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Saffron Milk Cap Mushrooms
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Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms are edible mushrooms that have caps up to 15 centimeters wide. The caps are convex-shaped, and are carrot-orange, the interior flesh is white, but becomes faintly tinted orange when cut open. The cap may develop a green hue with age or bruising. The Saffron Milk Cap mushroom’s gills are bright orange and descend on the stem, staining it green. Cutting the gills releases a carrot-colored, latex-like liquid. The stems of the Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms are hollow and smooth, and grow up to 10 centimeters long. Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms may be sticky when wet. They have a pleasant, fruity smell and a meaty, crisp flesh that stands up well to cooking. The flavor of the Saffron Milk Cap mushroom is nutty and woodsy, with hints of umami.
Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms are available from mid-summer to fall.
Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms are a foraged fall delicacy. They are botanically classified as Lactarius deliciosus, and are one of the best-known members of the large milk-cap genus Lactarius, a reference to the milky substance that the gills exude when they are cut or torn. Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms are also commonly known as Red Pine mushrooms, as they are found in pine forests; and Spruce Milk Cap, as they occur in spruce habitats. Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms are known to turn one’s urine an orange-red color, a harmless side effect of eating these mushrooms.
Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms are high in beta carotene, which gives these mushrooms their characteristic color. Like other mushrooms, they also contain protein, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and calcium. Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms also contain high amounts of amino acids, as well as a natural antibiotic called lactarioviolin, which can help with treating inflammatory bacterial infections such as tuberculosis.
Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms can be eaten raw, in salads or simply dressed lightly in olive oil and salt. In Russia, they are sprinkled with salt, and left to sit in a bowl or on a plate. When the mushrooms "bleed" liquid, they are ready to eat, and have a pleasantly fruity flavor. They are a versatile mushroom for cooking, and can be grilled and sautéed, while maintaining their color and texture. Upon cooking, the Saffron Milk Cap will imbue your dish a pretty saffron-orange hue. The nutty flavor of the Saffron Milk Camp mushroom is enhanced with butter and olive oil. Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms can be used in pastas, stuffings and stews. They pair well with cream sauces and rich reductions. If using the dried Saffron Milk Cap mushroom, save the soaking liquid, which turns a beautiful saffron color and which can be added back into sauces and soups. Some say that the Saffron Milk Cap is somewhat grainy in texture, but prolonged cooking eliminates this. To store Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms, keep them stem-up in a paper bag in a refrigerator, where they can last for up to 5 days. Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms may be brushed off, sliced, fried in butter, then stored in the freezer in a sealed bag for several months. Their flavor will be nearly as good as fresh when they are defrosted for use.
Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms are common in Russia, where they are fondly known as rhzhiki, which means “redhead” in Russian. They are highly prized in Russia, where the gathering, cooking and eating mushrooms is a big part of the country's culture. When Russian children learn the alphabet, they are taught that “G” is for “gryb”, which is Russian for “mushroom”. Russians are so in awe of Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms that tasting these mushrooms is sometimes offered as an activity for tourists in Russia. Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms are commonly pickled – a particularly Russian treatment for this mushroom. Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms feature in folk medicine as well - in Siberia, they were known to be used to treat jaundice, coughs and asthma, and were even part of a cure for poisoning.
Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms were first described in 1753 by a Swedish botanist, but have been eaten for centuries. A fresco in the Roman town of Herculaneum depicts the Saffron Milk Cap mushroom. It is considered to be one of the earliest pieces of art to show a mushroom. Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms grow in coniferous woodlands, and can cover large areas of forest floor. They are common in the Pyrenées region of Spain, where they are known as “rovello, and are some say that these mushrooms are practically the national mushrooms of Spain. They are found in Provence in France, in regions of Poland and Russia, where they are a staple of the traditional Russian peasant diet, and in Barcelona where they feature in Catalan cuisine. Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms are also widespread throughout Britain and Ireland.