Polish Fermented Mushrooms

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Close up of fermented mushrooms on a plate.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

If you think fermented mushrooms sounds, well, unappetizing, think again. Walk with me a moment…

Every time I take a newcomer out mushroom hunting, we come across various quasi-edible mushrooms, notably members of the russula family. “Are these edible?” they ask. Well… the Russians eat ’em, I’ll say, usually salted and then pickled. Even the well-named “emetic” russula mushrooms can be rendered edible by this method, I’ll say.

“Well, are they good that way?” That’s when I had to admit that um, well, actually I’d never done it.

Now I have. Turns out fermented mushrooms is a popular way to preserve them all over the Slavic world, but I’d always been a little leery of it for vague reasons, mostly having to do with fears of listeria or heat-volatile mycotoxins that salting won’t denature.

A little research turned up that there indeed have been several poisonings related to the Russian method of salting mushrooms. Even my colleague Sandor Katz in his mega-awesome book The Art of Fermentation hesitates when writing about lacto-fermented mushrooms.

Because so little research has been done on mushroom fermentation, I would recommend cautious experimentation.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement from the usually enthusiastic Katz.

I knew about a Russian salted mushroom recipe before I read Katz’s book, and in fact he cites it: It’s from Anne Volokh’s The Art of Russian Cuisine. I started with that recipe.

But which mushrooms to use? I didn’t want to start with russulas. But I didn’t have to. As it happens, there is another mushroom that is prized for this method above all others: Lactarius deliciosus, the saffron milk cap.

saffron milk caps
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Mostly I find this mushroom after its aged to the point of nastiness. When they get old or are bruised, this mushroom stains puke green. Blech. But fresh and young, they are a sunny, welcoming orange with pretty concentric rings on their caps. Eaten like a regular store-bought mushroom, however, saffron milk caps are pretty disappointing: They are grainy and not terribly flavorful. Maybe they’d improve once salted down?

saffron milk caps under
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

So one day, after I came home with a pound or so of pretty milk caps, I made Volokh’s recipe. You basically salt down the mushrooms with garlic and other spices, then put a plate over them and weigh it down. Doing this squashes the mushrooms and that, combined with the salt, pulls out their water and forms a brine. They then ferment for a week or two before you eat them.

I did this, but the first thing I noticed was that the mushrooms turned a dingy brown.

I was still pretty leery of them, so just to be sure I boiled some brine and poured the boiling brine over the mushrooms. There they sat in my fridge uneaten. A few days later, I bought another book, Polish Heritage Cookery. Paging through it, I noticed that it too had a salted mushroom recipe, grzyby kwaszone. Unlike the Russian version, this one requires you to boil the mushrooms for a few minutes first. Aha! This seemed far more sensible.

So I went out and got some more milk caps. This time, when I boiled them, their pretty orange color held! I fermented them in the same way as I did with the Russian ones, but once these were done they kept their color. I don’t know if it was the color or the boiling that made me want to eat these mushrooms, but I suddenly felt more at ease.

Close up of fermented mushrooms on a plate.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Slavs typically eat their salted mushrooms with bread and vodka. I know, this must shock you, but really, they do drink vodka on occasion. So I got some good rye bread and poured myself a shot of vodka. Here goes…

Wow! While the grainy texture of a sautéed saffron milk cap is nasty, once salted and fermented, the texture become meaty and pleasant. You can definitely taste the garlic and juniper, but the mushrooms were salty. Really damn salty. Volokh says they are often soaked in fresh water for a few minutes before they’re eaten, and I see why.

This recipe is definitely worth trying, especially if you combine the mushrooms with good dark bread and some beer, vodka or akavit.

Na zdrowie!

Close up of fermented mushrooms on a plate.
4.91 from 10 votes

Polish Fermented Mushrooms

I think it is pretty much impossible to buy Lactarius deliciosus, but the Russians and Poles also use porcini, honey mushrooms, chanterelles, russulas and, yes, regular button mushrooms. Not sure why, but most sources say to ferment only one variety of mushroom per batch. I pickle my mushrooms in a one-gallon stoneware crock, but you could use any non-reactive container. Store them in brine in a quart mason jar in the fridge for several months.
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Polish
Servings: 10
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 3 to 4 pounds fresh mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
  • Kosher or pickling salt
  • 6 to 10 juniper berries, crushed (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill, or 2 tablespoons fresh
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seed
  • 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves smashed

Instructions 

  • Boil the mushrooms in salted water for 5 minutes. Drain and let them cool in one layer on a paper towel or tea towel.
  • Mix all the herbs and spices in a small bowl. Lay down a thin layer of pickling or kosher salt at the bottom of a crock or other non-reactive container, then lay down a layer of mushrooms. Sprinkle with some of the herbs and spices. Add a bit more salt. Keep layering like this until you have all the mushrooms in the crock. Finish with another layer of salt.
  • Place a clean plate or other top on the mushrooms and weigh it down. I use a quart Mason jar filled with water. Let this sit in a cool, dark place (no need to refrigerate) for 4 days. After the first day, check to see that the mushrooms are submerged in their own brine. If not, boil 1 pint of water with 2 tablespoons kosher salt and let it cool. Pour over the mushrooms and continue fermenting.
  • After 4 days, move the mushrooms and brine and spices to clean Mason jars and refrigerate. They will keep for several months.

Notes

Note that prep time does not include fermenting time. 

Nutrition

Calories: 33kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 8mg | Potassium: 615mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 29mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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48 Comments

  1. I think it’s important to note that the mushrooms need to be kept under the brine at all times, so they need weighing down, even if in the fridge.
    I submerged a batch of mushrooms, in a kilner jar, and covered the opening with clingfilm (Saran wrap) before closing the lid and refrigerating.
    Upon opening the jar, even with this ‘belt & braces’ method, I found the mushrooms had risen out of the brine, and the surface ones had gone moldy.
    Great pity. So keep them under the brine all the time. I also pre-boiled mine for one minute (and I do mean, timing it form the moment the water hits a rolling boil) which helped the process enormously.

  2. I tried some milk caps from a local pine forest in NSW, Australia this week. Needed a long time to cook in butter. Was great on toast – very meaty, kind of pork-like in flavour. Interesting experience.

  3. I love mushrooms, and my polish heritage has been pickling popinki (honey mushrooms) in crocks with salt since days of old. I cannot wait to try your recipe this fall when the popinki pop up everywhere. If I were to pickle these in a large crock (roughly 50 gal) could I continuously add to it? Or should I just do it in a smaller 5 gal crock? I’ll do the 5 gal to start. I love continuing in the ways of my polish heritage. I can’t wait to start pickling, I’ll get back to you on he results. Thanks!

  4. Hi John: I am just up the road Creswick way, Found even this yr they are quite plentiful if you wonder through the pine Forest. Picked some shopping bags full in no time yesterday. l have done a heap up very much like your suggestion and used them as a meat substitute in Bolognase. I didn’t have bacon but I fried then with garlic, butter mixed herbs, onion, salt and a pinch of chilli flakes, finished with a squeeze of lemon it was one of the best 5 min meals ever. Given I still have well over have a bag I think I will try one of these pickling methods.

  5. I have a small 5 acre block on the outskirts of Daylesford which has a small clutch of pine trees planted by a previous owner to line the entrance drive. Every second year or so – I’m blessed with a 3-4 kilos of these golden treasures, but I would never waste their delicate nutty flavour by pickling them. My preferred recipe can be found at the following link. https://www.tasteofharmony.org.au/recipes/view/405

  6. Just checking out the salted lactarius recipe and thought I’d add a comment from downunder, Australia. Lactarius deliciosus grow here in introduced pine plantations, erupting in early autumn after rain. They can grow to quite enormous sizes, dinner plate’sh, in good years. This year, being unusually warm and dry, they are out, but small and fewer in number. I grew up with my Finnish mother, who lived in Russia before WWII, salting these mushrooms. Only in salt, no spices. She would weight them down in a crock interleaved with plenty of salt. To use them, they would be rinsed and soaked of excess salt, minutely diced, mixed with sour cream and very finely diced onion and eaten as a salad- a very Russian style as I understand it. And lovely with black bread. The Lactarius grow simultaneously with Suillus Luteus, which are lovely dried- peel away the sticky cap, slice very finely and dehydrate to a biscuit stae- keep indefinitely and have a wonderful aroma, terrific for sauces. Thank you for your recipe, this year I’ll add the spices.

  7. Oron,
    I would guess that when you are talking about the peppery lactarius growing under the Coastal Oaks – it is probably the Golden Milk Cap (lactarius alnicola – https://bcharny.smugmug.com/WildMushrooms/Golden-Milk-Cap/7306757_T8PWwR#!i=469954083&k=vnRrRTH). If so, they can be pickled and the results are delicious (we pickle them ever year).
    You should soak them in cold water for three days, changing water twice a day (clean them before soaking). Make sure all the mushrooms are submerged. This will remove the sharp peppery taste. Then follow your favorite pickling recipe.

  8. I asked my dad. He boils them briefly, pours this water away. The pot is also sterilized. For spicing one may also use leaves of black currant or leaves of sour cherries between the mushrooms during fermentation.

  9. Stephanie: Not sure. I am not because they are just brined, so you might need to pressure can them.

    Jim: Similarly, I am being overly cautious here. There probably isn’t more risk than with sauerkraut, but hey, I don’t want to poison anyone.

    Magdalena: GREAT info, thanks!

  10. Hello, that’s me again. A really good cookbook about Polish cusine is this one: https://www.amazon.com/Polish-Cookery-Bestselling-Cookbook-American/dp/0517505266/ref=pd_sim_b_2. It is the translation of one of the most famous Polish cookbooks, written by Marja Ochorowicz Monatowa. Polish Cookery by Marja Ochorowicz Monatowa contains 2200 rustic, peasants and bourgeois recipes, had been edited at the end of the XIXth Century, and was then reprinted several times before the Second World War. In the 1950’s, the book was translated into English and published in the United States. One more thing about pickling mushrooms Polish style: we ALWAYS precook mushrooms. I have just checked that there is a recipe for salted milk caps mushrooms in this book. However, nowadays we pickle mushrooms in vinegar, as I wrote before.

  11. I can understand the concern about heat-volatile mycotoxins, but why would there be any special concern about listeria in mushrooms than in any other raw fermentation such as fermenting cabbage for sauerkraut or kimchi?

  12. This is interesting — I’ve seen 19th-century recipes (mostly English) for pickled mushrooms but always involving vinegar. And never involving quite this nice a combination of herbs and spices.

    While poking around for old recipes I found a note in an 1824 book that salted (I assume that meant fermented) mushrooms were commonly made in Russia, and were “particularly useful for the fast, dressed with hemp oil by the peasantry, or olive oil for the nobility.” The Orthodox religion has frequent and demanding fasts, I believe, so I guess this was a good meat substitute. The English doctor who related this had to offer a stern warning, though: “Mushrooms eaten in great quantity overload and derange the stomach, cause oppression of the breast, distention and flatulency, which finish by nausea and vomiting, and sometimes by a diarrhea; or by causing indigestion and want of appetite.” Sounds like somebody who needed a decent mycologist.

  13. As I wrote on Facebook, your recipe is very special . it’s true that we pickle cucumbers or beets or other vegetables in brine (with dill weed, spices, garlic etc). Mushrooms may also be pickled this way, however in shops in Poland one will find forest mushrooms pickled in the mixture of vinegar and water, juniper berries, onions, carrots, bay leave.
    I forwarded you recipe to my father, who spent several years in British Columbia and in California (LA) – he had milk caps mushrooms pickled in salt once in his life – in Moscow in 1974 ! Pickles in salt are called KISZONE, KISZONKI and in vinegar – MARYNOWANE. We often pickle milk caps in the summer, but always in vinegar. Next summer I will definitely try your recipe – but I would say that our Polish specialty are those milk caps which are pickled in vinegar (“MARYNOWANE”). Kind regards from Kraków, Poland !

  14. In Moscow I had he “Royal Lactarius” done this way that was INCREDIBLE! I think they were Lactarius rubrilacteus (the bleeding milkcaps) which are delicious on their own and give Lactarius a new hope!

    I have always wanted to try this style with the peppery Lactarius that explode around our coast live oaks. Apparently a Finnish delicacy…

  15. Well, I love mushrooms and I’ve got a pickling crock standing empty, so this sounds like something I definitely need to try!

  16. Interesting. I’ve gotten the salted Polish ones at the market before but never thought to make my own. Thanks for the procedure!