fried in butter. They are perhaps at their aromatic best in slow cooked stews and soups. Two popular dishes are matsutake-gohan (rice cooked with mushroom slivers and stock) and dobin mushi. This is a clear broth, served in a special type of teapot, with a tiny cup on top. You simply pour out the delicious, steaming broth and sip. Another recipe, for Matsutake Kimpira, includes mushrooms, sugar, soy sauce and cayenne pepper all stir-fried over a medium high heat. The result is almost a mushroom candy.
Grilled whole caps drizzled with soy sauce is another excellent way to serve pine mushrooms.
Cleaning: Pines need nothing more than a quick brush with a damp cloth.
area's where pine mushrooms grow in quantity, buyer stations open up in
the fall. These are usually temporary shelters housing buyers who move
around the province dealing in various commercially harvested mushrooms.
They ship the mushrooms to Vancouver where they are re-graded and taken
to the airport. A pine can be on a store shelf in Japan within 48 hours
of being picked in Canada.
Prices paid for mushrooms vary for each grade. #1's are the unopened young buttons found under or just emerging from the moss. Once the cap starts to open and the veil underneath expands to the point where it breaks away from the cap, the grade is lowered as is the price paid. #2's have an almost fully intact veil. #3's have only a portion of the veil left intact. A #4 would have a fully opened cap, no veil left but the margin is still inrolled. #5's have an upturned cap but gills should still be white. Buyers grade at their discretion, some are more generous than others and many give small bonus's. The mushroom buying stations are just as competitive as the pickers are in the field. Typical prices paid per pound for grades 1 - 5 might be: 20 - 15 - 10 - 5 - 3. Great care must be taken in packing the fragile 1's and 2's as they can quickly turn into 3's and 4's on the way to the buying station.
Medicinal Uses: Traditionally, matsutake is believed to enhance fertility and virility, strengthen the immune system and even work as an aphrodisiac. In 1996, researchers at the National Cancer Center Research Institute of Japan found that polysaccharide extracts of matsutake drastically slow down tumor growth in guinea pigs.
Steeping a cap overnight produces a solution used as a facial wash intended to tighten wrinkles and remove sun darkened facial spots.
A few more pics...