I’m into wild mushrooms. From spring until the end of autumn you might find me foraging around in the forest, hopefully emerging triumphant with a small basket of woodland goodies, yet other times thrilled to have found just one or two. More often than not I just come home sweaty and empty-handed, with twigs stuck in my hair and clothing covered in deer ticks. Yet if you are into wild mushrooms, there is an excitement connected to the finding, learning about and especially eating of the edible specimens (of course only those that can be safely and unquestionably identified).
While attending a mushroom festival near her home in Oregon, a family member kept texting me photos of various mushrooms and mushroom products she was seeing that would cause the heartbeat of any mycophile to start pounding. A generous and fantastic gift of dried candy cap mushrooms arrived shortly thereafter in the mail – Lactarius rubidus to be exact – native to the west coast and a very big treat for me. “Candy” is the key word of their common name. I had tasted them in delicacies made by others but never had the opportunity to prepare them myself.
The dried mushrooms arrived in a sealed plastic package which did not even remotely conceal the scent of the contents. The smell of maple syrup emanating from them was so strong that they perfumed the entire kitchen with a blast every time the kitchen cabinet was opened. As a second measure, I put the entire package inside a zip-lock bag, which did nothing, as the maple odor seemed to drift through the second layer as if it wasn’t even there. How is this possible? So I then put the entire double-bagged package into a glass mason jar, which seemed to do the trick. There they remained until a chilly December day seemed like the right time to bake some candy cap cookies.
In the back pages of The Complete Mushroom Hunter by Gary Lincoff is a basic rolled cookie dough recipe with instructions for adding candy caps to make an addictive cookie bursting with maple flavor. After reconstituting the dried mushrooms, I proceeded to saute them in butter as directed. The unmistakable, sweet aroma of maple syrup filled the kitchen, putting me into a Vermont state of mind. If you are into the chemistry-nerd aspect as to why that is, according to Wikipedia, a specific lactone is hydrolyzed when the mushroom is dried into a “powerfully aromatic compound” called sotolon – sotolon being “one of the main compounds responsible for the aroma of maple syrup, as well as that of curry”. Powerfully Aromatic. They are not kidding.
By the time the cookies were done, the house reeked of maple syrup. And I mean reeked. Not necessarily in a bad way (as reeking might imply) but in a pervasive, very intense way. It was everywhere, drifting up the stairs into the bedrooms, filling the dining room, living room, hallways. Into my hair, on my clothing. Everything smelled like maple.
I will admit I ingested a significant amount of dough before the cookies ever went into the oven. Eating raw cookie dough is one of those pleasurably-bad-for-you things that just cannot be helped. Honestly, I could eat an entire bowl of dough and never feel the need to bake them in the oven. I am one of those people who cookie dough ice cream was probably developed for and targeted to. Luckily, there was still plenty of dough left to make actual cookies. Those were sampled too. It was all exciting and remarkable in a cool sort of way to actually be eating cookies laced with mushrooms. You could hand them out to anybody and they would love them and never even think that it could be a mushroom (no, I didn’t do that, and no, in case you are wondering, there is no psychedelic component attached to these). I think even the Significant Other was genuinely impressed, seeing how he ate so many of them.
The following day the house continued to smell strongly of maple, seemingly wafting and recirculating through the forced hot air system. At this point the odor was beginning to be a tiny big cloying. The cookies were stored in a covered container. The utensils and dishes had all been washed. I had showered upon waking up and yet it I could still smell maple clinging about me.
That morning I had an appointment with a massage therapist. Towards the end of the session I started to tell her about the unique mushrooms that tasted like sweet maple, at which point she said “Aha, so that’s what it is you smell like”. OMG, seriously? Apparently it can come out through your pores, get right into your sweat, similar to people who eat a lot of garlic and aren’t aware of it. Except I was aware of it; I can smell the maple on my skin as if I had bathed in it. When I leave the house to walk the dog and then come back inside, the smell of maple hits you in the face like a syrup-soaked wet towel in an IHOP. While continuing to eat a few cookies…. because they were just so good (just can’t stop) I can barely detect the maple taste anymore. The maple is all around me. The maple is in me. It is as if I have become the maple.
On the third day following the making of the cookies, a friend and fellow mushroom aficionado walked into the house and commented that the house smelled like curry. I hadn’t yet consulted the internet to equate the curry connection, but clearly the “Powerfully Aromatic Compound” continued to be at work here. I gave her a few cookies to try out. She could taste the maple flavor and thought they were great. I haven’t asked her yet if it’s coming out of her pores.
It is now day four following cooking with candy caps. There are only a few left, which have now been stored in a container within another container. Although I am craving them, I have stopped eating them in an attempt to purge that mysterious aroma from my system. The SO continues to enjoy them, although he says he can’t smell anything and can barely taste the mushroom in them now. I suspect we both are walking around in a sweet, syrupy cloud but we just can’t tell. I have stripped the bed and washed all the sheets, my clothing, and myself again. The house has been vacuumed, the floors have been washed, essential oils have been diffused and I’ve taken out the kitchen trash that might have any residue of L. rubidus. And yet on day four the scent persists. I think I can detect it on the dog’s fur.
Would I make something with these again in the future? Yes. Because…. yes! They are precious, delicious and something special, as they don’t grow here on the east coast. Perhaps next time, eating a third of the raw dough laced with candy caps would not be something to endeavor. Maybe contacting some experts on the subject might yield a suggestion. Certainly there are worse things one can smell like than like maple syrup.
In the meantime, I am wondering how many more days it will feel like we are living in a sugar shack. While searching for information I read that a 64-year-old sample of L. rubidus was found and it had still retained its smell. Egads.