Friday, September 30, 2011

Boletus edulis - a mushroom par excellence

A Taste of Denmark

Boletus edulis, English names: penny bun, porcino or cep, is widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere across Europe, Asia and North America; it does not occur naturally in the Southern Hemisphere although it has been introduced to various countries there. It is a very popular mushroom in Scandinavia, where it grows in big numbers. It is known as the Karl Johan mushroom all over Scandinavia,  named after the Swedish king Karl XIV Johan, who liked this mushroom very much.

Karl Johan, stig bachmann nielsen, Naturplan Foto.
In Italy it is described as the wild mushroom par excellence. The Italian name is porcini, meaning "little pigs", but it is often called the king which underlines its status as the most outstanding of all mushrooms. In Toscana it is often cooked with thyme. In a simple dish like an omelet, this well-tasting mushroom shows to its best advantage. In Russia it is known as White Mushroom, meaning noble. In North America are found a number of species closely related to Boletus edulis. (see link below)

The English name porcino seems to derive from the Roman time in Britain, since the Italian name is porcini. I'll call it porcino in this small article. It is one of the most sought after mushrooms of Europe. Many boletus are edible, some with a good taste, others tasteless and others unpleasantly bitter. Boletus edulis is the best - edulis means eatable or edible. Porcino is considered one of the safest wild mushrooms to pick for the table as there are no poisonous species that closely resemble it. The mushroom has to be plucked while young, old porcinos get soft and swampy. Specimens should not be collected from potentially polluted or contaminated sites. Boletus edulis is known to be able to tolerate and even thrive on soil that is contaminated with toxic heavy metals.


The cap is greasy (especially after rain), brown to greybrown, it is often a little nubbly, it is about 10-15 cm diameter, but some porcinos might be 25 cm in diameter. On occassions it can reach 35 cm in diameter and 3 kilo in weight. Like other boletes it has tubes extending downward from the underside of the cap, rather than gills. The pore surface of the porcino's fruit body is whitish when young, but ages to greenish yellow. The stout stem is white or yellowish in colour,  about 5-10 cm tall and 2-4 cm thick, equipped with a fine white network, the brownish stem species have often only a clear white net at the top near the cap - the stem has usually a big bump lowest, which can reach high up on the stem, and this is a good indicator that it is a porcino, but other informations should be used for safety's sake. 

Boletus edulis lives in forest, but it is not choosy, it is found in both softwood and hardwood forests, often in boundaries between those two forest types. It is a common fungi in the Danish forests and can be harvested in large numbers. It is a rather big mushroom, only a few specimens are necessary for a meal. This mushroom is held in high regard in many cuisines. The flavour has been described as nutty and slightly meaty with a smooth creamy texture and a distinctive aroma, which reminds about the leaves in the forest, where it grows.The stem is good as raw snacks, and the cap can be cooked in many ways - sautéed with butter, ground into pasta, in soups and in many other dishes. The delicate nut-taste and the creamy meat its good for risotto and pasta-dishes and sauces and as a accompaniment to venison or a big steak. Porcini risotto is a traditional Italian autumn dish. All boletus give off much liquid during making, which has to be removed or used for a fond or soup.

Boletus edulis has not been successfully grown in cultivation, but is available fresh in autumn. It is sold fresh in markets in summer and autumn and dried or canned at other times of the year. It keeps its flavour after drying. Distributed worldwide to countries where they are not otherwise found.  It is low in fat and high in protein, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre.

Løvenholm forest, stig bachmann nielsen Naturplan Foto

Confusion: Tylopilus félleus, fel meaning bile because of its bitterness, (DK: Galde Rørhat)  and Bolétus réticulatus, called Summer cep, (DK: Sommer Rørhat). Boletus edulis is often confused with this very bitter Tylopilus felleus, but can be distinguished by the reticulation on the stalk; in porcino it is a whitish net-like pattern on a brownish stalk, whereas it is a dark pattern on white in Tylopilus. The porcino has white pores, while the other has pink. If in doubt, tasting a tiny bit of flesh will yield a bitter taste.The Summer cep's flesh is less firm than other boletes. The most similar mushroom  may be the Devil's bolete (Boletus santana), which has a similar shape, but has a red stem and stains blue on bruising.

"I confess, that nothing frightens me more than the appearance of mushrooms on the table, especially in a small provincial town."
Alexandre Dumas, early 19th century.

5 good edible mushrooms:
Boletus edulis: Porcino, Cep, Penny Bun ; (DK: Karl Johan)   
Agarius campestri: Field champignon, in North America Meadow champignon, (DK: Mark champignon);
Cantharellus cibarius: Chanterelle, (DK: Almindelig kantarel);
Craterellus tubaeformis: Yellowfoot, Winter mushroom, Funnel chanterelle, ( DK: Tragtkantarel);
Craterellus cornucopioides: Trumpet of death, Black chanterel, Black trumpet, Horn of plenty,  (DK: Stor Trompetsvamp).

Source: Politikens Svampebog, Svampe i Skandinavien, Danmarks Fugle og Natur, Felthåndbogen,Wikipedia.  

I'll have to add this:
Whether or not Boletus edulis occurs in North America is up for debate, says this website from: Mushroom Experts Com.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Army Road, the Lake District. - and Mushrooms in September


Smurfs are little blue people who live in magic mushrooms. Think about it.

The weather! I always mention the weather, but it is important! No rain that day. We have had so much rain lately, but we were lucky. First we went to "our" field in Gammel Ry, where we have been a hundred times! It is often an indicator for what is to be seen elsewhere. There were many mushrooms in all three places we visited on this one of the first days of  September, but I have only selected a few mushroom-pictures. 

Common Centaury

Lonely White Butterfly

Wart Biter (click to enlarge)
Nature's Lace

Common centaury (Marktusindgylden) was named after the centaur Chiron, famous for his skill in medical herbs. Other names among many are Bitter clover, Christ's ladder, Feverwort, Rose pink and Thousand guilder herb.

Vrads, cats in the window
Vrads, three horses

At Hærvejen

Karl Johan


Hærvejen (Army Road) is a system of roads running up through Jutland, once mostly trade roads, but the name Hærvejen refers to their use for army transport. In the 1100s a Wendic army forced its way up through the peninsula on the army road. The Jutlanders built dikes and fortifications and some are still seen along the road.  As a trade road the road system was known by the name Oxen road. The oxen were lead on the road down to the destination in countries south of the border and slaughtered there. Meat was one of the most important Danish products, and it was swapped with exotic products from the South. Settlements were gradually established in connection to the trade road., and they developed into important centres, like the town Viborg and the royal centre Jelling. The Oxen road is estimated to be about 4000 years old. The written sources begin in the Middle Ages. Today the road is mostly used by tourists, bikers and hikers.

eaten by squirrel or woodpecker?

The mushroom hunters say that this year is a fantastic year for mushroom-picking, it is 30 years since it was that good. The moist climate this summer has made perfect conditions for the mushrooms out there in the forest.  I like to go mushroom-hunting with a camera, but I don't pluck them - only if we find some Karl Johan mushrooms. They are easy to recognize, they look like a upper part of a bun.They are better than chanterelles IMO. And  they make a good mushroom soup. Karl Johan is the Scandinavian name;  Latin: Boletus edilus, in English commonly known as penny bun, porcino or cep. Widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere across Europe, Asia, and North america, it does not occur naturally in the Southern Hemisphere, although it has been introduced to southern Africa, Australia and New Zealand.The western North American species commonly known as the California king bolete (Boletus edulis var. grandedulis) is a large, darker-coloured variant that was first formally identified in 2007.
The mushroom with the red hat is a Russula emetica, called the Sickener. It causes vomiting and diarrhea when consumed. Known from woodlands in Europe, Asia, North  Africa and North America. Can be very common. A study in England and southern Scotland found that the Red Squirrel is known to forage for, store and eat the Sickener.

Hampen lake

The Sickener

Lobelia, stig bachmann nielsen,Naturplan Foto 
puffball mushrooms

Hampen lake in the lake district of Mid Jutland  is a so-called Lobelia-lake, a calcareous and nutrient-poor freshwater lake with clear water where plants are able to grow on the bottom. Lobelia-lakes are rare in Denmark, caused by pollution with plant nutrients. These lakes are found in heaths, dunes and forests, especially in Jutland,  like Madum lake in Rold forest.  Hampen lake is actually two lakes, a big and a small lake. The big one is a deep dødishul (a kettle hole from Ice Age), the small one is a low inlet with a bathing place. Lobelia: English names include Lobelia, Asthma Weed, Indian Tobacco, Pukeweed, and Vomitwort.

A view to the lake.

photo Mid Jutland September 2011: grethe bachmann
photo Lobelia: stig bachmann nielsen, Naturplan Foto

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I once had a simple little book in my drawer at the office. We girls used it when we wanted to interpret a dream. It was very entertaining. The title of the book was Cyprianus. I had inherited it from my aunt, and I don't remember a word from it now, but the book disappeared from my drawer one day. When I read about the dangerous book now, I'm sure it would not be a good idea to steal it, if you believe in magic! So where is it? ´)

Cyprianus is the common name in Denmark of a witch- or witchcraft book. Books like these were spread among people for centuries, either handwritten or printed. The name came from a bishop Cyprianus of Antioch, who suffered martyrdom in emperor Diocletians's rule. He had before his conversion to Christianity been a famous magician. There is no other connection between the book and the bishop than the name.

The Danish Cyprianus has a very mixed content, like magic formulas, magic healing, medical prescriptions and some conjuring tricks for entertainment. And about interpreting dreams of course! But the book was not just an instruction in magic -  it had in itself a strange and dangerous power, and it played a considerable role in the national mind. People also called it den sjette Mosebog (the sixth Pentateuch). The legend says that Moses, after having written the five Pentateuchs, was tempted by the devil to write number six, which was later used for witchcraft.

People said that when you read the Cyprianus, you were able to see the devil himself - or you saw a devil peeping out from each corner of the room. Ignorant people should keep away from the dangerous book. Once, when the owner of a Cyprianus went out, his farmhand took a look in it. When he later was graining corn in the mill, it was suddenly filled with fluttering birds, so he had to take flight. The reason why the book possessed such a power was that it was written in human blood.

It was a common "fact" that people, "who knew more than their Fadervor" (Lord's Prayer), differed from other people. They were suspicious. They went out in the middle of the night when Christian people had to sleep. They went across the field without any reason, and after their walk the corn would not grow. They simply took people's luck. And if they wanted to go into the stable, the farmer had to be very watchful, for they might look at the cattle with an evil eye, and the animals would be sick and die. It was easy to achieve  the title of witch or wizard among people. And if the suspects liked to show their magic power, he or she could strengthen people's suppositions by "demonstrating" their hidden magic talents. This would give them power over people.

 There was a man on the island Læsø in the seas of Kattegat. Per Ajsen was his name. He was a fisherman, a blacksmith and a carpenter. He made coffins. His income was modest and most of the profit was used for snaps and rum. A girl named Tine was a servant in his house. She didn't like to be there. She said that he was a "ræderlig troldkarl" ( a terrible wizard). People, who passed Per Ajsen's house at night, while he was asleep, noticed light in the smitty. Tine was sure that it was the devil himself who was bustling about there. Tine told people that Per Ajsen knew when someone had to die, because his tools began working by themselves. If something was stolen he could tell, what had happened by the help of sieve and scissors. And he was the owner of the sixth Pentateuch! Tine had seen it herself on several occassions, but she had never touched it. Once when Per Ajsen wanted to show the book to a neighbour's wife, Tine saw the red signs and lots of criss-cross squiggles in the book. The neighbour's wife protested wildly. "You must not show me this book! It would not be good for me!" she said.

After Per Ajsen's death Tine was asked about the whereabouts of  the Cyprianus. She did not know. She knew that it was impossible to burn it. Maybe it was hidden down in the earth? The owner had to get rid of the book before his death, and some people were sure that Per Ajsen had hidden it under a three-man's boundary, a place where three boundaries meet. An expert from the National Museum in Copenhagen decided to track down the Cyprianus. He found that one of Per Ajsens' neighbours had got it. His widow still lived there, she said that her children had played with the book. She was not very impressed by the notorious Cyprianus: " It was nothing else but a tiny miserable dream-book, which can be bought in every shop for a penny," she said.

But in people's imagination the little book had grown and was equipped with the original marks of the real Cyprianus. Per Ajsen had done something himself to help loosening the imagination of people. Upon the title page the word Cyprianus was printed in capital letters, and he had painted the letters red with beetroot-juice. It looked like it was written in human blood. These were the red signs Tine had seen. 

Asger Jorn detail from painting
Per Ajsen's Cyprianus is now in the archive of the National Museum. It is not a bibliophile rarity, it is just a simple, cheap leaflet of 50 pages from the 19th century. But it has however a cultural historical value as an evidence of, how a man with small modest means could convince credulous people about his magical power and his abilities as a terrible wizard.   

Source: Skalk, Archaeological Magazine, nr. 2, 1958, Bjarne Stoklund: "Per Ajsens Cyprianus".

 photo: cattle, dark landscape, photo of painting: grethe bachmann

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The American Bison - A Bison Farm in Denmark

It was really true. My eyes did not fool me. Bisons on a Danish field! We had seen Danish cattle and Highlanders, Danish horses and Icelanders today, and now the American bison. I had seen European bison in a reserve by Randers, but we soon found out that this was the American bison. I stood close to the fence, but they stayed far away, didn't notice anything at all. It would be so fascinating, if just one of them would come to the fence. Just imagine to look into the eye of an American bison. It would be like looking into the History of the West!

I had to find out more about these magnificent creatures. They are breeded for their meat, and I really do not like to write about this after having seen them grazing so peacefully. But this is hippocratic. I eat  meat at least once a week. Well, ............

There is a small branch of the American prairie in the northern part of the Danish island Funen. 160 bisons are grazing in the soft Funen landscape. Ditlevsdal is an old parish farm -  situated in a scenic place close to the manor Langesø. This is an old Danish idyl but the bisons bring an exotic touch to the whole. I was astonished to hear that you can get guided tours in the summer season, where you'll see the special casing and pens, where the flock is being gathered, those huge animals cannot be caught by a lasso. There are five flocks, each flock with a bull, cows, young animals and calves.

The owners of the farm, Yvonne and Niels Henrik Ove were respectively medical secretary and accountant. They started in 1993 as the first in the North to breed the American bison. Now the bisons mean everything to them. The enterprise has developed from a small farm shop till tourist-visits and a large restaurant  In the summer season the couple arrange activities at the bison farm for children and adults. In July and August is Bison-barbecue each Thursday night. The farm shop is inspired by Native American culture and bisons. Here is sold wine, applied art, souvenirs and of course bison meat which tastes like something between veal and venison.

Ditlevsdal has become a tourist attraction, but Yvonne Ove rejects that the main purpose is to entertain tourists. The Central point is the breeding of the bisons. She also says that one of the vaslues of Ditlevsdal, which must continue, is the animal welfare - they try to handle the animals as little as possible in order to give them as much peace and quiet as needed. So you are not allowed to scratch a bison behind his ear, the tonne-heavy animals are usually very harmless, but they must not be compared to Danish cattle. If they get alarmed they might attack.

Source: Article in Ekstrabladet by Jørgen Lind, 24 Juli 2009.
I shall not involve myself in writing a story about the Amercian bison, it' s a complicated history, but I have gathered a few interesting facts from Wikipedia:
The heaviest wild bull ever recorded weighed 2,800 pounds (1,300 kg)
Bison is a  Greek word meaning ox-like animal,
Bison herds are difficult to confine, because they can jump over or crash through almost any fence.
Bison were the most numerous single species of large wild mammal on Earth

Are you really able to jump the fence?
Wow, the bison can jump over almost any fence! I wonder if they know that on Funen?

photo 10 September 2011: grethe bachmann

Friday, September 16, 2011

Paying H.C. Andersen a Little Visit....

                                                                                                                                                                "My life is a fairy tale", said H.C.Andersen. " So rich, so blissfull!"  H.C. Andersen was a multitalent. He wrote his famous fairy tales and his wonderful descriptions about his journeys and his fantastic life, but he also made paper-clips and drawings. His paper clips are funny and odd,  but they also bring some idea about the poet's social and private life. "To clip, this is the first beginning of poetry", he wrote to his friend Dorothea Melcior in 1867. The paper-clips show us his vivid imagination. He was in many ways ahead of his time as a poet and visual artist. He made collages before the idea was invented and experimented with materials like he was experimenting with words. He was able to remember details with an astonishing accuracy, he had a sense of proportions and details, and his literary works make their mark by the very strong formation of pictures, which is why his fairy tales have such a rich history of illustration. All through his life H.C. Andersen had a colossal imagination, he considered it both as a gift of spirit and a disease of the soul.
window mirror

Chinese tourist
He would probably be astonished, if he visited his home and the streets of his childhood today.  He would say: "How pretty! How nice! It's like a fairy tale!".When he was a child, it was actually a slum and not a good place to live in. Today the houses are well-kept and in matched colours, the streets have kept their old pavements and the windows in the pretty houses are decorated in the most delicate way with china and flowers. I would certainly also keep my windows in order, if I lived in that street! Some ourists consider the whole street an exhibition and stare into the windows! Well, only a few. It was not the Chinese family we saw that day. Don't wear high heels. The pavement is a high-heel-killer. But the whole little quarter in the city of Odense is a pretty harmonious place, it's like you're walking in a "time-pocket." Cars are forbidden, you can easily imagine that you are walking in a car-less time!    

In H.C.Andersens hus is a museum and also an exhibition of his paper-clips, drawings and collages.

H.C.Andersen Museum

photo Odense 10. September 2011: grethe bachmann

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Folklore - The Mother Goddess

Geo Center, Møns Klint.
Our beautiful planete is Mother Earth, also known as the great Mother Goddess in prehistoric time - in various cultures named Demeter, Istar, Astarte, Afrodite. From southern Europe she walked to the German people and to the Celts.

The goddess appeared in many forms in the North, not at least by the Celts. The Moon was one, the Sun another. When the moon was waxing, the period was fertile, and the peasant had to sow, while the springs and trees grew stronger at full moon. It was not advisable to sow, when the moon was decreasing. When the sun went into hibernation, she had to be strengthened at winter solstice by cultic ceremonies, and when spring arrived, she was awoken by spring rituals, typically of a strong sexual character. At harvest people were singing her lullabies, before she went into hibernation again.

Mother Earth appeared in animal shape like other deities. Her most important sacred animal was the Sow. The sow grew fast, was very fertile and round like the full moon. When she appeared as the Sow, she was usually followed by nine or twelve pigs, her priesthood. The goddess, the Big Sow, was sacrificed at winter solstice, when the pig was fattened and slaughtered for the great sacrificial feast. The deity herself was eaten in order to wake up her life forces. This custom is known from other religions, even from Christianity, where the body and blood of Christ is given in church at the sacred supper. Pork roast at the Christmas table is an ancient  phenomenon.

The great Goddess of Earth was worshipped in the North up till present time. One of the old customs was to hide the last sheaf from the field in the furrow. The furrow was the womb of the earth, and the sheaf was a sacrifice to Mother Earth. The sheaf was in other districts hidden until Christmas time. The sheaf was considered as the goddess herself, it was given obscene names, and at Christmas it was sacrificed by giving it to the birds - another continuing custom. 

The Danish archaeolog, professor P.V. Glob wrote a book "Mosefolket" (the Moor People), where he gave a representation of Mother Earth's role in the Danish prehistoric period, based upon archaeology. The finds tell us that the goddess was a dominating female deity from *Bondestenalderen up through Bronze Age. The male influence grows during Iron Age, and in the Asatru the male god Frøj took over some of the functions of the great goddess. The female Asa-god Freja inherited the role of the goddess. She adopted the sow as her sacred animal, and she is called the Sow in myths.

It seems that people held on to the great goddess, not just in Asatru, but also later, when the church was the victor. The Mother Goddess was in southern Europe replaced by Virgin Mary, who was worshipped as an independent goddess, but in the North she never became a goddess of the people in spite of the efforts from the church. The old legends describe women figures, who protected village, life and growth. This figure had  various names, and it seems that she had a central place in the consciousness of the peasant. She was a buxom and motherly protector, and she is often described as a pious and mild, but also a masterful and just woman figure with power over things. She was always on the peasant's side. The old Mother Earth was still earth itself to the peasant, and life and growth were created in the sacred marriage between the goddess and heaven.

The Celtic influence on the Nordic religion is not fully known, but there was a close connection in the great migration-period and Viking period between the North and the Celtic land areas in Ireland and North England. This might explain the strong position of the goddess by the Scandinavian farmer.

The Tollund Man
Who was the strong deity of the Moor? The springs and water streams and brooks gushed forth from the womb of Mother Earth. There was a direct access to the great goddess through the water. This might be the final explanation why moors were a preferred sacrificial place.Several moors - or lakes which they were in ancient times - were sacred places for a large piece of land. The sacrifices go back to *Bondestenalderen, and they seem to have continued for the rest of prehistoric time. The Great Goddess was known and honoured through the whole period. Some sacrifices were invaluable treasures, like the magnificent Gundestrupkar
  , lurerne , or valuable members of the society. (Tollundmanden) . Sacrifices like these must have been absolutely necessary - there was either famine, hostile attacks, epidemics, floods or sand drifts, all threatening the existence -  and people went for the last resort in order to avoid destruction.

*Bondestenalderen = 4000 BC - 1700 BC

Source: Mads Lidegaard, Danske søer og vandløb fra sagn og tro, Nyt Nordisk forlag, Arnold Busck, 1999. 

photo : grethe bachmann 
photo The Tollund Man:  stig bachmann nielsen, Naturplan Foto  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Stag's-horn Clubmoss/Wolf's Claw/Ulvefod

Lycopodium clavadum
Wolf's Claw/Stag's-horn Clubmoss/Ulvefod,  LilleVildmose

This genus consists of about 450 species of rhizomatous, evergreen, perennial clubmosses, which may be terrestrial or epiphytic in habit. They are primitive plants, with small, scale- or needle-like leaves, reproducing by spores.The botanic name comes from the word lykos meaning wolf and podion meaning little foot, it refers to the scale-like soft tips of the leaves, which remind about a wolf's foot.

Various English names : Antler Herb / Club Moss / Common club moss / Foxtail / Ground Pine / Lycopod / Muscus Terrestris Repens / Running clubmoss / Running pine / Stagshorn Clubmoss / Vegetable Sulphur / Witch Meal / Wolf's Claw

Ulvefod /Wolf's claw was earlier a characeristic and common plant in Danish heaths and pastures, but it must now be considered very rare in Jutland and at Bornholm and rare upon the other Danish Isles.   

Ulvefod/Wolf's Claw, Lille Vildmose

Folk Medicine

The spores of the plant were once used as an antispasmodic means for children and against  hiccups,cough and whooping cough. All green parts were used in liver-, bladder- and gall -disorders. The use of the spores alone dates from the 17th century. According to Mrs. Grieve (A Modern Herbal, 1931), "they have a strong repulsive power, that if the hand is powdered with them, it can be dipped in water without becoming wet". This property is put to use in coating pills, to seal in any unpleasant taste, and to prevent them from sticking together. The Witch flour from the spores was mixed in powder as a means against raw skin and nettle rash. In Cornwall, club mosses gathered during certain lunar phases were historically used as a remedy for eye disease. The plant contains poisonous alcaloids.

Wild collection of Lycopodium species may be subject to restrictions in some areas.
Witch Flour
The fine spores make a yellow powder called Witch flour, because it when set on fire burns without smoke. Clubmoss spores are used in sound experiments, being so fine that they vibrate into patterns of sound waves, and also for stage effects and fireworks, since they are flammable. The spores have been used by violin makers as a pore filler.
Stag's-horn Clubmoss, Lille Vildmose

Stag's-horn Clubmoss or Wolf's Claw  was considered a magic plant, which was able to protect against witches and trolls. In order to protect oneself against the evil forces you could wear a belt made of  Wolf's Claw on Midnight's Eve. The animals in the stable were protected, if the farmer hung the plant above the stable door.

Source: Anemette Olesen, Danske Klosterurter, 2001.
photo Lille Vildmose June 2009: grethe bachmann