Agaricus Augustus: The Prince of Mushrooms

Princes are tall, noble mushrooms with feathered, golden caps that have a square-ish, marshmallow-like shape when young. They often crop up twice in a season, and are considered choice edibles.

These beauties appeared in July along a sidewalk edged with ivy. We carefully pried them out of the ground, marveling at their long stems, and carried them home.

Click on a photo to open the gallery:

What would you do with such fresh, tender, aromatic mushrooms?

Click on a photo to open the gallery and see what we did.

About two months later, the same stretch of sidewalk revealed another crop. Unfortunately, they went unnoticed for a few days and were a little past their prime when we found them.

At the same time, this batch of Agaricus praeclaresquamosus showed up very nearby.
These are quite similar to the Prince, with scaly caps, brown gills and a ring around the stem. Two noticeable differences are their grey-brown cap and their distinctly phenolic scent, like a bottle of ink, or that paste/glue we all used in kindergarten, or perhaps asphalt/creosote. Oh, and quite poisonous. So three differences, then.

West Coast Truffle Hunt

Winter is truffle season in Oregon, so the weather can be tricky to plan around. We have been trying to arrange a hunt for a few years but have been foiled by soaking wet or snow-covered ground. This year things came together and we hired a wonderful guide, James, and his lovely truffle dog, Augie (click for larger images).

Hunting grounds: a 20 year-old Douglas Fir plantation in North West Oregon.

Because the fruiting bodies of truffles are all underground, it was quite a different style of mushroom hunting than what we’re used to. Rather than looking around for splashes of colour or tell-tale signs of mushrooms, we just followed Augie and watched as he bashed around happily in the woods. Augie is a Lagotto Romagnolo,  so he’s born to hunt, swim, and retrieve, but he has also been trained from a young age to find truffles, and he’s really good at it. Never mind that they’re all 20-30 cm underground, he can smell them out and is quick to dig.  As the dirt flies, James gets ready to distract Augie with a treat in one hand and to snatch up the truffle with the other. Although he prefers treats to truffles, Augie still managed to gobble a few of the precious things.

You can hire James and Augie for your own truffle hunt via their website: Terra-Fleurs.

Watch Augie do his thing:

Truffles don’t have much flavour, and the texture is firm and a little crumbly, like a raw mushroom cap. It’s best to slice them raw, as thinly as possible onto hot, fatty food to make the most of the intense aroma. The aromatic compounds are oil-soluble, so they’ll infuse fats with their wonderful scent. We put a wheel of Brie in with our truffles for a few days and it came out smelling strongly of truffles. We have heard people do the same with eggs and blocks of butter.

The scent of white truffles is difficult to describe; it’s wonderfully earthy, richly herbal and has high notes of spicy garlic. The black ones are also earthy with a sweetly sweaty character. They smell strongly of dark chocolate and have a distinct pineapple fruitiness. James says he can’t leave his truffles open and exposed to air on the drive home because the smell in the car just becomes overpowering.

Here’s what we did with some of our truffles (click for larger images):